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Book Distributor Paces Demand With Automated Packaging.


At a 100,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Sparks, NV, Alibris, Inc., a supplier of new, used and hard-to-find books, receives and ships thousands of orders worldwide each day. From the moment a book enters the warehouse from a network of more than 10,000 indepen-dent booksellers, productivity and throughput are critical to the success of the operation. The company prides itself on what it calls its "three-touch" method, the touches referring to the number of times a book is handled before it finally gets shipped off to a customer.

"To improve efficiency, we are always looking to remove the touches that books go through," says Brian Duarte, director of operations. "We have fine-tuned the process down to three touches: open, receive, and ship."

When a book arrives at Alibris, an employee removes it from its package, then passes it to a "receiver." This employee checks the book's condition, keys in an order number to retrieve a packing slip, puts the packing slip inside the book and places into a tote, categorized according to sales channel or carrier assignment. When full, the bar-coded tote is sent to the correct packaging lane on the conveyor. Then, each book is packaged, labeled and shipped.

To keep up with productivity demands, the company recently shopped for an automated packaging system. "We looked for one that could meet our criteria of easy integration into our existing processes, reliability, ease-of-use and reasonable cost," says Mark Nason, vice president of operations. The Alibris team visited several companies to evaluate systems first-hand.

"I took a stopwatch with me to time the packaging process," says Nason. "We looked at each machine, how it was set-up, how easy it was to use, the throughput of the system and the resulting package. We also discussed the economics of each."

Alibris settled on the PriorityPak automated packaging system from Saddlebrook, NJ-based Sealed Air Corp., which Duarte and Nason viewed at a plant in Reno, NV. Featuring smart-sensing technology, the system scans an item's dimensions, then delivers the correct amount of the Cold Seal cohesive-coated PriorityWrap Rigid Board from two supply rolls. As two sheets of PriorityWrap Rigid Board are fed into the system, a patented XRS Roller System creates a crescent seal that suspends the product between them, minimizing shifting and providing additional corner protection. The protective package locks and seals the products in place for protection from the rigors of shipping and handling.

A Sealed Air Corp. specialist helped Alibris determine the materials it would need to package a common-size book, including type and width, and how many material-roll changes are required in a day. He also supplied samples of the final PriorityPak package so that shipping tests could be conducted, and departments within Alibris, including marketing, could evaluate performance and aesthetics.

Nason says the company experienced increased productivity almost immediately. The new system produced at more than twice the rate of the "t-fold" packages, and now averages up to 3,500 packages per day.

Also, post-office losses due to fall outs or labels being separated from the package dropped 25% during the first month of use. Scuffing damage to books was also reduced because the system creates the seal of the package adjacent to the book, preventing the book from shifting. Unex-pected benefits included lighter-weight and lower-profile packages which save the company money on shipping costs.

Initially, Nason projected a six-month return-on-investment. As of last July, less than three months after installation, Alibris was 70% through its projected ROI. Nason says, Alibris' annualized savings in postage, materials and labor may total more than $325,000.

Operators are happy with the system, says Nason, because they don't touch the packages. With the old system, cardboard t-fold packages were rough on their hands. Another plus, he says, is that because the PriorityPak system is modular, applications and features can be added as the company grows.

Sealed Air Corp. Call 800-441-6180
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Publication:Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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