City Pipe

Orbital wrapper eliminates injuries, speeds packaging

Pipe, valve, fitting distributor improves packing of bulky, awkward loads

As Seen In The Tube & Pipe Journal

Charlie Justice was lending a hand to his packaging team to help wrap 100 pallet loads of product in plastic film by the end of the workday to meet the delivery deadline. As if paying the overtime rate wasn’t costly enough, one of his workers lacerated his hand while cutting the film from the roll. Had this been a one-time event, Justice may have been willing to write it off as an isolated incident, but as vice president of City Pipe & Supply, Odessa, Texas, Justice had been dealing with his workers sustaining minor injuries to the hands, feet, and back for some time. Reportable incidents occurred every three or four months, and nearly always during the wrapping process. This one was the last straw.

“I knew we needed to do something about this,” said Justice, now with more than 10 years of service to the company. “We’d been in a fast-paced growth mode for so long that scrambling to meet every deadline became the norm for our packaging and shipping department. We were always on time, but at a cost.”

Step on the Gas

City Pipe & Supply provides pipe, valves, fittings, flanges, and related products for applications such as oil, gas, chemical, and construction, shipping products from six distribution centers located in Texas and New Mexico. Founded in 1942, the company has grown into a $200 million-per-year, employee-owned organization serving many of the industry’s best-known midstream and production companies. Line pipe represents nearly half of its sales, while steel valves, fittings, and accessories represent the other half. The large, heavy, and oddly-shaped products created constant headaches and apprehension in the packaging and shipping department.

To secure the valves and fittings to the pallet for delivery, a lift truck driver would raise the pallet load on the forks. Then the driver and a coworker would wrap plastic film around the pallet load by hand, taking turns passing the roll back and forth with each wrap while trying to maintain enough tension to keep the products in place without tearing the film, knocking the product off the pallet, or bumping their heads while working under the pallet.

“Nobody enjoyed doing this job, including me,” said Justice, who began searching the web for safer ways to wrap these challenging loads.

Justice came across an orbital wrapping machine that seemed likely to solve the problem. Called the TAB Wrapper Tornado, this patent-pending orbital stretch-wrapper automatically wraps plastic film 360 degrees around and under the pallet to secure the load for transport or storage. It was developed by Tom Brizek, the owner of a metal fabrication shop who needed a more secure way to deliver palletized metal parts and products to his customers.

To operate the machine, the forklift driver raises the palletized load and drives up to the wrapper until the pallet enters the wrapping ring. After the driver presses the start button, the machine automatically wraps a preset number of plastic film layers around the palletized load. When the process is finished, the products are encased in durable film as a unitized, weather-resistant, secure load ready for transport to the customer, staging in-plant, or storage on a rack or outdoors. Three standard models are available; they are based on the overall size of the product to be wrapped and the size of the pallet required. The 100-inch model accommodates a 60-in. square pallet; the 80-in. model accommodates a 48-in. square pallet; and the 40-in. model accommodates a 24-in. square pallet. The company also makes custom machines in various sizes, semiautomated or fully automated.

Fast Training, Faster (and Safer) Wrapping

After comparing other wrapping machines, Justice purchased the 80-in. machine for the company’s Odessa facility, which is the busiest by volume. After 30 minutes of training, the forklift drivers were comfortable using it.

“It worked great!” said Justice. “Everybody loves it, and nobody wants to go back to wrapping by hand.” The machine eliminated cuts, scrapes, and other injuries from manual wrapping. Workers’ compensation claims from wrapping have dropped to zero. The new orbital wrapper transformed a labor-intensive, two-person project into an easy, push-button process that one person can manage in half the time. This allows Justice and his team to wrap and ship out an average of 150 pallet loads per day with one operator using one machine versus two people struggling to wrap 80 pallet loads per day by hand. In addition to eliminating recurring overtime costs, the new process has done away with the usual mad scramble with spotty wrapping quality. It reduced the order backlog significantly, contributes to a cleaner and leaner working environment, and helps the process move more smoothly and efficiently, according to Justice, all while providing a far more secure wrap on the pallets.

“Now that we’re able to ship out nearly twice as many orders in the same amount of time, there’s less rushing around, and that makes for a much safer workplace,” he adds.

Less Damage and Rework, More Benefits

Before the packaging process was automated, a hand-wrapped pallet load would fail while in transit once or twice per year. In some cases, the product arrived damaged. In other, much worse cases, product would fall off the truck onto the highway. Given the danger to other drivers, the cost (potentially $10,000 in material per pallet), and the time to ship a replacement load, Justice wanted to ensure every order arrived in the same condition it was in when it left the facility.

“The quality of the wrap was a very important part of our decision,” said Justice, who understood from experience the difficulty in consistently getting a sturdy wrap by hand. Now, even on loads of loose, differently sized products, such as kits with gaskets, bolts, and flanges on one pallet, the wrap stays intact. The new process has eliminated load shifting in transit and rejects caused by damage.

“The quality of the wrap is easily 10 times better with the new process than by hand and looks very professional,” said Justice.

To extend the professional image, Justice uses a translucent blue plastic film that matches the company’s color scheme. For example, on job sites in which a variety of materials and equipment are intermingled, the blue film enables workers to identify the company’s pallet loads quickly, differentiating them from others.

“We love it for the marketing value,” said Justice. “It’s become a key identifier.” And in the event of an on-site error or delivery issue, the blue film helps verify who is responsible.

“If it’s not wrapped in the blue plastic, then we know someone else is responsible, and if it is, then we can identify it faster and take action,” said Justice.


TAB Industries,

City Pipe & Supply,