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GXO deploys 3D tech, automation to create custom-sized packaging

Solution in use in France measures and cuts boxes to fit item properly, eliminating excess packaging

Logistics provider GXO is now using 3D technology to automatically measure and size shipping boxes to the item being shipped. (Photo: GXO)

One size fits all, except when it doesn’t.

Dimensional weight shipping rates have grown in popularity as e-commerce has taken off with customers. FedEx started charging the majority of its customers based on the size of the package in 2015. According to 2013 data from ShipMatrix, parcels delivered to residential addresses and weighing under 5 pounds had grown from 58% of ground package volume to 75%, contributing to the change. That mix has only grown since then thanks to e-commerce.

It is estimated that in 2018, more than 165 billion packages were shipped in the U.S., with the cardboard used in those shipments equaling roughly 1 billion trees.

To combat this, businesses have looked at ways to reduce shipping box sizes, but with so many various sized items moving through the e-commerce supply chain, that can mean stocking hundreds of box options — let alone the time necessary to find the correct sized box for each item.

GXO Logistics Inc. (NYSE: GXO) is trying to simplify this process with a new warehouse automation tool that automatically sizes the box to the item being packaged. Installed at the Saint-Vulbas site in the Lyon region of France, the 3D packaging technology scans each item, measures the order in 3D and then cuts and folds a cardboard box into the exact fit. It finishes the process by weighing, sealing and labeling the package before moving it along with the correct carrier for delivery.

Read: The GXO story begins to take shape

Read: GXO head sees light at end of supply chain tunnel

The machine is capable of processing 700 packages an hour, GXO said. It has been in testing since February 2020 and is now in general use in the Lyon facility that packages items for Amer Sports.

“This 3D packaging solution doesn’t just support Amer Sports’ e-commerce growth, it revolutionizes packaging,” said Bernard Wehbe, general manager of France for GXO. “The machine demonstrates our significant investment in technology and automated solutions that improve productivity and reduce shipping costs for our customers while also minimizing the environmental impact.”

GXO said using the correct sized box reduces shipping costs, increases sustainability efforts and improves productivity due to the automated nature. The company also said that using the 3D packaging solution creates a stronger box with reinforced corners, something that is important for the safety of what’s inside. According to ANAMA Package and Container Testing, the average package is dropped 17 times, which leads retailers to ship items in larger boxes surrounded by more air.

Watch: Mark Manduca explains GXO’s mission

Since splitting off from XPO Logistics (NYSE: XPO) last August, GXO has been busy signing up customers for its “scalable contract logistics” business and adding automation where it can.

Mark Manduca, the company’s chief investment officer, told Modern Shipper in November that of the contracts GXO had signed in 2021 to that point, 40% were for new business and that 100% of 2021 Q3 contracts involved some type of automation.

GXO is testing more than 100 different technologies in its facilities, he noted, as it seeks to bring to life solutions that make sense for customers, rather than putting in “tech for tech’s sake.”

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]