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How robots turned box maker Delkor into minimalists

Dee DePass, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

During a recent test, Delkor's new bus-size Turbo packaging robot in Arden Hills, Minn., pounded cardboard into hundreds of short box-trays and quickly packed each with yogurt cups, shrink-wrapped them and zipped the bundles down the conveyor line.

The warp-speed process is exciting sustainability pros. The company said the new machine can box products using 30 to 50 percent less boxboard than is found in most food packaging.

And the savings are not just good for the environment. They save in purchasing costs for product makers, said Rick Gessler, vice president of engineering for Delkor.

"That may not sound like a lot," he said. "But when you make 30 boxes a minute, you are talking about not needing a lot of board and 1/8gaining3/8 a lot of savings. If you are 1/8a manufacturer3/8 running 2 million product cases through a year, you'd save 1 million cases of corrugated board each year."

Delkor's robotic efforts are the latest leg of a minimalist materials movement sweeping the nation. For years, Walmart, Costco, Aldi and Kroger have increasingly asked food suppliers to back off hefty packaging in an effort to address trash, energy and pollution concerns -- and save money in the process.

The Kroger grocery chain bought four Turbos in February. Siggi's Icelandic yogurt bought one last month. More orders are expected as 50 food producers tromp through Delkor's factory this month to get a demonstration. Delkor expects to sell about 10 to 12 Turbos a year.

 

The company's hopes are buoyed by Walmart's new request that suppliers help it eliminate a billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2030. Part of that project begs food suppliers to "light weight" or "right size" product packages to avoid material waste and slash trucking weights and emissions.

That bodes well for the 200-employee Delkor, which is expected to grow to $84 million this year, said Ron Sasine, a national retail-packaging consultant and Walmart's former packaging vice president.

"When Delkor shows up with a new highly engineered boxing method that uses 30 to 50 percent less corrugated board material? That is a greenhouse gas savings right off the top," he said.

While more retailers and manufacturers adopt "sustainability" goals that slash material purchases, transportation weights and package disposal and landfill costs, state pollution control experts say more work is needed.

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