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3M saves bundles with new bundle

The Audio and Video Products Div. of St. Paul, MN-based 3M Co. has scored an impressive victory in packaging source reduction. This leading producer of bulk videotape for the film duplication industry designed a returnable and reusable package for its products that: * eliminates 1.4 million cu' of waste annually, * reduces the number of packaging components from 11 to three, * reduces the variety of packaging materials from five to two, * reduces labor costs not only in 3M's Hutchinson, MN, plant but at its customers' plants, too, and, * saves $4 million annually in packaging costs.
FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Strategy
Disposable packaging (left) used formerly by 3M for its bulk videotape generated about 1 cu? of waste. The Reusable Pak (above) Disposable packaging (left) used formerly by 3M for its bulk videotape generated about 1 cu? of waste. The Reusable Pak (above)

"The $4 million we're saving in 1997 is in materials only" says 3M's Jerry Niles. "Added savings come in labor reduction. It used to take 10 people to package these reels and now it takes three. And on top of all that is increased efficiency in dockage. We used to need five dock doors to handle the bulky packaging materials we used before. Now all we need is a single dock door." The 1/2"-wide bulk videotape produced by 3M is wound into reels about 14" in dia. Before the new Reusable Pak was designed workers used to put eight of these reels into a one-way package consisting of 11 separate components including among other things two expanded polystyrene end caps paper dunnage and shrink wrap. "Each of these bundles generated about one cubic foot of waste" says Niles. Some customers he says tried to recycle the components but rarely could they recycle more than 22% of the total package. And even that amount required workers spending valuable time sorting and separating. The new Reusable Pak consists of two identical panels each having two living hinges and a core on which the rolls of tape are mounted. Though all three are made of high-density polyethylene the core is extruded and the panels are extrusion blown. Eight per pack Reels of videotape are packaged eight per container. An operator first snaps a core support into the middle of a hinged panel. Reels of tape are placed around this core like records on a spindle. When all eight rolls are in place the two sides of the flat hinged panel are lifted so that the panel resembles a U. Then a second flat panel is folded similarly rotated 90° in relation to the other panel and placed over the rolls of tape. Latches are latched to secure the two panels together and the package measuring 161/2" x 161/2" x 8" is complete. Latches and hinges on the flat panel are formed in the blow mold says Niles by means of compression. "You close the tool on the parison and blow the material to the walls" he explains. "But you also trap or compress the material where you want the hinges and latches." He acknowledges that the single part which weighs 1 g (2.87 lb) is tricky to make. "When I first proposed this package to our molders they said to forget it. With all the hinges and latches and everything they were convinced that it would be impossible to blow mold pieces sufficiently identical so that any two out of thousands we planned to make would actually fit together." Niles emphasizes the important role played by computer-aided design. "You have to know in the design stage where to really tighten up" he says. Several blow molders he adds make the parts for 3M. He also credits recent advances in the art of extrusion blow molding. "It's changed significantly in the last five years in terms of the detail you're now able to achieve. It's a function of better process control and more sophisticated monitoring systems for temperatures and times and other key parameters." In two layers of 15 each 30 assembled and filled Reusable Paks are palletized and stretch wrapped. The only material discarded is the stretch wrap. Moreover the use of non-fiber material means that the customers' handling costs are reduced because the packages are safe for transport directly into the clean rooms where video duplication takes place. As the reels of tape are taken from the Reusable Pak operators remove the HDPE core from the bottom panel and place it in a corrugated shipper. The two blow-molded panels are then flattened stacked and stretch wrapped for return to 3M along with the box of cores. According to Niles 750 of the packages are in use today. They're expected to last five years making anywhere from six to a dozen trips per year. They've proven so popular with customers that even 3M's competitors have requested licensing rights to use the package for their products. 3M also plans to design other forms of reusable packaging for customers who have applications in auto parts electronics food medicine and other industries. As Niles puts it "We're building a business around this."

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