Packaging automation isn’t about any single step in the packaging process as much as its about pulling all the steps involved together. Another critical milepost on the automated packaging highway is automatic packing list inserter. Even if every step in the process up to this point has been perfect, inserting the wrong shipping paperwork into a carton can not only detract from the customer experience in opening the package, it can risk the release of confidential information.

Up to this point in the packaging automation process, we’ve identified each carton by its license plate number, married the allocated inventory item(s) to the carton in which it was inserted, and matched it with a shipping label and verified its accuracy. Now we have to get the right packing list inside.

Once all the inventory is married to the order carton, Invata’s FastTrak® warehouse software can print the packing list. The only problem is it’s not as simple as just sending the information to a printer and having the packing list inserter drop it in the package. While laser printers can print 30 pages per minute, that only happens after the delay of 7 seconds it takes for the first page to be printed. If your packaging automation line had to wait for the printer to churn out each packing list, the packaging list inserter would greatly impact that line’s productivity.

Invata’s solution for this is a simple, but elegant one: to place the packing list inserter downstream from the point at which inventory items are inserted into shipping cartons. When cartons leave the inventory insertion station — meaning an inventory item has been officially married to a shipping carton — an instruction is sent to the printer to print the pack list. Since the packing list inserter is downstream from the point where the print signal is initiated, there is adequate time for the printing and accumulation of pending packing lists.

When cartons do arrive at the packing list inserter, the packing list can immediately be inserted, as shown on the video on this page. This is accomplished by verifying the carton ID via the bar code license plate number on the carton against the order information and inserting the packing list at the same time the shipping label is applied. To avoid the dreaded FIFO error described in a previous blog, a license plate bar code is printed on the pack list as well. This bar code is scanned at the point of insertion to ensure it matches the bar code license plate on the carton itself — making the packing list inserter key to ensuring 100% accuracy in the packing automation process.

Of course, in the event that any part of the process is not 100% verified, the order carton will be routed to the exceptions processing station.