Publishers Group West, a book distributor representing 125 independent publishers, had a dilemma. Some of its customers were not pleased with the product it had selected for void filling its shippers. The company ships approximately 3,500 cases of books per day (some through the United States Postal Service). The goal is to get each shipment to its destination with the books in pristine, sale-ready condition.


"We had been using an environmentally friendly variety of loose fill "peanuts" in every shipment to help protect the books. However, we were starting to get complaints from customers about the mess the peanuts would make after the case was opened. Some even pointed out disposal challenges," says Patty Olmstead, operations manager of Publishers Group West.


The company knew it was time to investigate alternatives. Its research led Publishers Group West to the Pactiv Air 3000 air-cushioned, void-fill system from Pactiv Corporation. The Pactiv Air 3000 system creates on-demand void fill by converting polyethylene rollstock into continuous, perforated chains of air-filled cushions. The unit can create cushions that are a maximum width of eight inches with length varying from three to 20 inches. The cushions are perforated between each section, allowing quick tear off and placement. Because void-fill cushions are created "on-demand," inventory and warehousing requirements for preformed cushioning materials are minimized.


"The feedback we have gotten is positive. Our customers have told us that they really appreciate not having all the mess," Olmstead notes. "We were also pleased to find an additional bonus. Because the cushions are lightweight, we discovered we could reduce shipping costs. This is a benefit we've been able to pass along to our customers."


In order to implement the new system, the company worked with Pactiv representatives to design an overhead system to store cushions so that it always had enough on hand to feed its two packing stations. A custom-made Air Binz storage/dispensing system was designed and built for Publishers Group West.


The Air Binz system features an overhead dispenser suspended from the ceiling, which enables it to feed two separate packing stations. The construction features heavy-gauge canvas and metal framing. Additionally, the bottom features a zipper opening for easy access to cushions. A metal tube, assisted by a gentle stream of pumped air, is used to quickly transfer cushions from the Pactiv Air 3000 to the suspended bin. The venting system is positioned at the dispensing end of the Pactiv Air machine. It goes up 15 feet and curls into the Air Binz unit. Overhead dispensing maximizes plant floor space while providing maximum cushioning inventory.


The Pactiv Air 3000 void-fill system produces up to 5.5 cubic feet of void fill per minute, and the 60-pound tabletop unit is compact and portable, further minimizing warehouse space requirements. The company runs the Pactiv Air 3000 unit an additional three hours in the evening to ensure there is enough cushion inventory to fulfill the next day's production requirements. Publishers Group West primarily uses eight-inch lengths to fill shipments containing between 10 and 30 pounds of books. Further, because the cushions are extremely lightweight, Publishers Group West discovered they have a positive effect on shipping costs and disposal. (When cushions are deflated, the material reduces down to one percent of the inflated volume.)


In production, cases filled with the books travel down a conveyor belt to the packing station. An attendant reaches up to the "chain" of cushions being dispensed from the bottom of the Air Binz. The appropriate number of cushions are detached at the perforation and placed into the case before it is sealed.


Publishers Group West has been in its 300,000-square-foot facility for two years. The firm distributes its books internationally and manages a broad range of titles ranging from educational, business, children's and travel.


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