Automation technology and reusable packaging in a bakery environment can lead to a range of benefits, including greater efficiency and elevated sustainability. Andrea Nottestad, senior product manager, ORBIS, recently spoke with Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery about the symbiotic relationship between reusable containers and automated systems.

Jenni Spinner: Could you please talk a little bit about how automation in general impacts sustainability in a snack or bakery processing/packaging operation (for better or worse)?
Andrea Nottestad: The use of automated systems brings about a variety of operational and labor efficiencies. It is also a catalyst for consistent performance in today’s plants. It reduces variability and the waste resulting from it. That waste can come in the form of work processes or items such as packaging. If single-use trays, totes, or pallets are used in an automated system, they are only able to be used one time or a limited number of times before they are disposed of. 

JS: Specifically, does introducing automation technology make the incorporation of reusable packaging more difficult, easier, or the same?

AN: Overall, all industries, and at every point in the supply chain, are experiencing growth in the use of automation. Regardless of your application and the technology being used within your operation, reusable packaging solutions are best fit to efficiently transfer, store and organize product loads in automated systems.

JS: Ultimately, why might incorporating reusable totes and other reusables in an automated environment be beneficial to snack and bakery producers?

AN: Traditional bakeries have used reusable plastic trays and dolly systems to move product from the processing plant to retailers, foodservice, and convenience stores. As the supply chain evolves and more in-plant automation is added at food processing facilities, dimensionally consistent packaging is taking priority. This includes plastic reusable pallets for inbound shipments, bulk containers for ingredients, and totes for work-in-process activities.

Given its dimensional consistency, plastic packaging solutions seamlessly interface with a variety of automated systems to drive repeat performance. The standardized nature of reusable pallets and totes allow automated systems to run smoothly, reducing jams and improving the flow of product along the supply chain. These solutions also have no loose boards, flaps, or debris that can lead to system downtime. 

Unlike fiber corrugated and wood solutions that can harbor contaminants and become compromised due to moisture, the all-plastic construction and smooth design of reusables make them hygienic and easy to clean. Their durability ensures impact and moisture resistance, protecting products from being damaged and allows these solutions to interface well in automated environments to reduce downtime. With plastic, you also avoid the potential for downtime from corrugated dust blocking eye-readers or an out-of-spec/deformed box jamming the system.

Reusable plastic packaging is also available in a variety of material options, including FDA-compliant, fire retardant, or metal detectable to meet the unique needs of each industry, operation, and the automated processes it uses. 

With reusable pallets, trays, or containers, there are no loose boards or stray nails that can cause worker injury and lead to inefficiencies in an automated environment. There’s also no need for box cutters to open or break down corrugated packaging, eliminating another safety hazard. What’s more, unlike corrugated, reusable plastic solutions can be interlocked securely when stacked to reduce the risk of falling and include ergonomic features, such as handholds, for easy associate handling. 

JS: Please tell us about Orbis’ AROS products—how do they work, and how do these solutions improve upon existing products? 

AN: The Automated Reusable Optimized Solutions (AROS) product line is comprised of handheld containers designed to meet the specific system requirements of mini-load and AS/RS systems. This line offers multiple options to meet system integrator requirements and accessory features, including dividers, and collapsible and nestable options.       

Complete with a variety of key features that optimize their use in automated storage systems, the AROS product line is designed for compatibility with a variety of automated system features commonly found in food and beverage, e-commerce, retail, and consumer packaged goods operations.

Built with system integrator requirements in mind to ensure compatibility, the growing AROS portfolio has several accessory options to provide a complete solution, including dividers and cups for organization, hybrid and smooth bottom floors, and collapsible and nestable options. Plus, like all ORBIS® reusable packaging solutions, AROS products can be recovered, recycled and reprocessed right back into supply chain packaging at the end of their useful life.

JS Does Orbis have any plans to introduce any new products or services in this area?

AN: We recently launched the 40x48 Odyssey pallet, a plastic reusable pallet that holds up to 2,800 pounds and can travel for 400+ trips in a supply chain loop. This pallet was designed and built for use in automation. It is also now available in a low-profile option, which helps companies fit more product in a truck, reduce transportation costs and provide consistent pallet performance in automated systems. With a 5.6-inch height, the 40x48 Odyssey LP pallet aims to bring the added benefit of seamlessly integrating with alternate pallets in existing pallet pools.