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Automated Packaging Systems Help Company Save Time and Money

September 11, 2000
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“If you build it, he will come.” This powerful phrase from the movie “Field of Dreams” is what inspired Bruce Brekke to build his direct marketing empire known today as Heartland America. Brekke founded the company in 1985. He initially conducted business out of his small, one-bedroom apartment, eventually transforming his one-man importing shop into a highly successful retailing/merchandising facility.

Heartland America offers high-quality, brand-name merchandise at competitive prices and markets its products through mail-order catalogs. Products range from auto accessories, home-office equipment and hardware to cigars, collectibles and jewelry. Now located in Chaska, Minn., Heartland America operates out of a 70,000-sq-ft warehouse – two times larger than its previous facility. It is one of the nation’s premier direct-marketing companies, employing 140 people and attracting two million customers.

A Packaging Solution

In any business, protecting your investments is critical for success. So, Heartland America takes care to ensure that products arrive safely to its customers’ doors, protected and unharmed.

Imagine sealing thousands of boxes of different sizes and shapes, and placing loose fill and paper in each package by hand. That’s what the company did before Jesco Industrial Supplies, Inc., a Minneapolis-based packaging distributor, was commissioned to help. Jesco provided a turnkey solution by introducing two packaging products that work together – the 700r 3M-Matic Random Case Sealer from 3M and the Fill-Air™ 1000 packaging system from Sealed Air Corp.

Heartland America invested in the 3M-Matic system offered through the company’s Packaging Systems Division in St. Paul, Minn. Now, people working the packaging lines can seal up to 15 boxes in one minute, saving the company time and money. The pneumatically operated packing station holds empty boxes for filling and centers them for sealing. Then, the AccuGlide II taping head smoothly and precisely applies 3M box-sealing tape. The case sealer’s motor drive automatically adjusts to the height and width of each package. The company was so pleased with the 3M-Matic that it purchased a second system the following year.

The Fill-Air 1000 System from Sealed Air Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J., provides Heartland America with excellent product protection with significant savings achieved through fast, on-demand air cushions. The clean, lightweight, inflatable packaging eliminates loose-fill mess. Both systems work side-by-side on the packaging line, preventing bottlenecks and surpassing productivity goals.

Increased Productivity

According to Shipping Manager Jason Drum, since Heartland America implemented both the 3M-Matic equipment and the Fill-Air 1000 system, productivity has increased. Each person in the packaging area is able to process up to 37 percent more packages per hour than was previously possible.

“The two systems work very well together,” said Operations Manager Chris Scribner. “First the cushions are filled with air and placed in the box along with the products, securing the items in place. Then the 3M-Matic system seals up the package. Both ensure that our products are well protected. Not only are we getting the job done faster because of the automated systems, but it also takes fewer people to finish the work.

“Before we invested in the systems, we could only package about 3,200 orders during peak time. Now we can do that much in the off season,” said Scribner. “And during the peak season, we can take care of 4,600 boxes per day in a single, eight-hour shift, using only one production line. The systems have really helped to maintain our consistent throughput capabilities.”

Additionally, Heartland America’s tape expenses have decreased because the 3M-Matic system uses only a single strip of tape per package. “Before, we used several pieces of tape on each package, and the flaps of one box would stick to another. Now we only use one strip to seal the flaps. The 3M-Matic system evenly places the tape in the center of the box every time. Our packages look much more professional and clean on the outside, as well as the inside,” said Scribner.

Drum says that his employees appreciate the case-sealing equipment. “They were a bit skeptical of the change at first, like anything new. But it didn’t take long for them to really see the benefits of the case sealer,” he said. “They can do twice as much work and they think it’s so easy to use. Before the 3M-Matic equipment, it took 15 people to complete 60 percent of our current volume. Now it takes 14 people to take care of 100 percent of our volume.”

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