'Green' lights for Cambridge

This lighting and accessory manufacturer switched from paper-based void fill to a biodegradable mold-in-place system that sheds light on productivity and environmental issues.

Cambridge Lamps, a veteran of the lighting industry, typically relied on newspaper and corrugated inserts to package and ship its lamps and lighting accessories to department stores and interior designers. But as demand increased in recent years, the Hialeah, FL-based company realized that it needed something less labor-intensive.

About 18 months ago, Cambridge switched to Enviromold®, a biodegradable mold-in-place void-fill system from Storopack (Cincinnati, OH) and licensed through Enpac (Wilmington, DE). The change has brought Cambridge savings in time and labor, as well as some decidedly green benefits.

"We used [corrugated] wedges and newsprint for years because they were readily available and easily understood," says Gary Seymour, vice president of operations at Cambridge Lamps. "You could call them low-tech and simple. Operators liked paper because it didn't require a lot of complicated machinery to maintain, use or apply." Although simple for the operator, this method required custom die-cut corrugated inserts for its 1ꯠ SKUs. Also, a variety of box sizes was necessary to accommodate the lamps' different sizes and shapes.

This complexity is why Camridge was using 12 operators per shift to pack between 150 and 170 boxes/day. This labor-intensive process included manually placing lamps into shipping cases, inserting corrugated pieces around the lamp bases to secure them, and then filling any void space with newsprint. During busy periods, operators worked overtime.

After testing a variety of technologies, Cambridge heard about Enviromold. Says Seymour, "We were in the process of going with expanded polystyrene peanuts when we heard about a new material that didn't exhibit the same disposal issues [as peanuts]."

Enviromold is a dry starch-based component that resembles a PS peanut. When moistened with water, it forms a maleable molding material. It's poured around a product in a shipping case to form a solid one-piece custom mold. After use, it dissolves in water or it can be composted with other natural materials.

Switching stations

After testing, Cambridge purchased five Enviromold "stations" from local distributor Riverside Paper (Miami, FL). According to Seymour, Riverside provided Cambridge with a turnkey system. "Switching did not mean an expensive and time-consuming redesign of our packaging system or shipping department," he states. "We basically put the [system] in and ran with it."

An Enviromold station consists of an overhead storage hopper that holds the dry material and a dispensing tube with a trigger mechanism to channel material from the hopper into cartons. Affixed to the tube is a thin water hose. When the dispensing trigger is pulled, the loosefill-style peanuts flow through the tube and a light spray of water is automatically emitted over the Enviromold peanuts to cause the material to "weld" together.

In Cambridge's warehouse, a biodegradable liner is first placed into the carton's bottom, then an initial layer of Enviromold is dispensed into the case. Next, overwrapped lamps or accessories are placed into the carton. Another biodegradable liner is placed over the product, then more Enviromold is dispensed. This second liner creates a partition that separates Enviromold into top and bottom halves. Finally, flaps on the full case are closed to compress the molding material. It solidifies in minutes.

Illuminating benefits

Now, Cambridge uses seven operators to complete up to 500 packs daily. "Shipping is now keeping up with manufacturing without incurring overtime," says Seymour. "Our operators like the system's simplicity and ease-of-use, so they're happy." On the customer side, damage due to shipping is said to have plummeted by 82%.

Used mainly for the company's high-volume products, Cambridge has reduced the amount of corrugated inserts and different cases it needs. "We can standardize our carton sizes without having the enormous amount of custom die work for the inserts. It saves us a lot of inventory and space," he says. "We're able to take advantage of volume discounts and work a little bit more towards our goal of a just-in-time packaging and shipping environment.

"The work stations don't tie us down," Seymour continues. "They give us an enormous amount of flexibility. If I wanted to rearrange the floor to take advantage of a new operation, they're very easy to move."

Cost was "one of the biggest issues I had," he says. "Unit-wise, it's competitive and actually beats some other forms of packing. On a cubic-foot basis, it's competitive with PS peanuts.

"I'd also worked with some systems that use PS peanuts with glue, which is basically the same idea as Enviromold," he continues. "One of the things I really liked about Enviromold is that it uses water atomizers. There's not a lot that can go wrong with a water atomizer.

"My confidence that I'm going to be able to ship product when I need to is very high," Seymour adds.

Customers are satisfied, too, he says. To alert customers that their Cambridge products are packaged in a biodegradable package, a small informational card is placed into each box before it's closed.

"It's a strong environmental message that shows we care about our planet," Seymour concludes.

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