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issue: April 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Packaging
Clearing the Way for Success


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by Erin Biesen, Assistant Editor

When Whirlpool’s refrigerator plant in Fort Smith, AR, U.S. began a cost and quality project to change its packaging materials, it looked to Huntington Foam’s innovative method for packaging products.

Whirlpool was one of the first companies in the U.S. to embrace Clear-View packaging. “Whirlpool was really one of the first ones to take this Clear-View and apply it,” explains Mr. Myers. “They approached us with open arms and said, ‘Okay, we want to go to the market, and we’ve got our ideas, and we need your help to finish it.’”

Whirlpool’s goal was to stray from the standard corrugated material used to package most products. It knew of Huntington Foam’s Clear-View™ Packaging system because its sister plant in Evansville, IN, U.S. used the system with great success. Whirlpool decided to approach Huntington to help through the changeover. “We pretty much had decided on what packaging material we were going to use and had a preliminary design when we approached them,” says Stacey Archer, Whirlpool senior product engineer. “Huntington’s main responsibility was to get our tools completed at the tool shop and to get the parts molded.”

Huntington’s Clear-View system removes the box or carton method of packaging and replaces it with a film. “It’s a type of plastic, similar to a plastic bag. It is clear and goes over the product and you are visually able to see the product through the packaging,” explains Jeff Myers, director of Engineering for Huntington Foam Corporation (Brockway, PA, U.S.).

The pack system can be used on a variety of products. “Right now we’ve developed and completed the process for many large appliance manufacturers, but we are also getting into a whole other variant of different components—plumbing, air-conditioning, water heaters, and computers,” Mr. Myers tells APPLIANCE. “Every product requires a different design, but for the most part, we can apply our knowledge and our technique to just about any product.”

Clear-View removes the corrugated box from the packaging system and replaces it with foam and film to create more protection and to make damage visible.

Stretching the Package

There are a variety of ways in which the Clear-View system is carried out. Mainly, there are extended polystyrene (EPS) pieces that lock together. Heat can be applied to shrink the plastic around the product or a machine can stretch the film and apply it over the top of the product. “You are literally stretching the film around the product, and the tension of the film is what holds everything together,” comments Mr. Myers. The stretch method is the one that Whirlpool selected for its new packaging system, and the corner post packaging is EPS foam. Mr. Myers notes that most companies lean toward the stretch method of packaging since there is the constant tension of the film.

Both companies started with Whirlpool’s idea and then worked together to finish the design. Huntington made the samples, helped with engineering, and tested the products (in addition to the in-house testing Whirlpool completed).

Huntington works in a joint engineering environment, according to Mr. Myers. “We can offer a turn key packaging solution that creates the whole system from the ground up.” However, Clear-View can also be built with existing packaging systems or ideas similar to Whirlpool. “Some [systems] are a little more advanced than others, and some of them have certain things that apply to the Clear-View system already, while others need to be built from the ground up,” Mr. Myers comments.

The Whirlpool redesign required work from both companies to create the ideal packaging system for the product. “We worked together. They came up with the initial concept of putting certain types of posts in it and replacing the box,” Mr. Myers comments. “In working with them, we went through and developed all the details and changes to meet testing requirements, while still being able to apply the film and maintain the same machine rates, processes, outputs, and logistics.”

The second phase of the project involved moving and adding styrafoam pieces to accommodate for handling issues. According to Mr. Myers, distribution centers do not handle all of the products in the same manner, so it was necessary to strategically place pieces to cover all the possibilities with handling. “You have to come up with the best compromise to adapt to how everyone handles the product,” he tells APPLIANCE.

Visible Reduction

In removing the corrugated material and switching to film and EPS, Whirlpool reduced its packaging costs. According to Ms. Archer of Whirlpool, the switch resulted in a 50-percent reduction in material cost and a 30-percent reduction in manpower. “In most cases, the outside box is very expensive and tends to be more of a dust cover,” adds Mr. Myers of Huntington Foam. “As long as the appliance and the packaging itself are sufficient on their own, the end product stabilizes itself from a transportation standpoint. You are replacing a reasonably expensive dust cover with a less expensive film.”

However, Mr. Myers says the reaction of seeing a package different from the corrugated box is not always well received in the field. “The perception right away is that it must be a weaker package, the product is going to have more damage, and it’s not going to be handled in the same way,” he notes. “There is a bit of fear that they are going to have more damage out in the field, when in reality it’s the opposite—it’s a better package, and you have less damage in the field.”

The film also helps to reduce the amount of damaged products that get as far as the customer. “The biggest benefit you get from Clear-View is, what you see is what you get,” explains Mr. Myers. “With Clear-View, if a distributor or OEM receives a product and they can see a major defect in say the doors, it should be very visible without them having to unwrap the packaging at all.”

Whirlpool confirms that it received immediate quality improvments when they made the transfer over to the new packaging system. “If it’s been damaged in transit you can usually see it,” notes Ms. Archer. “They are saying internally that our damage has gone down as well as through transportation lanes.”

Wrapping Up

Huntington has even experienced an entire business expansion from this partnership. “Because the Clear-View cost savings, Huntington agreed to build a facility within a few miles of the [Whirlpool] plant in Fort Smith,” says Mr. Myers.

Whirlpool already has future plans to use Clear-View on other product lines in addition to the two refrigerator plants currently using the system. “Our range plant in Tulsa, OK, U.S. is working on a project right now to convert,” Ms. Archer tells APPLIANCE.

Whirlpool is embracing this idea of packaging and spreading it through its various plants. Clear-View was a system that was not popular in the U.S. before Whirlpool began using it. “We see Whirlpool as one of the first to bring Clear-View to the U.S.,” explains Mr. Myers. “It’s something that has existed globally, but for the U.S. market, Whirlpool is one of the leaders. Huntington really believes with their support and our background that we’re right at the beginning of the new packaging method for a variety of different appliances and product goods.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Huntington Foam LLC
 

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