Chris Baum, director of sales specialists at Veritiv, shares his thoughts on automation
What are some automation trends Veritiv has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and what effect have they had on automation in converting?
There was a labor shortage prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic exacerbated the issue. When pairing the labor shortage with COVID-19 safety protocols, we have seen growth in automation. Automation is not only safer for employees by taking over repetitive tasks and easing heavy lifting, but it also leads to efficiency savings, making it a win-win for businesses during the pandemic and beyond.
Our equipment specialists have seen an increase in demand for our services over this past year because companies with labor shortages are looking to automate with machinery. In addition, we’ve been helping customers pivot to new distribution channels. We have a meat processing customer that sold solely into school systems. As the schools shut down over this past year, we helped them shift to grocery store distribution. Our specialists were able to help with that, including the needed equipment, packaging and more. Last, we’ve seen an increase in our customers’ e-commerce sales.
Many customers had e-commerce as a distribution channel, but with the impact of COVID-19, more customers are now relying on it as a main channel. According to Digital Commerce 360, online spending with U.S. merchants in 2020 was up 44% year over year (by Fareeha Ali, “US ecommerce grows 44.0% in 2020” Digital Commerce 360, January 29, 2021). That is an incredible growth rate, and our team has been working with customers to design and fulfill new packaging for this distribution, which includes automating to create greater efficiencies.
How does Veritiv help customers determine when to automate?
At Veritiv, we have a solutions-oriented mindset and are committed to creating the best solutions for our customers’ problems. We have a team of specialists (corrugated, equipment, food and more) to help our customers determine the most effective way to take their packaging from ideation to the manufacturing line and into the market for each stage of the product life cycle. Our team walks the line to uncover inefficiencies that can save money. We analyze every detail and improve speed to market by optimizing workflow, automating processes, reducing labor and minimizing damages. Our goal isn’t to push a specific solution; our customers can trust that our recommendations are made by experts who are trained to understand their business objectives.
As consumers continue to focus on eco-friendly packaging, what role does automation play in sustainability efforts?
All technologies and materials need to be critically evaluated to measure their impact on the environment. Automation can aid in achieving sustainability goals by enabling businesses to function more efficiently, which translates into a reduction of wasted materials, as most of the resources we put toward our processes are used.
When Veritiv works with our customers to automate, we first discuss business goals, and many times sustainability is one. We can develop a solution that can be simple, complex and/or fully robotic. Each one is unique. We take a holistic view from design, materials, testing, equipment and automating processes to boost efficiencies, cut costs and support our customer’s sustainability goals. For example, Veritiv offers a Secure Wrap analysis. This scientific assessment Veritiv offers analyzes efficient use of materials to not only protect products in transit, but to reduce waste and ensure sustainability goals are achieved.
As load containment failures lead to higher breakage, damage and loss (BD&L) levels, the initial response is often to “wrap it a few more times.” That increases material costs and labor inefficiencies, and even creates extra waste for downstream supply chain partners. Often overlooked, the construction of your primary packaging, pallet layout and warehouse environment all play a role in the overall structural integrity of unitized loads.
Our Secure Wrap Analysis considers the pallet layout, film application methods, freight conditions and labor requirements. This approach reduces product loss with the long-term goal of ensuring product protection, optimizing packaging material usage and reducing labor requirements.
What innovations in automation do you see advancing sustainability in the future?
Veritiv has an international sourcing team that evaluates sustainable materials that can be used in packaging. For one of our customers, we developed an innovative packaging solution including re-purposing ocean-bound plastics into packaging. Looking to the future, we would like to see additional ways in which to automate retrieval of recyclable and renewable materials.
Is there anything else you want to share about automation in converting or Veritiv in general?
Veritiv works with customers to design solutions that solve business problems. If there is a labor issue where our customers can’t find employees to fold boxes, then we offer equipment that can automate that process. If there are space constraints in warehouses, Veritiv specialists can decrease the manufacturing line’s footprint by including automation equipment. Automation can help businesses function better with high-quality packaging solutions, all while increasing employee safety.