Nathan Dube

By: Nathan Dube on November 7th, 2019

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Packaging Costs: Large VS Small Productions

Equipment | Packaging Materials | Warehousing

When it comes to the cost associated with your packaging line, many dynamics hinge upon the size of your production. Depending on how many products you run a day, what (if any) machinery you are utilizing and the number of employees you have, costs vary greatly from one type of production to the next. In the article below, we will take a look at the differences between large and small productions and the costs associated with each.


Human Labor VS Packaging Machinery


Depending on the size of your company, either of these options could be a good or bad decision to implement. For example; if you have a large packaging department and rely exclusively on human labor, you may be paying way more than necessary in order to employ those human workers. On the other hand, if you have a very small run of products on a day to day and weekly basis but use machinery that is overkill for your needs, this will also result in throwing away money.


In order to implement the correct packaging line whether it be be based on human or machine labor, you need to get an analysis of your packaging line, the products you are running and the materials you use to package them. Getting an analysis from a certified packaging professional will ensure that you are only using the machinery or human labor that you need, without throwing money away on those which you do not.


Male factory worker and supervisor are analyzing plans


You will also need to take into consideration the type, size and cost of the materials that you are using. If for example you are using exclusively human labor and packing tables, cardboard boxes may be a good fit for you. If on the other hand you are running a packaging line with machinery, using shrink film will likely be a better, less costly fit. Finally, the size and width of your material will also have an impact on your production cost, regardless of size. Taking the time to ensure that you are using the right size and width of material for your particular setup and application will save you money.


IE: Stretch Wrapping


Lots of businesses package their products with human labor. Many of these businesses use stretch film (AKA: stretch wrap) that is applied by hand with a device called a stretch wrap dispenser. This is a user friendly device that is simple to use. A human laborer loads a roll of stretch wrap onto a pillar in the middle of the dispenser (see picture below) and then the handle is gripped by the laborer who will be dispensing the stretch wrap.




The substrate often gets tucked into a nook between two boxes or wrapped around the corner of a pallet. Next, the laborer who is tasked with wrapping the pallet will hold the handle while moving in a circle around it. Effort is made to ensure continual tension which should result in a tight and uniform wrap until the pallet is fully wrapped with stretch film. The endgame of pallet wrapping is to contain the products on the pallet and ensure their safety during shipping. Once the laborer has wrapped the pallet, the wrap is severed from the roll and the end piece is stuck to the area where the cut is made. This is made possible due to the fact that hand stretch wrap will stick to itself.


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A lot of businesses use this technique to wrap their pallets, but, it is not always the best application. If you have a lot of manual laborers packaging a large supply of products, you may be loosing money. In addition to the fact that you may be able to save thousands of dollars by utilizing an automated or semi-automated stretch wrapper, human labor often fails to produce the correct load containment.



The biggest issue at hand in this situation rests upon the fact that stretching wrap by hand with a dispenser is significantly slower in speed and results in an average of 10% to 20% stretch. Meanwhile, a stretch wrapping machine can add 200% to 300% to the stretch length that a human is able to achieve! So depending on the amount of products you are wrapping over the time you run your wrapping process, using a machine may very well be  less costly than relying on manual labor.


Now comes the question, how do you decide if manual labor or machine wrapping is best for your company? This is where a professional analysis of your packaging line done by a certified packaging professional comes into the equation. By requesting an analysis of your machinery as well as the type of materials you are currently running, your vendor will be able to advise you on which option is best and least costly for your needs.



The difference here between large and small productions is that smaller productions that only wrap products 1-2 days a week are more likely to benefit from using human labor while those who are running high production numbers 24/7 are more likely to save a ton of money by using a machine. That being said, every packaging line is unique and there could be atypical situations where the opposite could be true. Using your local packaging expert to analyze your packaging line will ensure that you implement the correct choice regardless of the size of your operation.


Packaging Materials


The materials you choose to run on your packaging line can make or break the bank. If you are running exclusively on human labor, chances are you are going to be limited to cardboard or paper products. Comparing your options between these items and balancing your needs regarding shipping, product protection, size and width of your containers will generally decide which is the correct choice for you.


If you are running a packaging line that is mostly automated with few human operators, materials are going to be a dynamic that you need to pay close attention to. Choosing the wrong substrate can cause problems for your machinery that may result in poor packaging, excess waste, breakdowns and downtime. Even if you have none of these issues, using a material that is not optimized for your applications can result in a lot of wasted money.


IE: Shrink Film


When choosing a shrink film to run on your packaging line, one of the most important dynamics that is often overlooked is the gauge of your shrink film. How about a little "Throwback Thursday"...


When someone is talking about the gauge of shrink film, they are referring to the thickness of the film. To reiterate, gauge is a measurement of thickness. The higher the gauge of shrink film, the thicker the shrink film is. Shrink film thickness is measured by gauge or mil. Mil thickness is the actual measurement standard. Gauge is an industry nickname for describing mil thickness.



A “mil” equals one thousandth of an inch (.001 inch). Interestingly, in our industry, when people are talking about premium shrink film, they talk about gauge, e.g., 75 gauge, 100 gauge, 125 gauge, etc.   When people talk about polyethylene, they talk in mils, e.g., one mill, one and one half mil, two mill, etc.


To convert mills to gauge, multiply the number of mills by 100. This is the conversion factor. For example, 1 mil times 100 is 100 gauge.


45 is perhaps the most ubiquitous gauge of shrink film being run throughout the world today. Most of our clients are currently utilizing 45 gauge shrink film (although some have already realized the cost savings of using lighter films). We actually have several customers running film as low as 35 gauge! Because of the abilities of modern resins coupled with advanced extrusion technology, these new light gauge films boast strength never before seen at such a low thickness. These amazing films can significantly lower your costs and result in a notably higher footage per roll. The benefit of light gauge films include a reduction in change overs, item handling, environmental issues and waste.


While there are other gauges of shrink film including 60, 75, 100, 125 and 150, most machinery will be able to easily run these higher gauges. That being said, you will want to work with your packaging vendor in tandem with your production manager to select the best gauge for your products.


Shrink film is one of few materials that can save both large and small operations a decent chunk of change in regards to switching to a lower gauge. If your products and packaging line are able to run efficiently while producing the same level of quality, reducing your gauge could result in some serious savings... In addition to adjusting your gauge, optimizing your film width may result in further cost reductions.




If you are running a start up, chances are you are not going to have a gigantic packaging space in your packaging department. This is an important dynamic as you will want to consider how to utilize the space that you do have. If you are going to buy packaging machinery, you will want to work with your vendor to ensure that you have enough space to install the machinery that you are interested in.


If you are a large company with a huge warehouse for your packaging department, you will want look into what you are currently spending on your current packaging line and consider upgrading old packaging equipment for more efficient machinery. While you may have plenty of space to run larger machines, you will want to be sure you are only running the machinery that is necessary without any options that you are not going to utilize.


Getting a quote from at least three vendors for machine upgrades will give you an idea on where money can be saved. It would also be well advised to ask about what the machine does and does not include for add-ons and options. Also, be sure to purchase machinery without unnecessary bells and whistles so that you can further reduce the cost of the investment.




When it comes to deciding upon which types of machinery and materials are right for the size of your production line, getting an analysis of your line by a packaging professional is the way to go. In the end, it does not matter if you have a large or small production. What matters is whether or not you are using the correct machinery, labor force and materials.


In addition to these dynamics, there are many ways in which you can tweak your packaging line for peak performance regardless of the size of the department. Utilizing free tools and working with a local vendor will help you to ensure that you are using the correct electrical supply, measuring the most important KPIs and using the appropriate materials for the job.


There may be additional areas of which you can make subtle changes that will result in additional cost reduction. Once you have completed the analysis of your packaging line, you will want to consider implementing a preventative maintenance plan to ensure that your line (whether big or small) continues to run at peak performance.


Stretch Wrapper ROI Calculator


About Nathan Dube

As the Digital Marketing Specialist at Industrial Packaging, I am honored to create content for such a phenomenal company and work with one of the greatest teams in the Packaging Industry. Whether creating a video, writing blog posts or generating other pieces of content and multimedia, I am always excited to help educate and inspire our prospects and clients to reach their highest potential in regards to their packaging processes and needs.