Easy-to-use pallet software permits complex package scenarios to be represented in short order.

When it comes to pallet load effectiveness, the proof is in the pattern: how high, how many layers, and the count per layer.

That’s a fairly straightforward determination, unless it’s desired that the pallet load be efficiently optimized. Then it requires more than a modest assessment.

Things get messier if there are “rainbow” or mixed pallet loads to consider that involve different products and different size packages. And when one wants to determine how those pallet loads can best fit into a truck, things really get complicated.

It’s a challenging scenario that packagers of every ilk have long faced. Yet for a number of years, they have had an option available other than tradition, experience, and trial and error: palletizing software.

“We have customers of all types, from very small entrepreneurial companies where all they need is the ability to create pallet patterns, to multinationals that have hundreds of licenses scattered around the world,” offers Brad Leonard, VP for packaging innovation & sustainability at CAPE Systems Inc. “Even a company that ships one, two or three truckloads over the course of a year can improve the amount of product per pallet and per truck and recoup the software costs.” Its software pricing begins under $1,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, Leonard points out that a customer that happened to be one of the world’s largest food packagers used the software to make a small change to one package size. That saved 900 trucks, 6,500 pallets, 625,000 pounds of plastic, and 630,000 pounds of corrugated.

Those details underscore a fact that the benefits of cost savings, which have always played well, are enhanced by benefits related to sustainability.

That’s been the case for another major vendor of pallet software: TOPS Software Corp. TOPS Pro allows packaging engineers to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to size, shape and ship packaged products by creating optimal package designs and pallet patterns. TOPS Pro works exclusively with single-sized products. TOPS’ other product, MaxLoad Pro, works with mixed-sized items. It uses advanced algorithms to “Show and Tell” users how to load the mixed products.

Eco savings

Last November, the company began shipping TOPS Pro version 6.0. According to TOPS senior business manager Eva Lee, the most notable new feature of that release is Eco Savings Report (ESR). The ESR provides comparison data among different packaging solutions and their impacts on the environment in terms of carbon emissions, corrugated use and packing material waste.

Another notable feature is the interactive intermediate pack and shipper-sizing editor. With an easy click, drag-and-drop motion in a multiple view screen, users can add, remove, and re-arrange products inside a case for optimal package sizing. “With the industry’s emphasis on ‘green’ initiatives, the ESR becomes an indispensible tool,” she says.

Forthcoming is TOPS Pro 6.20 release, which Lee describes as a major overhaul using structured query language (SQL) as the backend database. “This release will also feature a new analysis ‘check in and out’ system for better collaboration among users,” she points out.

For CAPE, the ever-growing importance of sustainability related to packaging has been an excellent opportunity. “Today, it’s all about getting more product on a pallet: Rightsizing, downsizing, optimizing, maximizing,” observes Leonard. “Our software is right in the middle of that.”

CAPE is currently launching Version 2.11, which adds a number of new features, including new box styles along with new palletizing, unitizing and truck-loading features. It also offers an enhanced interface with ArtiosCAD as part of its technology partnership with ESKO/Artwork.

Who uses the software? That’s typically left to the packaging engineer, Leonard says. For other companies, it’s left to production or quality control personnel.

Besides packagers, CAPE also sells its software to packaging vendors to help them design the proper size of containers for their customers. Another customer segment is integrators of robotic palletizers.

Another vendor in this market, Allied Development, offers SavvyPack, which is described by founder and CEO Steve Mogensen as a “rigorous economic and environmental analysis system designed and built specifically for packaging that includes pallet packaging as a part of this analysis.” SavvyPack offers detailed cost and environmental information with minimal time investment, the ability to compare pallet designs, the ability to run “what-ifs,” the ability to easily generate results from specific calendar dates, and other features. Its latest version provides a synchronized analysis process that provides both economic and environmental results for the same model-two results for one analysis, Mogensen points out

For many who want to optimize their pallet pack patterns quickly, doing it the old-fashioned way just doesn’t compute anymore.

For more information

Allied Development Corp.

CAPE Systems, Inc.

TOPS Software Corp.

Clif Bar’s pallet development software supports the company’s sustainability efforts with details that include cubic efficiency and the amount of corrugated used.

Palletizing software boosts Clif Bar

Clif Bar & Co., Berkeley, Calif., purchased TOPS software in 2009.

“The original purpose was to better communicate our carton, case and pallet configurations internally, to our co-packers and our vendors,” explains Cathy Knowles, packaging buyer. “After working with this system for a little more than a year, the value of this software has far exceeded our original expectations.”

The company now uses the pallet optimization software for:
• Pallet optimization review and improvement
• New product case and pallet configuration
• Optimizing pallets on trucks, getting maximum weights per load

It recently upgraded to TOPS version 6.02, which includes sustainability calculation options.

“This new feature enables calculations for carbon dioxide emissions, water and solid waste for materials and trucking,” says Knowles. “This truly supports Clif Bar & Company’s strong commitment to sustaining our planet.”

Clif Bar now uses the program on every new product it develops, and is constantly working on case and pallet improvements to its existing lines.

Knowles also liked that the TOPS contact recently made a visit to the company’s bakeries to gain a further understanding of Clif Bar’s packaging operations and to ensure that the software was up-to-date.

“We worked on optimization of some of our existing product lines, considering actual production capabilities, as we watched our Clif Bars being packaged right before our eyes,” she reports. “Real solutions come from interactions like this.”