The growth of online retail is no longer ‘news’ but finding ways to cope with the peaks and troughs in demand continues to be a challenge for many retailers and logistics businesses. It’s a challenge that some might feel is compounded by the continued uncertainty around Brexit and how that may affect the availability of casual labour that is often relied upon to cope with packing work during busy periods.

With or without the ‘B’ word, there are plenty of ideas, tools and techniques that businesses can implement to help keep things flowing at the busiest of times. It really comes down to seeking out ways to increase efficiency.

The key to successful planning for peak times is to take a step back to look at the entire packing workflow – from where packaging is stored on the warehouse shelves, to how it is loaded onto delivery vehicles. This can be useful in identifying where any bottlenecks might be; it can also just help to create a bit of time and space to look at the operation with fresh eyes, because even if there aren’t any obvious bottlenecks there will probably still be opportunities to make improvements that can ease pressure during the busy times.

Antalis Packaging is able to provide a free packaging audit that can help companies with this. The company’s packaging experts come on site and conduct a full review of both packaging and workflow before sharing ideas and advice on how to improve. Antalis Packaging is able to provide a wide range of advanced packaging solutions, backed by unmatched levels of service and support, together with strong, well-known brands.

One of the greatest challenges for many packing operations during peak times is having enough hands on deck at just the right times. While casual labour can be called upon to support the regular workforce, it can be difficult to get temporary workers trained and familiar with the processes; it can also have an impact on the workflow. For example, switching up from five packers to 20, or 20 packers to 100, to cope with peaks in demand can be a real space and logistical issue: is there enough space on the packing benches; will packers be tripping over one another; will the quality of packing be consistent?

The dilemma for many businesses is this: if they ensure they have enough space available to cope with the busy times, what do they do with that space when things are quieter? Whether it’s on a warehouse shelf, on the shop floor, or on the back of a lorry, empty space costs money, and when margins are tight that wasted space can be the difference between profit and loss.

The answer to the space problem – in all of its guises – and to achieving greater efficiency and consistency, can be found in the introduction of some level of automation. From case erectors that take flat packed boxes and build them up, or pallet wrappers that minimise use of stretch film and require only one person to operate it, there are several ways to help speed up the packing process, reduce the need for lots of space and, ultimately, address the headaches that come with managing the ebb and flow of work.

Following the introduction of an automated packaging machine from Antalis, one of its customers managed to eliminate 50% of the packaging materials they had been using and so reduce their packaging storage by as much as 100 pallets¹. Another customer switched from using a pallet shrink gun to a semi-automated pallet wrapping machine, leading to improvements in health and safety, 70% quicker pallet wrapping time, 75% waste reduction, improved load containment and a cost saving of over 60%². As well as the obvious cost benefits, this level of efficiency can be a real godsend during peak periods in helping to get goods packed, wrapped and out of the door in good time.

The degree of efficiency that automation can bring to the entire process, including delivery, is not to be underestimated. Through its work in helping customers to find ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs, Antalis has discovered that it is possible to reduce customer’s logistics costs by about 15%, simply through the better, and consistent, sizing of boxes that is achievable through the use of automated machinery, such as case erectors and sealers. Squared off boxes stack better and look better, and when used in conjunction with semi-automated pallet wrapping, pallets are safer and more secure, ready for their onward journey.

John Garner, Head of Business Development – Packaging Antalis said: “Antalis Packaging has worked with many customers over the years to help find solutions that will enable them to better manage both the peaks and troughs in demand. Casual labour can be surprisingly difficult to come by, particularly around Christmas and Black Friday, leaving some companies struggling to fulfil orders. Introducing some degree of automation with more efficient solutions means that companies are able to put in place far more robust measures that will make them less susceptible to the downsides of peak season and more able to reap the rewards.”