Fabricator lassos an improved packing process

Wrapping system protects the protector

The FABRICATOR February 2009
February 10, 2009

Ranch Hand Truck Accessories was established in the area in 1986 to produce truck grille guards, a product that still comprises a majority of the company's sales. A 25 percent increase in production of its grille guards and front bumper replacements led to the need for a faster, more efficient, and more protective way of packaging its products.

Installed Grille Gaurd

Ranch Hand grille guards have protected trucks traveling the back roads of Texas hill country since 1986. The company has used the Lan-ringer stretch wrap system to protect the grille guards since 2007.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and for traveling the back roads of the Texas hill country, where deer outnumber people, vehicle protection is a necessity. More than 40 percent of the state's white-tailed deer population is concentrated in a 35-county area, so chances of"truck-meets-deer" incidents are high.

As a result, Ranch Hand Truck Accessories was established in the area in 1986 to produce truck grille guards, a product that still comprises a majority of the company's sales. Over the years the product line expanded to include more than 400 products for various makes and models of trucks and SUVs. Grille guards and front bumper replacements make up 75 percent of the company's sales, with back bumpers, steps, headache racks, toolboxes, and bed caps rounding out the product offering.

Over the years, demand for the company's products grew, and a 25 percent increase in production of its grille guards and front bumper replacements created another necessity for Ranch Hand to manage in 2006. It needed a faster, more efficient, and more protective way to package its products.

Process Bottleneck, Transit Damage

Ranch Hand has grown from modest beginnings to become one of the largest manufacturers of heavy-duty truck and sport utility vehicle accessories in the U.S. It has distributors in 43 states and in Canada—primarily new-car dealerships and aftermarket truck accessory retailers—and it operates five company-owned retail/wholesale outlets in Texas and Oklahoma. The company moved to Shiner, Texas, in 2001, after being purchased by Kaspar Companies in January 2000.

Ranch Hand had been producing approximately 160 pieces a day (a combination of grille guards and front bumper replacements), but when demand grew to more than 200 pieces per day by January 2006, the company moved toward greater use of automation, which included the installation of a robotic powder coating line.

"When we put the new powder line in, we started seeing a bottleneck in packaging," said General Manager Greg Chumchal.

"At the time, we were hand-packaging everything, and even with six people working the packaging line, we couldn't keep up."

The grille guards are large and oblong. If cubed off, they are roughly 7 ft. by 3 ft. by 3 ft. (LHW) and weigh an average of 130 lbs. The front bumper replacements have similar dimensions and average 270 lbs.

"These things are tough to wrap because of their shape and sharp corners," Chumchal said. Packaging consisted of foam-in-place pads, overwrapped with two large kraft sheets laminated with a spun-wound polypropylene liner. The kraft wrapping was held in place with baling twine, tied by hand. In addition to being cumbersome to handle, the kraft material provided little protection from the elements if the products had to be stored outdoors at the customer's location.

Speed wasn't the only issue. The foam-in-place pads helped reduce shipping returns by 80 percent when implemented in 2003, but Chumchal wanted further improvement. Ranch Hand products must arrive at the customer's location in pristine condition because most of its distributors are new-car dealerships, where the grille guards are installed on new vehicles.

"We can't have the products getting banged around and scratched up in transit," Chumchal said."The distributors just send them back." With a manufacturer's suggested retail price on grille guards of about $575 and front bumper replacements about $1,300, the company's margin can be eroded quickly with product returns.

During a visit to the Ranch Hand manufacturing facility, representatives from xpedx, a packaging supplies and equipment distributor, noticed packaging workers wrestling with the kraft paper and twine while handling product coming off the paint line. In addition, the kraft material was not doing the best job of holding the internal padding in place, so product protection was compromised.

"The guys from xpedx came down here and witnessed our operations firsthand," Chumchal said.

"When they saw the speed of our production lines and the protection needs of our products, they came back with a solution to reduce waste and eliminate as much shipping damage as possible. They recommended a new packaging strategy that used scored corrugated sheets to hold the pads in place, followed by stretch wrapping applied with a Lantech® Lan-ringer®."

Ranch Hand tested the idea at Lantech's Louisville facility in late 2006, then evaluated how it worked with test shipments. Afterward, the stretch film was removed and weighed to determine the cost of the new packaging. An order for an LR-6000 Lan-ringer followed in early 2007, with installation of the machine in July."The time we spent with xpedx at Lantech allowed us to test ideas and materials so the end result wasn't a guess," Chumchal said."We knew the cost of the system and the materials, as well as our savings and payback. We had a tried-and-true solution."

Wrap, Cut, Clamp, and Ship

The packaging system is an overwrap machine designed to wrap product that is moved through the production process on a conveyor. The film delivery system is mounted on a 40-, 60-, 75-, or 90-inch ring through which the product passes, and Lantech's patented Power-Thru® conveyor permits wrapping of the product and conveyor simultaneously (see Figure 1).

The conveyor supports the product through the wrap zone, allowing the stretch film to be applied with the proper containment force. Product stability is maintained by wrapping the product and conveyor together. Loads of up to 4,000 lbs. can be wrapped while the product is moving (spiral wrap mode) or stationary (banding mode) on the conveyor. After the product has been wrapped a cut-and-clamp device cuts the end of the film. This releases the tension on the film and allows it to contract, wrapping tightly against the product as it exits the machine.

The system includes the Lan-Logix™ PLC and a touchscreen. Wrapping parameters, including conveyor speed and number of wraps, are adjustable from the control, allowing loads of varying dimensions to be wrapped on one machine. The machine's Power Roller-Stretch® film delivery system can utilize 20-in. or 30-in. film rolls.

"The versatility of the Lan-ringer lets us handle almost any shape or size we put through it (see Figure 2), so we now wrap 95 percent of our products with it," Chumchal said."We looked at packaging with cardboard boxes, but we would need 400 different boxes and that wasn't economically feasible," he added.

While increased productivity was the company's goal, the stretch film machine yielded a substantial savings in both labor and materials. According to the company, labor costs were reduced by nearly 17 percent, or about $19,000 annually, and the cost of packing materials was reduced 12 percent, about $25,000 annually, by eliminating the kraft paper and baling twine The process now uses three sheets of 32-in. by 78-in. corrugated, followed by 30-in.-wide, 80-ga., UV-inhibited Bull Dog film. Labor and material savings alone will pay for the machine in less than three years.

The benefits didn't stop there. The company was rewarded with an additional 50 percent reduction in product returns caused by shipping damage. Also, its customers like the improved packaging.

"A lot of our distributors store our products outside, and they've told us the new stretch wrap provides much better protection from the elements," Chumchal added."In addition, it allows all of us a better degree of visual identification of package contents," he said."As a company that's in the business of protecting truck front ends, it's nice for customers to see that our own product packaging now demonstrates the best protection possible too."

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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