This article is part two of a multi-series on foam compression by our account manager, Jordan. He shares his insights to help customers better understand the variables that factor into the purchase of a compression machine. We hope it helps guide your discussions and allows you to make educated decisions when packaging your products. To read part one, click here.
Foam is a unique product when it comes to compression. Generally, when most products are compressed, they either retain energy and constantly push back (like a compressed steel spring), or they lose all energy and stay relaxed when compressed (like a crushed soda can). Foam is different because when it is compressed, it loses the ability to expand only as long as it is deprived of air. Once it starts to absorb air, it regains energy and begins to expand.
A Package You Can Guarantee
Foam’s compress/expansion properties make vacuum sealing difficult for long-term compression. If the only thing keeping foam compressed is a vacuum seal, any compromises to the film or the seal will result in the foam expanding. Once it starts to expand, it will eventually blow out the seals and fully recover. Even a pin-sized hold will eventually allow enough air to blow out the package.
Shrinkwrap is a great alternative to vacuum sealing. A shrink-wrapped package doesn’t rely on an air-tight seal; instead, it relies on cling to hold the package in its compressed size. This is why compressing and then rolling the foam into a shrinkwrap covered cylinder is the best way to guarantee that the foam won’t expand until the package is intentionally opened.
Other Considerations You Won’t Want to Overlook
Understanding the properties and capabilities of your foam is crucial, but knowing your packaging goals might be just as important. Here are examples of important questions that must be answered before you get too far in choosing a compression machine:
- Are you shipping your product directly to the consumer, or will it be on a retail shelf?
- Will it be going into a box, sleeve, or bag?
- How will the end-user open the package?
- Is there a specific package dimension you need to achieve?
It’s important to understand the cost per package, as this may vary widely from machine to machine, and it will certainly factor into your overall ROI. Generally, the initial capital expenditure for compression equipment will be a fraction of the long-term costs of packaging film.
To learn more about the importance of evaluating package costs, see our CEO, Joe, explain here.
Ultimately, the consumer of your product will determine if the packaging is acceptable or not. Any packaging machine purchase should focus on the end consumer. Some things to consider include:
- If it is finished product that is being opened in a home (like a mattress), will the individual be able to easily open the package without risk of damaging the product?
- Is it a dimension that’s easily transportable?
- Will they be able to easily dispose of the waste?
- If it is a raw product that is being shipped in bulk to a converter, will the facility be able to quickly open the package so as to not interrupt production?
- Will the handling process be efficient and easily accommodated?
Once you’ve considered the packaging factors, it’s time to start thinking about the machine you’re going to use to accomplish your foam compression objectives. Choosing a machine can be a daunting task, but there are a few main considerations that should help you quickly narrow down your choices.
This may be a tougher topic than it appears on the surface. Actual production throughput is not just a matter of how fast a machine can create a package in an ideal environment. Other factors include:
- What are the known interruptions to the machine throughout the day – things such as film changes, product changes, cleaning, etc.?
- How long do those processes take?
- What is your tolerance for downtime?
- Can you handle maintenance issues, or do you need an ultra-reliable machine?
Footprint and Product Flow
Space is a valuable commodity and it should be considered when purchasing a packaging machine. Some machines seemed like they were designed as if space were unlimited, while others come in a more compact design. You will want to take note of your available space. Also, don’t forget to plan for the future – if your company grows, could space become more of an issue later on?
Ease of Use
We all would love a staff full of qualified, experienced machine operators, but frankly, that is not often the case. The reality is that it can be hard to find qualified help. If this describes your situation, ease of use should be a main consideration when finding a compression machine. A machine that is designed with the operator in mind will give you years of stress-free use. A poorly designed machine will, at best, leave you feeling frustrated. At worst, it could pose a serious safety risk. Some considerations include:
- How easily can it switch from one product to the next?
- What are the operator inputs?
- How is the packaging film loaded into the machine?
- When a problem arises (and they will arise), is the machine designed for an easy, safe recovery?
When your machine is down, and your customers are wondering where their product is, you’ll be glad you chose a machine that is backed by a competent and available customer service staff. Some questions that should be asked before committing to a machine include:
- If you encounter an issue with your machine that you can’t solve on your own, who will help you?
- What time zone are they in?
- Are they fluent in your language?
- How quickly can they get a qualified technician on-site if necessary?
The upfront cost is easy to focus on, but what is the long-term cost of ownership? There’s a saying that goes, “buy once, cry once.” The upfront cost is always going to be painful, but excessive maintenance, down-time, or even prematurely replacing a machine will hurt much worse.
- Are there parts that are known to wear out that you’ll be replacing on a frequent basis?
- How expensive are those parts?
- Does the machine have a good track record in the marketplace?
- If it’s a newer design, does the manufacturer have a reputation for quality?
Buying a machine that can grow with you usually makes a lot more sense than only buying for today’s needs. We can never be sure what the future will bring, but a little foresight can go a long way in this case.
- Could your product offering change?
- Are you forecasting a volume increase?
- Is it possible your product could stay the same, but the packaging requirements could change?
Foam compression is a viable way for you to increase your profits by reducing shipping costs on your foam products, increasing retail space, and simplifying package handling, but it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You, your product, and your targeted consumer all have unique needs to take into consideration. However, the considerations mentioned in this article should have you well on your way to making an educated decision on your next packaging machine!