Title:
Automated System Of Protective Packaging
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method of automating a packaging system comprises receiving from a customer an order to be shipped to the customer, determining a volume of the order, selecting a box having a volume sufficient to contain the order and a desired quantity of cushioning product, determining a difference in the volumes of the box and the order, generating a signal based on the difference in the volumes, and causing, with the signal, a cushioning product producing and/or dispensing machine to produce and/or dispense the desired quantity of cushioning product.



Inventors:
Eckel, Thomas George (Milford, OH, US)
Application Number:
12/436405
Publication Date:
11/12/2009
Filing Date:
05/06/2009
Assignee:
Storopack, Inc. (Cincinnati, OH, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B1/04
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
JALLOW, EYAMINDAE CHOSSAN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WOOD, HERRON & EVANS, LLP (CINCINNATI, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of automating a packaging system comprising: receiving from a customer an order to be shipped to the customer, determining a volume of the order, selecting a shipping box having a volume sufficient to contain the order and a desired quantity of cushioning product, determining a difference in the volumes of the box and the order, generating a signal based on the difference in the volumes, and causing, with the signal, a cushioning product producing and/or dispensing machine to produce and/or dispense the desired quantity of cushioning product.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the method is embodied in software adapted to run on a computer.

3. The method of claim 2 wherein the steps of receiving an order from a customer, determining a volume of the order, and selecting a box having a volume that can contain the order and a desired quantity of cushioning product, are embodied in pre-existing software.

4. The method of claim 1 wherein the cushioning product is air pillows, paper pads, loosefill, or foam-in-bag cushions.

5. The method of claim 1 further comprising the steps of identifying the box and confirming the identity of the box prior to producing and/or dispensing the desired quantity of cushioning material.

Description:

FIELD

This relates generally to protective packaging, and more particularly to an automated system of protective packaging.

BACKGROUND

Large warehouses that ship goods to customers upon receipt of the customers' orders typically use warehouse management software (“WMS”). Upon receipt of a customer order, a typical WMS system first determines the volume of the goods making up an order.

Next, the WMS system determines an appropriate size of box in which to ship the order. This appropriate box size will be of a larger volume than the volume of the order to permit protective packaging material to be added to the box to cushion and protect the order during shipment.

Next, the WMS system sends the box size information to a picking/packing operator. The operator picks the appropriate size box from the inventory of boxes on hand and places the order in the box. The operator then makes a visual inspection of the order within the box, noting the “void” to be filled, i.e. the volume of the box not taken up by the order. Finally, the operator operates a cushioning material producing and dispensing machine (or dispensing-only machine in the case of pre-produced cushioning material) at the packaging station to manually produce and dispense (or just dispense) the required or desired volume of cushioning material with which to pack the order in the box to provide adequate protection of the order during shipment. The cushioning material used could be air pillows, for example AIRplus® air pillows, paper pads, for example PAPERplus® paper pads, loosefill, for example PELASPAN® loosefill, or foam-in-bag cushions, all of which are commercially available from the assignee, or any other suitable cushioning material or dunnage.

Rather than rely upon manual methods, it would be desirable to provide a system that automates the step or steps of producing and/or dispensing the required or desired amount of cushioning product. Such a system would tend to prevent overfilling the box with cushioning material, resulting in waste, or under-filling the box with cushioning material, resulting in potential damage to the order during shipment.

SUMMARY

A method of automating a packaging system comprises receiving from a customer an order to be shipped to the customer, determining a volume of the order, selecting a shipping box having a volume sufficient to contain the order and a desired quantity of cushioning product, determining a difference in the volumes of the box and the order, generating a signal based on the difference in the volumes, and causing, with the signal, a cushioning product producing and/or dispensing machine to produce and/or dispense the desired quantity of cushioning product.

The method can be embodied in software adapted to run on a computer.

The steps of receiving an order from a customer, determining a volume of the order, and selecting a box having a volume that can contain the order and a desired quantity of cushioning product can be embodied in pre-existing software.

The cushioning product can be air pillows, paper pads, loosefill, or foam-in-bag cushions.

The method can further comprise the steps of identifying the box and confirming the identity of the box prior to producing and/or dispensing the desired quantity of cushioning material.

DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a diagrammatic view of the automated system of protective packaging to be described below.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the system of FIG. 1.

DESCRIPTION

Referring first to FIG. 1, a customer 2 places an order with a business that ships the order from a warehouse 4. The warehouse 4 has a computer 6. The computer 6 selects an appropriately sized box 8 from an inventory 10 of differently sized boxes. A packer 12 packs the order in the appropriately sized box 8 with cushioning material 14 produced and/or dispensed by and/or from a cushioning material producing and/or dispensing machine 16. The cushioning material 14 could be, for example, air pillows such as AIRplus® air pillows, paper pads such as PAPERplus® paper pads, loosefill such as PELASPAN® loosefill, or foam-in-bag cushions, produced and/or dispensed by and/or from the machines of, or otherwise the subject of, for example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,508,611, 6,453,644, 6,398,460, 6,341,473, 6,296,424, 6,170,227, 6,004,637, 5,413,855, 5,108,673, 5,028,470, 4,970,040, 4,627,947, 6,534,148, 6,106,452, 6,033,354, 5,897,481, and 5,766,736, all hereby incorporated by reference herein as if fully set forth in their entirety.

FIG. 2 illustrates the steps performed by the system. The warehouse 4 receives an order from a customer 2 as indicated at 20. The computer 6 determines the volume of the order as indicated at 22. The computer 6 selects an appropriately sized box 8 from an inventory 10 of differently sized boxes that are kept on hand or otherwise in inventory at the warehouse 4 as indicated at 24. The appropriately sized box 8 will be of a volume sufficient to contain the order and a quantity of cushioning product sufficient to prevent damage to the order during shipment. The computer 6 may communicate the appropriately sized box 8 to the packer 12 so that the packer 12 can manually retrieve the box from inventory, or alternatively automation may be employed whereby the appropriately sized box 8 is automatically delivered to the packer 12. The box 8 is identified, as indicated at 26. For example, the box 8 can be labeled or otherwise designated with a unique identifier such as a simple label, hand mark, etc. applied to the box that can be visually identified by a packer, or a machine readable label such as a bar code or the like that can be read by the machine 16.

The computer 6 determines the difference in the volumes of the box and the order, as indicated at 28. The computer 6 generates a signal based on the difference in the volumes of the box and the order, as indicated at 30. This signal is then sent to the machine 16, as indicated at 32. To ensure that the machine 16 produces and/or dispenses the required/desired quantity of cushioning material, in response to the signal received, into the correct box with order therein, the box identity is confirmed, as indicated at 34. This can be accomplished manually by the packer simply making a visual inspection of the label, hand mark, etc. previously applied to the box to confirm its identity. Alternatively, the machine 16 can be outfitted with a bar code reader to read the bar code label previously applied to the box to confirm its identity

Once the identity of the box has been confirmed, either manually or by automation, and in response to the signal received, the machine 16 produces and/or dispenses automatically the required/desired quantity of cushioning material into the box with the order contained therein. This is shown at 36.

The methodology of the system can be embodied in software adapted to run on the computer 6. Blocks 20-26 are embodied in currently existing and commercially available warehouse management software. The difference value at block 28 can be readily determined and then fed into an additional software algorithm represented by blocks 30-36 running on the computer 6 and/or machine 16.

The inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and labor costs of the heretofore manual system of producing and/or dispensing the desired/required quantity of cushioning material are thus reduced. Overfilling the box with cushioning material, resulting in waste, or under-filling the box with cushioning material, resulting in potential damage to the order during shipment, are also reduced.

And, no complicated and expensive probe apparatus and associated software are needed to sense the void volume and to determine the volume of cushioning material desired/required.

The embodiments shown and described are for illustrative purposes only. The drawings and the description are not intended to limit in any way the scope of the claims. Those skilled in the art will appreciate various changes, modifications, and alternative embodiments. For example, the signal based on the difference in volumes of the box and order could be embodied in the machine readable bar code label placed on the box. In that case, the machine 16 both a) confirms the identity of the box, and b) receives the signal based on the difference in the volumes, from the bar code label. All such changes, modifications and embodiments are embraced by the claims. Accordingly, the scope of the right to exclude shall be limited only by the following claims and their equivalents.





 
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