Engineering Timber for Industrial Packaging

Innovation that improved everything from product quality, to lowering costs to the customer, to driving sustainability in waste management.

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 our 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 our engineered beams, that delivered the company objectives above

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. 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 suits our application. In this, we are able to utilise off-cut timber together with virgin materials to create a quality solution.

The timber typically used for such products is Saligna, a species of eucalyptus tree. It is a medium to hard wood and well-suited for the application in its virgin form. But 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 (off-cuts) in the market to make our pricing competitive and deliver client savings.

With considerable untapped resources in the off-cuts produced within PackSolve, there was real potential for reducing our own waste and costs in conjunction with the industry waste spoken of above. This allowed PackSolve to not only deliver client savings, but also deliver margin gain to our own company performance. This is achieved by us being able to cost our offcuts into a secondary revenue stream or, by producing other products using a more cost-effective bonded plank for crating. Capital investment was at a minimum with the costs running at R500,000.00. Human capital investment was implemented through training and upskilling of labour to be able to produce our new material. PackSolve’s project successfully produced engineered timber, which allowed for newly designed and manufactured timber cradles as a total solution for our clients. From these materials we created a new superior model to the previous models, this was done by revisiting the existing cradle design and improving on this design. The quality of the engineered beam and dimensional accuracy of our 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.

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 have 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 benefited from the new processes, which are more automated and ergonomically more efficient.

Savings are also being realised. Margins increased internally and once the waste of off cuts has been engineered into new timber, the savings on material supply comes down significantly of which a portion of this saving is passed onto the customer. The customer saw considerable benefits as well. The new cradles are stronger and of better quality yet provide a cheaper offering to clients.

In other words, PackSolve’s project 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 in-house and for the timber industry.

Delivery: The tide lifts all ships

PackSolve’s project was rolled out from July 2018 to April 2019. The expanded processes bought in new machines. The project was conceived with our company strategy in mind, one of the four cornerstones of what needs to be achieved is that PackSolve expands into new markets, products and business opportunities while delivering value to all stakeholders. On this point the project met these objectives.

The 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 open 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 our tough economy survive if they are able to innovate, improve, reinvest in their resources and improve on the expectations of their customers. This is a mantra for our business where we strive to remain modern and relevant in the packaging space. This is the function of our innovation. The reason for our submission is based on our product innovation hitting all the marks. This breakthrough delivers on company strategy, delivers on the company promise to keep the customer at heart when pricing pressure remains tight. It delivers an opportunity to our staff and takes sustainability into account. Lastly it delivers key value to all our internal stakeholders. PackSolve is incredibly proud of this achievement. It wasn’t through happenstance. 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.

Super Crews meet monthly to discuss innovation opportunities. Super Crew team comes up with surprising, compelling questions that individuals might not have thought about. Backed by a campaign and frameworks that were spread across the business, this is perhaps PackSolve’s crowning achievement: encouraging a new breed of innovation culture through Super Crews that have led to astounding accomplishments such as is this engineered timber project.

The project also dovetailed nicely with its corporate strategy and it has become a catalyst for more innovation. As mentioned before, 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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