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#PACKAGINGKNOWLEDGE
STRETCH WRAP

When it comes to shipping, one of the most common elements is stretch wrap.  This film is used to wrap items on pallets, securing them to themselves and the pallet during the shipping process or for storage purposes, reducing product damage and loss, as well as discouraging pallet tampering and pilferage. 

KNOWING WHAT WORKS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

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Achieving dramatic annual savings with seemingly small changes in stretch wrap materials or application isn’t something that typically happens by accident or overnight. But with over 40 years experience partnering with a wide variety of businesses to identify and implement strategic programs, we’ve seen such high impact success achieved.

Through our client collaborations we’ve accrued hundreds of real world studies with valuable comparison data. Because we believe it’s our responsibility to ensure existing and potential clients have easy access to core stretch wrap concepts, we’ve compiled this fact sheet as a foundation. It's more than enough to get started. 

And, honestly, that's the most important part of the journey.


UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS

Starting the process here is the first step in the right direction.  The only way to learn how to ensure you’re doing the best you can for your business is to understand stretch wrap fundamentals; sizing, gauges, and the roles they play; knowing the different types of wraps available; understanding how your pallet configuration can affect your film choice; and, finally, knowing if you should be hand wrapping or machine wrapping.

UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS

It may seem like an overwhelming process, but it doesn't have to be. We think you’ll find the following process facts easily consumable and insightful as you research the terminology, systems, and products related to stretch wrap. With this core knowledge, you’ll be equipped to make the most profitable decisions for your business. Because, as the person who understands it best, you're the one who's ultimately in charge.


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STRETCH WRAP FUNDAMENTALS

To understand stretch wrap, you need to understand the basics. Let's look at some of the basic fundamental concepts to get you up to speed.

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Stretch Wrap Fundamentals: Cast vs. Blown

Typically, stretch wrap is used to hold boxes together on a pallet for transportation. But, it can also be used to protect products during both transportation and storage. Stretch wrap comes in a variety of sizes (or gauges); is manufactured in different ways; and is applied differently (hand stretch wrap versus machine stretch wrap). It is also offered in a many different specialty wraps.

The two most commonly used types of stretch wrap are cast stretch wrap and blown stretch wrap.

Here are the major differences between the two, as well as the major advantages of each.


CAST STRETCH WRAP

Cast stretch wrap is manufactured using a cast extrusion process. The cast extrusion process is a continuous process by which a thermoplastic material is melted and extruded through a flat die onto a chill roll, where it is quenched and re-solidified. Cast stretch film has excellent clarity, requires less force to stretch and an increased tear resistance, unwinds quietly from machines, and offers a superior cling. There are both machine grade and hand grade cast stretch film available.

  • Advantages: Generally less expensive than blown stretch wrap, due to reduced manufacturing costs. Increased clarity allows users to see wrapped products. Cast stretch wrap unwinds quietly compared to blown stretch wrap. This type of stretch film offers two sided cling that allows the wrap to stay securely wrapped.

BLOWN STRETCH WRAP

Blown stretch wrap is manufactured using the blown extrusion process. The melted plastic material is extruded through a die, usually vertically, to form a thin walled tube. Air is introduced via a hole in the center of the die like a balloon. On top of the tube an air ring blows onto the stretch film to cool it as it comes off the line. This process allows blown wrap to be tougher and more resilient than cast stretch wrap. Blown stretch film typically has a greater load containment force.

  • Advantages: Offers higher load and stretch capacity. Blown stretch wrap is a higher quality and has a higher degree of memory once stretched allowing loads to be better secured. A higher tear resistance is an advantage when securing loads with sharp edges.

No matter whether you use cast or blown stretch wrap or whether you employ a manual system of application or stretch wrap equipment, using a stretch film to secure your pallets for shipment offers a host of advantages.

STRETCH WRAP ADVANTAGES

We all like reducing costs while adding protection. Stretch wrap provides several key advantages when using it to secure your pallets for shipment.

Cost Reduction

  • By unitizing products with stretch film, you can greatly decrease handling costs.
  • Handling of individual boxes is more time consuming than handling a unitized load; unitization helps save countless man hours in movement and shipment of pallets of products.
  • Because unitizing packaged goods increases the speed at which they are moved, carrier vehicles spend less time sitting idle at docks waiting to be loaded.

Added Protection

  • Enclosing products in stretch film greatly reduces the risk of theft. The loss of packaged goods is much easier to keep track of if they are shipped out in unit loads rather than individually, reducing the likely occurrences of lost or stolen items.
  • Minimize product damage inside your facility by using stretch wrap, as wrapped goods moved by a forklift or pallet jack are less likely to sustain damage than loose boxes carried by hand.
  • Minimize shipment damages with the proper use of stretch wrap because it is less likely that heavy items will be packed on top of palletized unit loads wrapped by stretch wrap.

STRETCH WRAP GAUGES

Choosing the right size of stretch wrap is critical because different size films are gauged to handle different size loads.


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The force of the load containment is critical to the integrity of the load. And determining whether you are using the correct gauge doesn't take an engineering degree.

Don't let anyone tell you differently: in stretch wrap, size DOES matter.

The SaranTM wrap that you use at home is approximately the same as 40 gauge stretch wrap. That gauge of stretch wrap could secure around 1,000 pounds on a pallet load.


The Ziploc(R) bag that you use at home is approximately the same as 150 to 200 gauge stretch wrap. That gauge of stretch wrap could secure up to a 3,500 pound pallet load.

WHAT IS THE STANDARD?

Traditionally, manufacturers made a standard gauged stretch film for customers to use that was affordable and worked well to secure a variety of loads. That standard came between 60 gauge and 150 gauge, able to secure between 1,500 and 3,500 pound loads. Over the years, 80 gauge stretch film became the industry standard and became known as being the most versatile thickness on the market.

The most common options on the market now include:

  • Standard or “true gauged” stretch wrap
  • Eco or micron stretch wrap
  • Hybrid or multilayer stretch wrap
  • Pre-stretched stretch wrap
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Standard or True Gauged Stretch Wrap

For years, before petroleum prices got out of hand, standard or true gauged wrap was what manufacturers produced; today, you have to specifically request it. This standard stretch wrap offers a great amount of stretch, tear resistance, and strength. However, using standard hand stretch also comes with unnecessary waste because users cannot reach the maximum stretch potential of the wrap. Better, more economical options are found in the other types versus this traditional wrap.

Eco or Micron Stretch Wrap

This film is typically called different things by manufacturers, but, in general, is considered an equivalent film. It typically comes in a 57, 60, or 63 gauge. The main differences between this stretch wrap and traditional wrap is the thickness of the material and the amount of stretch potential. A micron stretch wrap is often stiffer and will not stretch as much as standard wrap. However, the micron stretch wrap is more affordable, stronger, and often promotes less waste.

Hybrid or Multilayer Stretch Wrap

Hybrid stretch wrap is also considered an equivalent stretch wrap and replaces lower gauged wraps, typically coming in a 47, 51, or a 53 gauge. It is stiffer and has less tear resistance than the micron film. The major benefits include a lower purchase cost, lighter rolls, less physical exertion when applying, and a stronger wrap. The multilayers make the film stronger than a true gauged film of the same thickness, but does not come in higher gauges.

Pre-Stretched Stretch Wrap

A great green option for users wrapping lighter loads is pre-stretched stretch wrap which is a true 80 gauge film that has already been stretched up to 90% of its potential before being placed on the roll and shipped to the customer. This makes it an affordable film that promotes less waste because users can reach the full stretch potential when applying the film with little physical exertion, equaling less film usage for maximum protection. Pre-stretched wrap is typically recommended for loads no heavier than 1,200 lbs.

THE HIDDEN COSTS OF DOWN-GAUGING

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Occasionally you’ll hear about the potential to save money by “down-gauging” your stretch film. This is something that should only be undertaken with a professional because every situation is different. Lowering your gauge may cause you to use more wrap, meaning you'll see no savings and you may actually be putting your pallet loads at risk for damage. Truthfully, there is the potential that you might get more benefit and realize more cost savings by actually increasing the gauge.

It’s important to remember that there are many hidden costs associated with down-gauging, which is why we only recommend you undertaking the process with a packaging professional.


CYCLE TIMES

Decreasing the gauge of stretch wrap too much may cause issues with the correct load containment force, thus putting you in the position where you have to increase the number of wraps. In the end, you may not see any savings and, in fact, may be spending more by using more wraps and increasing the amount of material waste and the cost per load exponentially.   

WRAP BREAKAGE

Lighter gauge stretch films are more likely to experience breaks, either from machine variations, edge damage during handling, or defects. Will you have to spend more in labor costs because you have to keep starting the wrapping process over due to breakage? Will you need to have multiple wraps to cover those film nicks and ensure the load integrity? All costs have to be considered.

LOAD INTEGRITY

Thorough testing should be completed before considering changing to a lower gauge: weight, pallet configuration, and packaging environment must play a role in considering a lower gauge wrap. Loads can change over time which will affect your packaging, either in storage or during shipping. If your pallets and, ultimately your products, can't be protected, then down gauging hasn't saved a thing.

PALLET CONFIGURATIONS

Did you know that pallet configuration can affect the type of stretch wrap you choose? It’s important to know the pallet configuration that you most often use because that can make a huge difference in the gauge of stretch wrap that you purchase.

TYPE A LOADS

Type A Loads are uniform in shape and the load size closely matches the pallet size. These are obviously the easiest loads to wrap and few potential wrap puncture points exist. 

These style pallets are most often seen at manufacturing locations where the same product is prepared for shipment and pallet load after load is identically wrapped for placement on trucks.

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TYPE B LOADS

Type B Loads may be irregular or the load size may not match the pallet size causing several wrap puncture points to exist. Far more film selection judgement is required. 

These loads tend to appear at smaller manufacturing locations and distribution centers and usually contain two or three products destined for a single destination.

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TYPE C LOADS

Type C Loads are the worst of all to stretch wrap because no two loads are the same with sizes and shapes ranging all over the place and sharp points seemingly everywhere. 

These types of loads are typically assembled at distribution centers who supply retail store locations and each load may contain dozens of different products.

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TO HAND WRAP OR TO MACHINE WRAP, THAT IS THE QUESTION


You'll find advantages and disadvantages to both hand wrapping and machine wrapping your pallets. Determining what is right for your business starts with basic evaluation.

Stretch Wrapping Equipment

Consider the following when you start the process of determining if implementing stretch wrap equipment is right for your facility:

  • How many loads are you currently wrapping and how many loads do you foresee wrapping?
  • How are you currently wrapping and how many people does it take?
  • What types of loads will you wrap? Will the loads all be boxes, irregular shapes, fragile, etc.? Are the loads heavy, light, stable, unstable, etc.?
  • Are you experiencing shipping damages? If so, do you know what is causing the damage?
  • Are you operating multiple shifts?

Choosing the right stretch wrap equipment should be a careful consideration for any business.  Manual effort cannot effectively stretch the film. This has negative consequences on holding strength and unit stabilization. Workers may compensate by using more wrap.  Or you may see increases in damage rates as products move on the pallets to which they're supposed to be secured.  Machine wrapping allows you to obtain the highest material performance, while eliminating many negatives of manual wrapping.

If you are wrapping 15 or more loads per day, it’s more cost-effective to use a stretch wrap machine than to wrap manually. At that level, machines justify their costs by reducing labor expenses, lowering material usage, decrease damages, and lowering the potential of injuries.

Hand Stretch WrapMachine Stretch Wrap
Stretch Film Waste Stretch Film savings up to 66%
Up to 10% pre-stretch capacity Up to 250% pre-stretch capacity
12 loads per hour 55 loads per hour
Uneven packaging Professional packaging
Tedious and time consuming Quick and easy
Manual labor Minimal operator involvement

MACHINE WRAPPING MATTERS

Stretch wrap equipment allows productions to obtain the highest levels of performance from the material, while eliminating the negatives of hand wrapping.  The more the material is stretched, the lower the usage and the greater the savings. Other advantages include lower labor costs, greater load stabilization, and less damage to pallet loads during transportation. Material and labor savings, alone, can justify the initial cost of stretch wrap equipment in about a year.

When stretch film is applied by a machine:

  • Production rates increase & labor costs decrease
  • Injuries decrease
  • Wrapping is consistent and optimized
  • Quality is increased
  • Less material is consumed

In addition to increased productivity and decreased liability, most stretch wrap machines pull the stretch wrap at least 200% before applying it to the load. This results, not only in optimizing its load force capabilities, but also in legitimate savings of up to 50% of material costs.

READY TO DIVE DEEPER?

We've given you the basics, and you're well on your way to making some very smart decisions about your stretch film processes. Now is the time to dive deeper with our specialists.

Get our free eBook

If you are ready to start looking into including stretch wrap equipment at your facility, IPS Packaging has put together an eBook with all the essential information you will need to make the most informed decision.


  • Define the facilities that benefit the most from automating
  • Teach you the keywords to keep in mind as you investigate
  • Give you 8 things to remember when selecting the right stretch wrap machine for your application
  • Show the 4 main ways to justify the cost of the right stretch wrap equipment
  • Decide on the right supplier to help you navigate the process

Stretch wrap machines save money through material and labor savings, as well as improve load stability and decrease damage rates. And if money is the biggest concern, know that when correctly utilized, most equipment pays for itself in less than a year.

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