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Radiator maker warms up to paper

Faced with new General Motors' specifications for paper-based packing materials, this automotive supplier found a dunnage system that is both environmentally friendly and economical.
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FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Strategy
     

In an effort to keep a major customer happy Auto Radiator Sales Corp. Buffalo NY tried something new: paper- rather than plastics-based packing materials to protect parts during shipment. The company soon discovered that the change saves them $36/year. That makes ARS every bit as happy as the customer. ARS is a full-service automotive heat exchanger company supplying radiators condensers heater cores evaporators and blower motors to the automotive aftermarket as well as original equipment manufacturers. The company's biggest customers are wholesale distributors. In turn they sell to radiator shops and service stations as well as to volume distributors such as Moog Automotive that supply NAPA Carquest and other auto parts stores. With manufacturing and distribution facilities in Buffalo and additional manufacturing capabilities in Mexico ARS ships thousands of heat exchanger components each month. About two years ago ARS started supplying General Motors with radiators a new foray into the OEM side of the business that the company hopes to see grow substantially. Early last year GM introduced new vendor packaging specifications requiring its component suppliers to use paper-based dunnage or void-fill material when packing parts for shipping. Created due to environmental concerns this new spec offered several alternatives to plastics-based packing systems. One is the use of flexible three-ply kraft paper which is folded or "crumpled" to provide needed cushioning and protection. With annual sales of $50 million ARS is a diverse company. Its GM contract accounts for less than five percent of its business. Nonetheless ARS was keenly interested in satisfying the auto maker's request for paper-based packaging. Planning for OEM growth "Our business is centered around service regardless of how much volume we do with a customer" notes Rick Fuller vice president of engineering and manufacturing for ARS. "When GM changed its packaging requirements we were happy to comply." ARS settled on a kraft paper-based system from Ranpak Corp. (Concord Township OH). General Motors specified the company's PadPak® system as an environmentally acceptable alternative to commonly used plastics-based packaging. The paper product is biodegradable reusable and available in three varieties: 100% virgin virgin and recycled or up to 100 percent recycled. The system uses a patented converter machine that folds three-ply kraft paper to create air space in the packing material. One roll of PadPak is 9" in diameter 30" wide contains 450' of paper and weighs 35 lbs. According to Ranpak one roll of the product produces the cushioning equivalent of four 15-cu-ft. bags of loose fill dunnage and a 25-roll pallet load takes up only 20 sq ft of plant space. ARS had been using expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam-in-place to pack all its products. The company needed a packaging product strong enough to protect its radiators and other products and still provide the environmental benefits that GM sought. Flexibility needed According to Fuller the Padpak system was selected over other paper methods in part because of its flexibility-it can be used for products of several different sizes. In addition he explains it is not abrasive like some paper products and because it can be produced on demand it saves considerable warehouse space. The company discovered additional benefits as well. "After we started using this system to pack radiators we found out that it also works very well for condensers heaters and some of our other products" says Fuller. "So we changed over some other lines as well because paper dunnage is much more cost-effective." Fuller says cost savings run to about 30 cents per unit shipped which translates to more than $36/year for the products ARS packs in paper. The company continues to use EPS void fill for some of its heavier products-those weighing more than 20 lbs.-because the transit codes that freight haulers use often call for the EPS filler for heavy loads. "But we can make PadPak work with everything from small heater cores to radiators" notes Fuller. "With foam-in-place we had to have molds for 10 to 20 different products. With the paper system we can use standard box sizes and make up the difference in the void-fill just by changing the feed setting." Even with the additional void fill needed Fuller says the product provides cost savings. "When you don't have to tool up for every size-or store a lot of cushioning material-you save money" he says. Fuller adds that ARS's traditional aftermarket customers are also pleased with the change to paper dunnage "because it's more environmentally acceptable. EPS is recyclable but it's not biodegradable." ARS started using its first PadPak converter in January 1994 and recently placed a second unit in service. Fuller needed the additional capacity because ARS products manufactured in Mexico are bulk-shipped to Buffalo where they are repackaged and shipped individually to customers. Installing the PadPak converter is straightforward and doesn't even require tools. The machine plugs into a standard 110-v outlet and the special paper rolls can be quickly fed into the machine. The standard machine is 42" high 36" wide 67" long and weighs 398 lb. Fuller is so pleased with the paper-based system that he's encouraging ARS's suppliers to use similar packaging. "We can dictate what type of packaging we want from suppliers" he says. "And we'd like to see paper dunnage at the supply side in addition to our manufacturing end." He adds that some ARS suppliers are in the process of switching over to PadPak systems.

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