The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 occupied the thoughts of show-goers. Many we met agreed that material handling will be key to distribution centers and warehouses during possible shutdowns and national emergency situations. Material handling can play an important role in helping relieve supply chain issues and by making the convenience services they provide businesses easier to obtain.
Rapid Prototype Is a Fast Favorite
Flexcon debuted its rapid prototype system at Modex—the first of its kind at the show. It was no puppy (see below) but many visitors to the Flexcon booth said that seeing the system in action was a highlight of the show. In addition to being fascinating to watch, the technology allows all the parties involved in production—customers, integrators, automation suppliers and Flexcon team members—a precision prototype to test and review prior to production. Since its introduction, Flexcon’s rework-reissue rate has dropped from 2% to 0%.
Forklifts and Pallets for the Future
Even standards like these are open to improvement. Automated and hand-controlled unmanned forklifts present new options for easier and more efficient pallet movements. Even pallets are receiving a modernizing makeover; APR unveiled these metal pallets available in custom sizes.
Count on Material Handlers to Make the Best of Any Situation
Mysterious container pyramids appeared in vacant exhibitor booths around the show, courtesy of Flexcon’s merry pranksters. Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost was also on hand to preside over the MHI industry night. He quipped that he had no idea what Modex was, and only showed up because he thought it was the name of a vaccine.
Robots Part I: Amazon’s Monopoly on Robotics Gets Modex’d
While Amazon has been the front-runner in this field, they have kept most of their advances to themselves. Thankfully, numerous companies have stepped in to fill the void. Many of their autonomous robots and other automated systems were on display at Modex this year.
Robots Part II: Robots Stepping Up
Exhibitors powered up the case for the advantages of automation at Modex 2020. Robotics continues to be the trend for an increasing variety of uses from moving product alone to moving complete shelves loaded with products. The show featured reactive robots that receive orders from a WMS and instantly dispatch to carry them out. We also manufacturers juicing the speed of the latest evolutions of AS/RS and automatic picking systems.
Robots Part III: Relief for Today’s Labor Shortage and more
Robots are doing more—but they’re also doing more for their human coworkers. Models at Modex demonstrated safety benefits, as they can support heavy loads and pose no risk of injury to human operators. Many have advanced sensors to prevent them from colliding with people. Their suitability for menial, repetitive work also reduces the physical and mental load on human operators, who can be moved to other tasks.
Award for Best Tradeshow Giveaway: Puppy Love
The floor-weary and sleep-deprived had a chance to escape and unwind at Bastian Solutions’ Puppy Lounge. Funny how therapeutic petting a dog can be. (Maybe that’s why they call it puppy power.)
Totes are the backbone of your automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS). If you stop and think about it, everything in your production and your supply chain is riding on them.
That understanding led Flexcon to take a holistic approach in developing the first fully-integrated ASRS tote system.
Now you can get a system of totes, plastic pallets, dividers, dollies, placards, barcoding solutions and pallet caps designed to work together, with your technology and your entire operation—precisely and efficiently.
When your totes and your ASRS aren’t in sync, it’s a disaster. Small design mistakes can lead to system crashes, lengthy downtime, production delays and all the related labor expenses. If you have to call a technician to straighten things out, you’re in for another round of costs. And if you end up having to replace your totes, it’s sure to cost you a bundle.
When your totes don’t function well in other settings, you’re in for another set of downsides altogether. If your totes aren’t ergonomic, they can cause repetitive stress injuries. If they stack poorly, they will waste valuable storage space. If they are the wrong size or dimension, they might not palletize perfectly or stack right on dollies.
Totes often have to perform many functions in many different settings. When they perform poorly, they can harm efficiency, expose products to damage, create unsafe conditions and annoy employees.
Flexcon helps you nip these negatives in before they can hurt you. We tailor a complete tote solution to your ASRS, your business and your supply chain. We consider every touchpoint from end-to-end and create an integrated system of products just for your unique set-up. We design your totes and dividers at the same time as your plastic pallets, dollies and pallet caps. That way they fit together and work well together. We anticipate your barcodes and placards—so you don’t have to go back and do it later.
The result is a tote system that is fully optimized for all uses. You get totes that are right for your ASRS system and that leverage opportunities to improve efficiency and quality throughout your supply chain. It leads to totes that perform as well on your conveyors as they do on pallets, in pick and pack stations, while being dollied, throughout shipping and while they’re being stored.
Flexcon’s family of ASRS products was inspired by our experience designing totes for some of the world’s leading brands and most advanced ASRS. We’ve learned the importance of understanding each client’s operations and business, as well as its technology. We’ve also developed an eye for insights that informs our designs and leads to perfect tote solutions for our clients’ needs.
By taking a holistic approach to tote solutions, you can avoid a potentially frustrating and expensive learning curve during implementation. Addressing pallets, dollies, dividers and all the other details at the same time as your totes saves time, delivers ideal solutions and helps you avoid making compromises after the fact. By developing a tote solution designed for your specific technology and end-to-end efficiency, you can uncover the true potential of your ASRS.
Behind many innovative and successful companies, you’ll often find that one pragmatic player or employee whose role it is to ask questions, catch mistakes and push for excellence.
Flexcon’s Director of Engineering, Terry Madsen, has played that role for over 25 years. His oversight, problem solving and quality control help ensure containers work for clients. Once projects gain a customer’s approval, he’s the last set of eyes before projects are committed to production and customers pass the point of no return on orders.
“Terry is their advocate. He is the watchdog—the firewall. He works with product teams and engineers. He’s the top guy who watches over everything and makes sure that everything we do is going to shine and that they’re going to be happy,” says Flexcon President, Ken Beckerman.
Terry is unique in container manufacturing—and Flexcon is unusual in allowing its end users direct contact with the head engineer. His personal involvement in projects provides advantages to customers in an industry dominated by big manufacturers. “Terry’s access to the end user, access to understanding the project and our ability and flexibility to meet needs is unmatched in the industry,” Ken adds.
Every project that a customer approves must pass his
scrutiny. According to Terry, 80% of the jobs go right through because they’re
basic designs and styles Flexcon has been using for decades. The other 20% that
he describes as “out of the ordinary” gets a thorough going over. In addition
to spending quality screen time looking at the die drawings and photos and
questioning everything, he reviews all the customer notes to make sure every
request was addressed.
When Terry finds something suspicious, things get real and
he’ll have a sample cut. The engineering department with its CAD table will
make a sample of the material and the frame and put it all together so he can
look at the same thing the customer saw when they were approving it. “Sometimes
the customer will have approved from a 3D drawing—then it’s an even better idea
to have one made and have it in my hands to make sure it will meet their needs,”
Terry provides fresh eyes and indispensable insight at a critical
juncture. For the team that’s been staring at the project for a while, it’s
hard to see errors. Terry looks at the project with a learned eye for
inconsistencies. “Sometimes he’s catching things the customer didn’t think of
or things that we missed,” Ken says.
The time-consuming work he does saves time, money and
headaches for clients down the road. “Preventing a problem now is a better
solution than fixing a problem later,” Terry says.
In addition to problems, Terry spots opportunities to provide additional value to customers. Making suggestions that facilitate accurate and economical reorders is a prime example that customers don’t ordinarily think about.
Terry’s expertise was hard won over his 26-year tenure at
Flexcon. When he started, he and other teammates were still designing,
prototyping and making containers by hand. As Flexcon automated, he was
instrumental in numerous automation improvements, including the creation of
Flexcon’s library of standard sizes
which has led to significant time savings for customers. Every project benefits
from Terry’s extraordinary brain trust of container engineering knowledge.
“I have enough engineering understanding to see the way
things work and be able to visualize how things will come together,” he
explains. Ironically, his formal education wasn’t in engineering. He was an
economics major in college, which may help explain how Terry really ticks. “The
real goal is to make things that will provide value to customers, and that’s
more of an economics thing than an engineering thing,” he confides.
Flexcon’s divider system is a clear case of this. The design Terry helped develop is meant to grow as manufacturers grow. “We don’t just give them dividers that only work for their current product mix. We give them dividers that can be reconfigured and added to in the future.”
As Flexcon’s “advocate for value” and “firewall for trouble”
Terry represents two sides of the company. On one hand Ken says, “He takes what
the sales team dreams up and translates it into reality,” And on the other
hand, “He’s a sounding board for quality. He helps make sure we do it right.”
When it comes to your company’s containers, you really do
get what you pay for. So while you may feel good about how much you saved going
the bargain route, you may end up getting more than you bargained for—and not
in a good way. Even if things go smoothly on the conveyor or they seem to work
just fine on the assembly line, they could still be costing you in subtle and
insidious ways. Here are our top 6:
They can hurt workers.
According to an article by Oregon OSHA, containers are the third biggest source of workplace injuries. This is easily the worst outcome of a poor container decision. Cheap materials can crack leaving sharp edges that cut. Poor designs can lead to overfilling and lifting injuries.
They can waste valuable real estate.
Choose ones that are too big and you end up paying a hidden cost for extra inches of shelf space or square feet of warehouse space. Empty containers are a necessary evil, but having containers that can’t be nested together or even collapsed and stacked to save space is just plain evil. Left unchecked, you could find yourself needing a bigger building in no time.
They can increase your distribution costs.
Compromising on the dimensions of your containers can add unnecessary pounds and inches that increase shipping fees. And if your boxes don’t fold up and stack nicely, you’ll pay more on the return leg, too.
They can damage your products.
Every product has its own set of handling instructions for keeping the product safe and packaging neat. Cutting corners for the sake of economy or convenience increases the chances of breakage, spoilage and returns. Produce is a prime example: if you use a container without a stacking lip, you’ll squish your product and ruin your profit margin.
They can hamper productivity.
Running a profitable pick and pack operation is all about economy of motion. Choose a container that increases the reach or impedes speed, and it takes a toll in worker fatigue and seconds, minutes and hours wasted. Can you really afford that?
They can cause your robotics to crash.
Your robotics require precision container dimensions and complete consistency. Something to keep in mind if you have to purchase replacement totes. Pay for a perfect fit and you can avoid a crash that halts production and requires you to retool your robots to the tune of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Getting what you pay for can really get you in the end. Why risk it with one of the most important moving parts in your factory, warehouse or distribution center? The containers you choose are as important as the very processes you use—because they’re integral to them. At Flexcon, we’ve built our business on the belief that the right containers contribute to the productivity and profitability of the clients we serve. We know that finding that perfect solution requires a process of understanding the entirety of a customer’s needs and then using the depth of our expertise to solve their challenges in the best possible way. Getting you—that’s the secret to giving you the right container. Email us to arrange a short call with one of our experts to talk about your solution.
Independent pharmacies across the country rely on Rochester Drug Cooperative (RDC) for
daily shipments of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. At times, the timely
delivery of medicines is critical for patients. For RDC’s client base of
independent pharmacies who are competing against giants like Walgreens and CVS,
that means delivering to patients without delay—otherwise they’ll lose
customers to the Rite-Aid right across the street.
To keep these clients supplied, they overnight thousands of shipments
every day from a pair of highly automated facilities in NY and NJ. Totes play a
critical role in the herculean feat that happens daily. Customers place their
orders during the day up until 8 PM. Those orders get picked by workers and
placed in totes as they are routed through the warehouses. Robotics handle the
totes through a symphony of actions, navigating them up, down and around
corners and then lidding, sealing, wrapping and labeling them. In operations
like RDC’s, totes are often the most critical moving part: the machines are
calibrated to their exact specifications and their ergonomics are directly tied
to the productivity of the pickers.
For years, RDC had relied on the same supplier for their totes. The specifications were standardized, so when RDC’s tote stock dwindled or old totes needed to be replaced, they routinely reordered. The fact that the supplier also sold the same models to the industry’s largest distributors kept costs down. The routine worked well for RDC until the day the robots of Rochester revolted.
It happened right after a routine reorder of 1,000 totes was introduced
into the production line. The destacking machines started to jam during the
tense night shift. They’d work for five minutes and send out 15 or so totes,
then jam. The team would clear the jam, restart the assembly line and the same
thing would happen. Over and over that would happen 15, 20, 30, 50 times a
night. Having reordered totes before without trouble, the team blamed the
After flying in a technician from the automation company and doing some
detective work—including measuring the new totes—they discovered that the totes
were a different size. When they approached the supplier about the size
discrepancy, they learned that the supplier’s big customers had requested some
changes to the container molds, which the supplier made without making fuss—or
Even though RDC was able to make some adjustments and make the totes
work, the whole incident cost the company thousands of dollars in idle time,
tech fees and nuisance costs while the unstandard totes gummed up the works and
prevented orders from getting out.
RDC was in a bind with no control over the mold or standard totes that
their system was calibrated for. They’d been able to dodge the bullet this
time—but what would happen the next time the supplier changed the mold to
satisfy their bigger customers?
That moment came sooner than they expected. On their very next order, RDC
received a batch of totes that were too big to accommodate. The dimensions had
changed too much and the destackers couldn’t be adjusted to work correctly. This
second gaffe cost RDC $20,000 in worthless totes and wasted countless hours of
labor and production time. Plus it left them dangerously short on containers,
so sales had to scramble to collect empties from their clients and pay to have
them couriered back.
The tote fiasco put RDC’s client relationships and very business at
risk. Pharmacies and patients were counting on shipments, and delays on the
assembly line were threatening their ability to deliver on time. Strike two made
it clear to the team that without creating their own standard container and controlling
the mold so no one would ever change it, their business would never be safe—and
neither would the pharmacies and patients who rely on them be.
That was the point that RDC reached out to Flexcon. RDC was opening
their second warehouse in Northern New Jersey and they decided to do their
totes right from the get-go.
We helped RDC design their own tote and create a mold that they owned so
there would never be a change without them knowing. No longer would they be at
the mercy of bigger distributors who could dictate the standard tote dimensions
with their supplier—and change them without notifying RDC! By controlling the
precise dimensions of their containers, RDC would be able to maintain the
necessary surplus of totes so they never ran out and they could ensure their
totes worked with their sensitive robotics no matter how many times they
reordered. They’d be set well into the future if they expanded or added a
facility because the totes would be the same.
Flexcon designed the perfect container for RDC by taking the best
features of their existing totes and looking at their needs anew. The end
result was an efficient design with enhanced performance features that was
perfectly calibrated to their robotics.
“Flexcon’s ability to provide the perfect container continues to ring true. From design to manufacturing to delivery, every part of the process was handled professionally and with the perfect solution for the customer always in mind.”
— Gary Ritzmann, Director of Operations, Rochester Drug Cooperative
CONTROL OF THEIR OWN MOLD. This has led to several successful reorders with no size discrepancies, saving RDC tens of thousands of dollars in hard costs, soft costs and nuisance costs.
MAXIMUM VALUE FOR THEIR INVESTMENT. By adding a few modifications for strength whether they were shipping or nesting, their totes will stay in service longer.
REDUCED TOTE NOISE BY 50-60%. By cambering off the sides a little bit more, we were able to prevent the totes from bouncing. When applied to the hundreds of totes in motion at once—the difference was significant.
OPTIMUM WEIGHT: achieved a balance of strength and economical weight to control shipping costs.
SYSTEMWIDE CALIBRATION: Totes designed to perform through all machinery from destackers and labelers to lidders and strappers.
WORKER SATISFACTION. Ergonomic design makes it easy to lift one tote or a stack of them. Little finger grips on the side make it easy to pick up properly without the danger of encountering a sharp edge.
RDC is so pleased with the system of totes Flexcon developed for picking
and shipping dry goods, that they engaged Flexcon to develop a system of
refrigerated totes for shipping products that have to be kept at a constant
temperature. These drugs are sensitive and can be expensive—up to $70,000-worth
can be contained in a single tote. RDC stocks close to 500 refrigerated SKUs
that can be in transit for up to 12-14 hours. The months-long design and
testing project will produce totes that work efficiently alongside dry totes on
conveyors and pallets while reducing the risk of spoilage.
Not long ago a customer came to us with a common space
problem. Their stackable totes were taking over. Like most manufacturers, they
need a ready supply of them, but the massive amount of them was crowding their
workspace and taking up valuable real estate.
To make things worse, their business was at a tipping point
where they needed every square foot they could get. If they continued to grow,
they’d soon be out of space and need another building.
That was an expensive proposition, and one that drove our
team to collaborate with them on a tote design that could satisfy their unique
production needs while reducing the footprint of their staggering tote supply.
They’d been considering molded collapsible totes but weren’t able to get the dimensions they wanted. Their optimal size of 22″ × 16″ × 13″ worked with their shelves, and it was their sweet spot ergonomically and in the way it held an efficient amount of their aluminum castings without getting too heavy.
The non-standard size wasn’t a problem for us. Our solution
started with lightweight, durable and flexible corrugated plastic that provided
the “bend” that enabled a unique hinged design. These features were topped off
by patent-pending corner stacking lugs that are load-bearing. The special
corners enable the totes to be stacked without damaging the contents—an
important feature whether you’re shipping produce or storing computer chips.
The resulting design provided our client with the sturdy, stackable totes they needed. And it gave them the ability to collapse the containers down to 38″ × 13″ × 2″ when they weren’t needed.
The 29% reduction in footprint had an immediate impact on easing our client’s crowding problem and need for additional space, according to Senior Key Account Manager at Flexcon, Jason Grasso. The area saved can be used for assembly or other profit-generating activities.
In solving this client’s problem, Flexcon ended up resolving
a universal one. “Stackable containers are notorious for wasting space when not
in use. If they’re empty, they take up just as much room as when they’re full,”
Flexcon’s President and CMO, Ken Beckerman explains. “Space is always a premium
in any warehouse, in any facility. So, if you have some totes that will stack
for you that you can break down and collapse to a quarter of the space, that’s
a huge savings.”
Considering that commercial real estate rates continue to skyrocket, paying $5 per square foot in Chicago or $20 in NYC just to store totes makes less sense than ever. Every inch you save with a collapsible tote can help improve your return on real estate investment.
Flexcon’s Stackable Collapsible Totes have huge potential
for reducing fleet costs, too. In areas like agriculture, the stackable totes
could be used to protect the product during shipment and then compactly folded
up to save space in trailers, thus reducing the number of return trips
As the goal of a closed loop becomes more and more
widespread, a tote that saves in the warehouse as well as on the road provides
opportunities for infinite industries and uses out there.
Talk to a Flexcon design specialist about how the benefits of stackable, collapsible totes could be bent and folded to fit the needs of your operation. Arrange a call to discuss your custom solution by emailing Jason Grasso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The future of materials handling is in good hands with the introduction of young, tech-savvy professionals like Justin Beckerman. This week, Flexcon Container of Berkley Heights, New Jersey officially tapped the 3rd generation Flexcon’er for a design and marketing role with the family-owned creator of plastic containers, pallets, bins and boxes.
No stranger to the
family business, Justin has been a fixture around Flexcon since his toddling
days. For over 20 years he’s sat at the knee of his product designer
grandfather, Stephen Beckerman, and sales-leader father, Ken Beckerman. Over
the years, Justin has had the opportunity to contribute to everything from
design projects to Flexcon’s IT systems—he even single-handedly re-upped
company communications following Superstorm Sandy.
Beckerman has been
drawn toward invention and innovation from an early age. He once built his own
blender and he created a functioning submarine at the age of 18—a feat that led
to 27 dives and countless news features.
Most recently, he
graduated from the renowned Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New
Jersey where he studied business science. His move to full time role was a
natural, according to Flexcon President and CMO, Ken Beckerman.
“He brings with him an
extensive knowledge of engineering and marketing and will add his innovation,
outreach and design talents to our organization,” he says.
On Flexcon’s business side, Justin will initially focus on
improving Flexcon’s marketing capabilities and speeding up quoting for clients.
On the product design side, he will be working on adding the
ability for Flexcon to design and make rapid prototypes in-house for a faster
turnaround on samples and models. Part of that endeavor involves building
Flexcon’s 3D printer. With 18 cubic feet of build space, the large format
printer is custom-built to quickly and easily make conceptual container and
divider models for clients.
The man who builds printers, submarines and a never-ending stream of solar-powered and remote-controlled gadgets has ambitions that extend beyond invention to innovations that build on Flexcon’s business success. His years immersed in the company culture made him keenly aware of Flexcon’s devotion to meeting clients’ needs—in particular those of facilities managers and directors of distribution and logistics. “The goal is to make the container the easiest part of their job. So when they’re running a factory, warehouse or distribution center, they don’t have to worry too much about what containers they’re going to get and how the quality may be,” Justin says.
In addition to seeing his role in Flexcon’s proud history of
innovative product design and customer care, Justin is cognizant of the
significant behind-the-scenes role of container manufacturers like Flexcon. “Every
industry relies on containers to play some essential role. Whether the trays
for bakeries, mail totes for the U.S. Postal Service or containers for automation and ASRS
systems,” he explains. “They’re a necessary part of every single industry from
agriculture to biomedical.”
With his new position, Justin looks forward to applying his inventiveness and insights to the challenges of modern customers. “We want to be able to help people move and store and take care of their products in the most efficient way possible,” Justin explains. ”Not only making it easier for each person who’s buying from us, but make it easy for every person that touches one of these containers—whether that means making a handle that’s ergonomic, a container that’s aesthetically-pleasing or an automated tote that’s 25% quieter.”
In doing that, he has the support of generations past. “We are excited to have Justin with us full time as ourClient Design & Solutions Specialist and look forward to seeing how he can make our customer-based focus even better,” Ken says.
ProMat 2019 partnered with a trade show consulting firm to perform a TSE Gold 100 award winning Eᶾ Exhibiting Effectiveness Evaluation for exhibiting companies. The evaluators also looked for exhibits throughout the show that displayed imaginative, creative, and effective ideas and practices.
Flexcon’s booth was one of the exhibits that caught the eyes of the Eᶾ evaluation team and we were awarded the as one of the Standout Exhibits for Effective Visual Communications!
Our conveyor & ASRS totes come in more than 20 sizes (and any custom size) and are designed to work with virtually any conveyor, mini-load or ASRS system! These containers and trays are made form heavy duty plastic and capacities can range from 25 to 180 lbs.
Sizes range from 15 x 15″ all the way to 48 x 30” and heights up to 25″. Features can include smooth side walls, ESD materials and recessed barcode label areas. Flexcon’s ASRS tote line works with most inserter/extractor & conveyor systems and can be designed to meet most any deflection criteria.
• Made from heavy duty plastic • Capacities from 25–180 lbs • Sizes up to 48 × 30 x 25” • Available with smooth sides • Designed to meet deflection criteria • Work with most inserter/extractor and conveyor systems • Perfect for ASRS, conveyor and mini-load systems • Available with recessed label area to protect label. No tooling necessary!