Engineering timber for sustainability in industrial packaging

From PackSolve.

Packsolve CEO Alex Baisch

PackSolve, the largest diversified industrial packaging group in the SADC region, has taken innovation and sustainability to a new level through engineering timber from offcuts, and the results are outstanding.

The steel industry utilises specialised timber cradles to safely transport their coils in shipping containers. These containers are shipped using road, rail and sea. Though, manufactured from timber, these have to be incredibly strong and capable of supporting up to 25 tons for the duration of shipment.

PackSolve Packaging noticed a combination of excessive packaging materials and over engineered skids in the market. On this basis Columbus Stainless and PackSolve packaging collaborated to investigate the opportunity of engineering a skid that would incorporate the following:

  •  Reduce packaging material to reduce cost for the customer
  •  Open a channel for the better utilisation of company waste and industry waste, thereby introducing sustainability in waste management
  • Deliver a better quality, stronger product
  • Provide an opportunity to deliver upskilling of labour into building this new product

The concept: A smarter use of timber in engineer beams, that delivered the company objectives

Timber packaging and these skids specifically, make for a great combination of strength and durability while carrying a massive load – even when reused. Broadly speaking, there are two types of timber: virgin timber, which is cut from trees, and engineered timber, which involves the bonding of wood materials of the same species to create new structural beams. Engineered timber is quite common. The manufactured timber for the roof trussing industry is a clear example. It is the adoption of the roof trussing process and bonding of engineered beams where the innovation suited their application. In this PackSolve was able to utilise offcuts together with virgin materials to create a quality solution.

The timber typically used for such skids is Saligna, a species of eucalyptus tree. It is a medium to hard wood and well-suited for the application in its virgin form. However, it is also hard to procure as demand outstrips supply creating inflationary price pressures. This leads to pricing issues that threaten the competitiveness of PackSolve’s new products.

‘In this instance and for this innovation we have switched to a more common and accessible timber. PackSolve uses pine, which is more readily available yet also softer, but stronger enough in beam format to take the loads that we innovated for. There are many industries using pine and we were able to procure waste material (offcuts) in the market to make our pricing competitive and deliver client savings,’ says PackSolve CEO, Alex Baisch.

With considerable untapped resources in the offcuts produced within PackSolve, the company saw real potential for reducing their own waste and costs in conjunction with the industry waste spoken of above. This allowed them to not only deliver client savings, but also deliver margin gain to their own company performance. This was achieved by costing their offcuts into a secondary revenue stream or, by producing other products using a more cost-effective bonded plank for crating. Human capital investment was implemented through training and upskilling of labour to be able to produce the new material.

PackSolve’s project successfully produced engineered timber, which allowed for newly designed and manufactured timber cradles as a total solution for clients. From these materials they created a new superior model to the previous models, this was done by revisiting their existing cradle design and making improvements on this design.

‘The quality of the engineered beam and dimensional accuracy of the timber products were prepared for testing and passed with flying colours. The client, so happy with the success of the project, has approved implementation of the new skids. This was no small feat, but the results were nothing short of a breakthrough,’ says Baisch.

The value: A win for all stakeholders

The project turned out to be a great win for all involved. Producing the timber and subsequent cradles resulted in an additional production line, increasing the number of jobs. It also created new gaps for skills in the company, particularly around finger-jointing and woodwork. Existing and new employees could upskill to these new opportunities. Employees now also benefit from the new processes, which are more automated and ergonomically more efficient.

‘Savings are also being realised. Margins have increased internally and once the waste of offcuts has been engineered into new timber, the savings on material supply comes to 40 percent of which some of this is passed onto the customer. The new cradles are stronger and of better quality yet provide a cheaper offering to clients.’

PackSolve managed to cut costs, improve quality, create more employment and skills opportunities, improve on margins and still created an inflation-busting saving for customers while finding a solution for better waste management inhouse and for the timber industry.

Delivery: The tide lifts all ships

PackSolve rolled out this project from July 2018 to April 2019. The project was conceived with the company strategy in mind, one of the four cornerstones of what they aimed to achieve is; that PackSolve expands into new markets, products and business opportunities while delivering value to all stakeholders. On this point the company project met these objectives.

A knock-on effect is already being realised. Engineered timber is being fed into the materials pool of the larger company. The expanded capabilities around finger-jointing and woodworking have opened doors to new products and markets. PackSolve, also offers third-party outsourcing services, which means this R&D can be sold to that market as well.

Impact: Innovation done right

‘Businesses in a tough economy will only survive if they are able to innovate, improve, reinvest in their resources and deliver above the expectations of their customers. This is a mantra for PackSolve where we strive to remain modern and relevant in the packaging space,’ he concludes.

The project’s success is a result of PackSolve’s Super Crews. These are diverse groups, comprised of people from different levels and functions within the company that focus on driving innovation. The company is encouraging a new breed of innovation culture through these Super Crews that have led to astounding accomplishments such as is this engineered timber project.

Furthermore, the engineered timber and its accompanying skills are encouraging new product solutions. The next challenges include focusing on scale and expanding on the types of wood that can be engineered.

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