Are you stretch wrapping your pallets by hand? Relying on manual labor to consistently protect your products in transit may be causing your company to lose money in the long-run. If your products are in high demand and you are cutting it close or even worse, missing your customers requested orders, you may be able to remedy this with automation at your end-of-line. Hand-wrapping pallets is less cost-effective at a certain point while automated stretch-wrapping machinery can save on time, and on costs.

The idea of saving money have your attention? Learn more about how to determine when it's time to switch from hand-wrapping pallets to automated pallet-wrapping machinery.

Lower Productivity, Higher Cost

Manual wrapping in your production line is not efficient for higher volume manufacturers. While the rest of your line may be pumping out finished goods ready to be palletized, the workers at the end of the production line are literally running around in circles to meet targets.  

Significant productivity increases can be seen with automation of your end-of-line packaging solutions, and even with a small upgrade to a semi-automatic pallet wrapper, it is possible to see increases of 100% or more.

A customer evaluated their productivity around palletizing and found that their employees were spending an average of four minutes to wrap a single pallet by hand. Two of their employees were wrapping 125 pallets each per week. Talk about getting the spins at work!

By upgrading to a semi-automatic pallet wrapper, they were able to cut the time spent wrapping a pallet in half to 2 minutes, ultimately cutting over 8 hours per week in labor costs and getting their products out the door much faster.

Less Protection

It's been proven that hand wrapping doesn't protect as much as wrapping machinery due to how tightly and consistently automated pallet wrapping machinery can secure and protect products compared to a person.

Human error is bound to have an effect on balanced loads . The human body is not able to consistently apply an even stretch force and provide proper load containment all the time, thanks to fatigue and the slew of other hindrances that consciousness provides us. This opportunity for human error often leads to double checks on proper pallet containment before loading each pallet into trucks for shipment. Having to make sure that everything is wrapped securely over and over by your labor force will certainly cause lower productivity for your plant floor.

The protection of your employees is also lessened with manual wrapping. The potential for work-related injuries for the dizzy employees is a much higher risk, leading to higher insurance rates. A study done by OSHA regarding manually wrapping pallets found that the awkward body positions that hand wrapping pallets requires puts your employees at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

While you are not spending a significant amount on automation, you are spending more than you could be on both stretch wrap and labor force. An automated machine will provide consistent wrapping capabilities, less film usage and a lower potential for a work-related injury on your plant floors.

Missing Potential

Another benefit to upgrading and automating: There is much more wrap potential with automated pallet wrapping machinery. You can significantly reduce the amount of film waste (which is great for your businesses environmental footprint) while still maintaining a safe load containment. This is because automated wrappers are able to maximize the amount of stretch that is achieved much more than we can by hand.

On average you can expect to see your employees average 25%-40% stretch when wrapping a pallet by hand. Compare this with an average of 250% or more that an automated or semi-automated pallet wrapper can achieve. This type of automation can save quite a bit in film usage with its ability to pre-stretch each roll of stretch film.

The average you can expect to save on film costs with the upgrade to automated wrapping is  25-40%, thanks to the more reliable load containment and higher pre-stretch. averages. In optimal cases you will see an average of 66% in film savings! This can be enough to help you in justifying the capital investment in automation.

Load Damage

If not wrapped properly by hand your pallets could shift during transport, ultimately destroying and adding to the overall costs of producing your product. The true costs of shipping damage due to improperly secured loads is not always fully realized because many of the actual costs are not calculated into the final number.

Consider each damaged load you are faced with and the cost of each damaged good, labor from start of production for that product until the damage occurred, energy and include the cost of the pallets film and wrapping costs. Don't forget to also consider the cost of original shipping and re-shipping the damaged products back as well as shipping its replacement out again. The cost of picking and packing the products should also be factored in when you are calculating your spend on load damage. This is why supplemental shipping insurance should be a consideration if not a necessity for your business.

Automating your pallet wrapping can greatly reduce the load damage you face thanks to its consistency and reliability in securing loads. Did you know that there are specific load containment and wrap forces required to achieve a secure load for every type of palletized shipment? If you don't know these for your pallets, there are tools available that we can help you with to help you determine them.

Containment force is more important than the amount of times a pallet is wrapped or the gauge of the stretch film used. According to an interview with Jim Lancaster, CEO of Lantech (the claimed inventor of stretch wrap and the first automated pallet wrapper), wrapping the top and the bottom of a pallet with more stretch wrap is an old wive's tale. In order to assure a secure shipment you must to apply the minimum containment force for your loaded pallet everywhere on the load. If this is true, relying on manual labor to achieve the proper load containment consistently to reduce or eliminate load damage seems impractical.

Determining When to Automate

After reviewing the above, it may already seem like a no-brainer for your production lines to automate your very end-of-line. If not, here are some questions to help you determine when you will be ready:

  • What are your needs for output (demand) per week/month/quarter/year?
    • Consider the amount of pallets you're wrapping on a weekly basis. If you have over 50 pallets going out per week, you could potentially see a return on investment in a year, give-or-take.
  • How much are you spending on stretch films on a monthly or quarterly basis?
    • With the knowledge that you can achieve an average of to 250% or more pre-stretch on your films with an automated wrapper, see how much you could save on film costs alone by upgrading.
  • How much are you spending in damaged goods each quarter/year?
    • How much of this load damage can you directly correlate to your load containment or shifting pallet loads? Understand what irregular load wraps are really costing your business.
  • How long does each pallet take to be wrapped from loading to placement in the carrier trucks?
    • Add how much your employees are paid into this equation and consider this a cost in your damaged goods. Don't forget to add in any wrapping-related injury costs. Does the manual wrapping slow down your production as a whole?

Considering all of these factors as a whole, how much does manual wrapping actually cost you? If you could automate, how long would it take you to see ROI? If you want to learn more about your options for automation talk to one of our Packaging Pro's about your operation.

If you'll be ready to purchase a new piece of machinery in the next 12 months, get your free copy of the Packaging Machinery Investment Checklist. All the major questions you need to help you make a justified capital investment with ease.


Get The Checklist


About David Roberge

Part of the outstanding Industrial Packaging team. I'm lucky to hang out with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the packaging industry. I feel even luckier to be able to share our knowledge with you. I love learning about our readers and helping them grow their brand through unique, flexible package design from the birth of the product idea, through the supply chain, and to the launch and placement on the shelf or at the consumer's door.