2017 ProMat Recap: A Packaging Engineer’s View at the Materials Handling Show

By Nick Harris | Senior Packaging Consultant | Chainalytics

The robots are here to take over, and I’ve seen it firsthand! I recently had an opportunity to attend ProMat in Chicago as a first time attendee, and I walked the floor in awe of all the automation. Need a robot to palletize your cartons at the end-of-line? They’ve got it. Need another robot to move that pallet into your racks? They’ve got that too. How about a robot to play Jenga or pour you a drink? Well they’ve got those also. The show wasn’t all robots though. This is the one stop shop for all your automation, warehousing, material handling, and reusable packaging needs. A true Disney World for the warehousing professional.

One of the coolest new products I found though had nothing to do automation or material handling equipment. It’s a packaging substrate new to the US made of foamed polypropylene with more strength than your standard poly-corrugated. Having worked in the automotive industry for a few years, I am no newbie to returnable container systems with fabricated “p-corr” dunnage. I immediately thought this would be a great alternative to poly-corrugated material while providing more strength and less weight. Another noticeable difference was the thickness of the material. It was much thinner than the standard p-corr used in the industry today, which can lead to supply chain savings via less space required in your warehouse, line-side material storage or even inbound shipping containers.

Another challenge when designing new returnable packaging is cosmetic protection of critical “A” surface parts. The standard was p-corr with spun material adhered to it. However, the biggest issue here was that spun material has a tendency to delaminate from the p-corr ultimately reducing the lifespan of the internal dunnage. This new alternative material has the spun material laminated to it during the manufacturing process eliminating the opportunity for it to pull away. The increased life cycle could provide positive impacts on returnable packaging financial models.

So while I was drawn into the show by the wide array of material handling robots, it was ultimately the area with returnable packaging solutions where I focused most of my time. As a packaging consultant, keeping up on the latest packaging materials and innovations allows our team to provide the best solutions for our clients.

Nick Harris is a Sr. Packaging Consultant with Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization team where he focuses on implementing cost savings as well as leading transformational packaging system changes. His background includes Military and export packaging of large heavy items as well as lean manufacturing transformation of warehouses and packaging lines.

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