Integrating RPCs into Automation Proves Valuable

RPC with automation2

Technology and innovation have helped supply chains achieve greater levels of efficiency. Yet adopting new technologies can be daunting, even when you know it’s good, and especially when it involves altering the way your supply chain has operated.

We see — and help customers overcome — that kind of concern when they want to incorporate RPCs into existing or new automation processes. Often, customers have been using corrugated for all their packaging needs. Some have already automated, some have not; either way, corrugated is a known quantity. They understand how it works. When it comes to RPCs, they crave empowering information.

When a customer is considering switching to RPCs, they may be unsure how — or even if — the reusable plastic containers will work with machines that automate a variety of processes. They may worry that any cost savings or reduction in shrink reaped from use of RPCs will be offset by the costs of retooling existing automation to work with RPCs, or the need to purchase additional pieces of equipment to facilitate the transition from corrugated to RPCs.

Eggscellent example

When the 102-year-old Fassio Egg Farms decided to automate palletizing, they felt the time was right to integrate RPCs into the process, especially since a leading grocery retailer had recently announced and implemented its switch to RPCs for egg handling. They were confident automation was the way to go, says Corby Larsen, Fassio’s vice president of operations.

The company had experienced recurring staffing issues, and felt automation equipment would be better able to handle the hundreds of boxes of eggs that needed to be put on pallets every hour. However, the transition to automation was not without some angst.

“We were concerned about how RPCs would integrate into our new automation,” says Larsen. Regulations require every shipping container to be labeled with its contents and other critical information, yet “labeling RPCs was a challenge” that had to be overcome.

They also had questions about how to stack RPCs on pallets, and how precisely automation equipment could do that. The fragile nature of eggs means precision is critical when adding layers of product to a pallet. “When you get to that fourth layer, and it’s 4 feet in the air, where would it be?” Larsen says. Even a minor variance in positioning could impact the stability of the pallet — and result in loss of product.

Serving up solutions

The solution to the labeling issue turned out to be a simple one. Although it involved acquiring another piece of automation — a piece of equipment that uses optical technology to recognize egg cartons inside RPCs and generate the appropriate label — the additional equipment has significantly improved label accuracy.

To address stacking concerns, Fassio worked with its pallet vendors and Tosca to better integrate the RPCs into the robotic palletizer process. This is the kind of support Tosca routinely provides our customers when they are making the switch from one-way corrugated packaging to RPCs, or looking to integrate RPCs into a new or existing automation process.

Positive results

Overall the process of integrating RPCs into automated palletizing proved to be about as much work as expected, Larsen says. Ultimately, the results have been well worth the investment, he adds.

“The automation process itself delivered a lot of benefits. A palletizer never calls in sick or gets injured trying to lift heavy boxes,” Larsen notes.

Automation has decreased costs associated with staffing challenges and injuries. Improved accuracy has helped lower the cost of issuing credits for shipping errors. The durability and rigidity of RPCs has helped reduce damage losses and the product line flows more smoothly. RPCs don’t collapse the way damp corrugated boxes can, yet still provide better ventilation and faster cooling for eggs. Plus, RPCs are less likely to cause tipping of pallets.

“There have also been sustainability benefits,” Larsen adds. “All the large retail chains that buy our eggs care about the social aspect of sustainability, and they understand the value of RPCs in a sustainable supply chain.”

The message

Any change to the supply chain comes with uncertainties to address and challenges to work out — and integrating RPCs into automation is no different. However, the process is typically less challenging than you might think, and the potential rewards are significant. Tosca is always ready to help our clients overcome the challenges of the unknown, and find workable ways to use RPCs to improve their supply chain efficiency.