Dutch company Sparck Technologies used to make conventional packaging equipment. In 2014, they threw a new problem at their engineers: Design an automated packaging system specifically for online retailers, who are continually shipping objects of different shapes and sizes. Minimize packaging waste and the need for "void fill"—those crumpled-up wads of paper or inflated plastic film—by creating the smallest possible box that uses the minimum amount of material.
The room-sized solution the engineers came up with is this CVP Impack, an in-line automatic packaging machine that Sparck reckons replaces as many as 15 individual packaging stations. A human worker drops the goods-to-be-shipped onto a conveyor belt. A laser 3D-scans the goods, and a custom-fit, not-one-inch-wasted box is created on the fly. The box is automatically folded around the goods, and the box gets labeled and taped shut on the way out.
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The machine can do up to 500 packages an hour, and Sparck says customers save on shipping and reduce their cardboard consumption by 20% by using the smallest possible box. (They also claim their taped-on-two-sides boxes are easier for the recipient to open and more likely to be flattened and recycled, though they offer no evidence to back that up.)
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