Cardboard box makers in Japan are trying to meet various corporate needs by coming up with innovative boxes designed to cope with labor shortages and improve delivery efficiency.
Market leader Rengo Co. is displaying such products at its showroom in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, including boxes that can be readily opened and used to display the merchandise inside.
"Supermarkets and other big retailers want to avoid spending much time on opening cardboard boxes and displaying merchandise from them on store shelves," Tetsuo Muroya, Rengo's chief spokesman said. "Cardboard boxes here are designed to meet the need."
Cardboard boxes should be strong enough to protect merchandise inside and to be placed on top of one another.
"Workers at big retailers used to damage merchandize inside and even injure themselves when they cut boxes open. But the trouble can now be avoided because boxes have perforations for easy opening," Muroya said.
Some 13 billion square meters of cardboard boxes, equivalent to the combined area of Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, are produced every year in Japan.
Of the total production, 41 percent are used to carry processed food products and beverages, 11 percent for fruits and vegetables and 5 percent for other foodstuffs.
Cardboard boxes used by electronic commerce and "takuhai" door-to-door delivery service companies account for about 5 percent of the total output, double from a decade ago. The percentage is likely to keep expanding.
Rengo has developed a new packaging system that automatically measures the height of merchandise and custom-makes a package of the right size. When, for example, a worker puts three books on a corrugated sheet and places a wrapping film on them, the automatic packaging system, called Gemini, processes the sheet into a cardboard box suited for the books.
The system can perform work which otherwise requires 20 workers, Muroya said. It also reduces package sizes and greatly enhances transportation efficiency, he added.
Gemini even makes a thin package for one compact disc that can be put into a mailbox, which would save the truck driver making a redelivery when the recipient is absent.
Cardboard boxes made by Gemini can be easily opened as they have perforations about 2 centimeters wide, and they can be made into two flat sheets for disposal.
Recycled corrugated boards, newspapers, magazines and other paper products account for 98 percent of material Rengo uses to produce cardboard boxes. But the use of recycled paper has drawn attention recently because of some cardboard with unpleasant odors.
Cardboard used to package detergents, incense sticks and some other products tends to retain the merchandise smell, according to Muroya.
Rengo has introduced odor-detecting dogs to find such cardboard. At its plant in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture, which is one of the largest paperboard production factories in Japan, a 5-year-old German shepherd dog named Silk detects smells among recycled paper products brought there by 10-ton trucks.
The cardboard business in Japan was launched by Teijiro Inoue, founder of Rengo, in 1909. Cardboard was initially used to pack electric bulbs and then found its way into packages of canned food products, beers, chinaware, clothes and other merchandise.
There are other applications recently, including partitions in emergency evacuation centers opened in times of disaster and packages designed to retain the freshness of fruits and vegetables.
Now that the workload on delivery truck drivers has become a serious issue dubbed "takuhai crisis," there are "a considerable number of problems cardboard can solve," said Mitsuyuki Goto, a director at Rengo.