E-commerce has completely changed the fulfillment process, creating far more competition between companies trying to keep up with each other and customer demand for two-day and overnight shipping. From beginning to end, the fulfillment process needs to be flawless to ensure that customers are receiving their full orders on time, and without any damage occurring during shipping.
Before an item can ship, it first needs to be picked and packed, which is what we will be focusing on in this article.
Packing is an integral part of the fulfillment process, especially in a competitive market where customers scrutinize every aspect of their online ordering experience. To facilitate fast, secure packing procedures, personnel must have a designated area where they have access to all necessary tools and have plenty of space in which to complete packing each order.
Here, we’ll be discussing the various pieces of information you’ll need to set up an efficient packing station in your facility, and offering a few tips to make the process easier along the way.
Order Packing Process
Before we can delve into how and why to set up a packing station, we need to understand the order packing process and what it requires. In a warehouse environment, items are first picked from storage or inventory bins.
Each order is picked individually to ensure every part of the order is included, then it’s on to the packing station.
During the order packing process, all items in an order are accounted for, then carefully weighed to determine shipping costs. Next, the person responsible for packing the order must select appropriate packaging, which includes choosing boxes/envelopes, adding foam, peanuts, or other protective elements, and securely packing and closing the final package.
Finally, a label is created and secured to the package, signaling the completion of the order packing process. The order is now ready to be shipped.
Here’s a basic breakdown of the order packing process:
- Account for all items
- Check weight
- Choose packaging
What Is a Packing Station?
Warehouse packing stations are workspaces specifically designed to facilitate and expedite the order packing process. Packing stations come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be custom designed to suit the specific needs of every company, but all include the same basic elements.
First and foremost, a packing station should include all the materials needed by packing personnel to successfully pack, weigh, and label an order before sending it out for shipment.
Every company’s packing procedures are slightly different and will depend on the types of products they sell/ship, how far the packages are going, etc. For some, a packing station may include half a dozen different sizes of cardboard boxes, whereas others may only need slots for a few types of padded envelopes.
Regardless of what materials your company uses to pack orders, they should all be readily accessible by personnel using packing stations.
For the sake of convenience, efficiency, and comfort, most packing stations include shelving or hanging storage on which to put packing materials, rolls of paper, tape, label makers, scanners, knives, and more. Most packing stations also include storage drawers or base cabinets to store backup materials, reducing the need for trips back and forth to the station.
Some common materials that are often stored in or on packing stations include:
- Bubble wrap
- Rolls of packing foam
- Label printers
- Scissors/box cutters
Benefits of a Well-Configured Packing Station
Why worry about setting up designated packing stations when you already have workstations set up throughout your facility? Many warehouse managers are resistant to the idea of adding packing stations to a facility, wrongly believing that the process will be complicated and ultimately more of a hassle than it is worth.
In fact, many warehouses spread their packing procedure throughout the facility, minimizing efficiency and wasting space.
While it is possible to pack items without a packing station, those companies that take the time to integrate custom made packing stations into their fulfillment centers often find that they can fulfill orders more quickly and with fewer errors, making them more competitive and desirable to customers. Here are just a few of the benefits of adding well-configured packing stations to your facility:
Packing stations help to keep everything in one place, giving packing personnel access to all the materials they need within arms reach so they won’t have to go running around the facility to gather everything they need. By putting everything in one place, the order packing process becomes far more efficient, and you’ll find that you can pack and ship more orders than before.
Creating designated packing stations also helps to free up valuable warehouse space that may have been taken up by your inefficient packing system, thereby creating more room for other personnel to work and freeing up storage that may be needed for expanding inventory.
As mentioned, installing packing stations in your warehouse or fulfillment center can help you to streamline your picking, packing, and shipping processes, creating a more efficient environment overall. Heightened efficiency won’t go unnoticed by your customers or your competition, and can give you an edge above the competition.
If you fulfill orders for your own company, you’ll notice sales increasing as the word gets out about your fast, reliable ordering process. If you fulfill orders or store inventory for other companies or independent sellers, you’ll find more sellers approaching you for your services, and could begin to grow the size of your business.
Packing orders can be a physically demanding task, especially without the use of a well-designed packing station. Bending, lifting, leaning over, and repetitive movements can leave the body sore, cause muscular or skeletal problems, create chronic pain, or even cause an individual to develop conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Packing stations designed for efficient, comfortable packing help to protect personnel by keeping everything within a comfortable range, and incorporating ergonomic elements designed specifically for the human body.
Considerations for Adding Packing Stations
Once you have determined that your warehouse or fulfillment center is in need of packing stations, there are a few basic considerations to be made before placing an order. Here’s what you should consider before you start the process of designing or choosing your packing stations:
Lean Warehouse Principles
In a warehouse or fulfillment center, all tasks are connected and impact one another. If one step of the process is clunky, inconvenient, or poorly designed it can affect the rest of the chain, creating problems that ultimately impact the customer.
Warehouses that operate on lean principles have carefully assessed the various operations and tasks being completed within their facilities and create systems that enable them to happen as seamlessly as possible.
A few questions to ask when determining whether problems in other areas of the facility could be impacting the packing process include:
- Do all pieces of equipment promote efficiency and quality?
- Are there inventory gaps that may impact shipping?
- Is the picking process streamlined?
- Are there failsafes in place to protect employees and to address issues as they arise?
- Is every area of the facility being used efficiently?
The 5S Workflow system is a workplace organization method developed in Japan that is meant to help create an organized, efficient, calm working environment. The 5S system is an excellent tool to use when setting up a packing station since each step can be applied to streamline and grow efficiency.
The 5 S’s refer to five Japanese words: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.
- Seiri – Sort: The first step of the 5S workflow process is to sort, or organize, your workplace. This step includes identifying and separating those items that are useful and important to the operation of the workplace from those that are unnecessary clutter. All redundant items, obstacles, or unused items should be removed to free up space and create a less cluttered and more calming environment.
When setting up a packing station, the first step should be to sort out the items that are necessary for successful packing and to remove all redundant or unnecessary items from the packing area.
- Seiton – Set in order: The second step of the 5S workflow process is to set things in order, or to give every item a home that allows it to be easily found, accessed, and used. Every piece of machinery, every tool, and every consumable should have a fixed location, and labels/signs should be posted to alert everyone to their presence.
In the case of creating a packing station, you should find a home for all items used to pack orders including necessary tools, equipment, boxes, paper, bubble wrap, etc.
- Seiso – Shine: Regular maintenance and cleaning are key to keeping a workplace and all its equipment in good condition, practice ‘shining’ your workspace every day. Shining includes cleaning, reorganizing, completing small repairs, doing maintenance, and making improvements wherever necessary.
- Seiketsu – Standardize: Once you have cleaned, organized, and set up your space, you next need to create standardized procedures to maintain it. Standardize how and when cleaning happens, standardize what types of cleaning products are being used, etc. By creating routines and firmly establishing expected standards, you will be better able to maintain an organized working environment.
- Shitsuke – Sustain: It is one thing to create standardized rules, but it is another to enforce them. In the final step of the 5S method, you must create a company culture that is in line with sustaining order and organization. This means providing regular and adequate training to all personnel, demanding and demonstrating discipline and routine, and regularly checking in with personnel to assess the effectiveness of established standards.
Considering the ergonomics of a packing station is important to ensure that personnel will not experience injury or struggle to efficiently pack more difficult orders. Workstations should be personalized to suit the specific needs of your employees, including easily accessible storage, ergonomic seating, or equipment to assist with lifting and packing larger items.
Not considering the ergonomics of a packing station could have you in hot water later down the road when employees are worn out, physically in pain, and struggling to keep up with order demand. By designing packing stations to suit the physical demands and needs of employees, you’ll help create a more positive, efficient workplace.
Designing Custom Packing Stations
Although generic packing stations do exist, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and pre-made packing stations rarely fulfill all the needs of a company. The specific design and layout of your packing station will depend significantly on the type and size of items typically being shipped from your facility.
Companies shipping food and beverage products directly to customers, for example, will have vastly different requirements than a company shipping commercial auto-parts from manufacturers. Additionally, the size and scope of your operation will greatly affect how much space is required for the packing process, how many workstations you will need, where packing stations will be located, etc.
At OnePointe Solutions, we offer a huge range of packing station components and accessories – like mounted and modular casework, custom workbenches, and ergonomic seating – and can help you design the perfect packing station for your specific needs. Our design team will work closely with you to discover which solutions will help to streamline the packing process, make your employees more comfortable, and improve organizational efficiency.