Engineering away air

“You have to work hard, dare to be creative and even try to use set boundaries to your advantage to make a good product that looks beautiful, has great function even though it’s been squeezed into a minimal box. “ – Designer Henrik Preutz, IKEA of Sweden AB.

Mattress

The teams working on the IKEA range are always looking for new ways to package IKEA products. Why? Because cleverly packed products mean more packages per pallet and more pallets per truck. Fuller trucks mean fewer vehicles on the road and lower CO2 emissions. For customers it means lower prices (because less is spent on packing and shipping) and products that are easier to transport home.

More products, less air

Today, about 3.5% of the total emissions from IKEA operations worldwide come from the energy used to transport products. With shipments moving among suppliers, distribution centres and finally stores, efficient packaging is key.

The aim is to ship more products and less air. The all-important “fill rate” is the space in trucks and containers that’s actually used. This year the goal to increase the fill rate from 62% to 70% was reached. It’s a lot more than it sounds since weight restrictions often prevent filling containers and trucks to the top.

Henrik Preutz, Designer, IKEA of Sweden AB, explains the importance of filling pallets: “Together with the rest of the team we have to make sure that as many products as possible can fit on a pallet. This is crucial because the more we save in transportation costs, the more we can invest in quality and function so in the end a good IKEA product can be delivered to the customer.”

Designing in a different way

Packaging and shipping are part of the creation process from day one for the designers developing new IKEA products. This unique way of working is at the heart of producing the best products at the best price and is “what makes my job interesting!” says Henrik. He continues, “You have to work hard, dare to be creative and even try to use these set boundaries to your advantage to make a good product that looks beautiful and has great function even though it’s been squeezed into a minimal box.”

What makes a product easy to pack? The rule of thumb is that unassembled products will be easier to flat pack if they can be as small and square as possible. It takes several competences to achieve this, merging the know-how of suppliers, product developers, designers and engineers.

Chairs

Moving packaging forward in 2014

This year the classic IKEA shelving series EXPEDIT was updated and renamed KALLAX. The main difference is a robust frame that has been made thinner and lighter, making less weight to transport. After seven months, increased filling rates saved 1,300 truckloads and lowered CO2 emissions by 5%.

KNOPPARP was another product launched in 2014. This handy sofa weighs only 16kg and comes in a small flat pack that can easily be transported home on public transport.

And then there’s LEJEN, a new bathroom cabinet that has been adapted to the size of a pallet to fit more into each truckload.

Another product group we’ve been squeezing air out of for years is mattresses. They are big, bulky things to transport, both for shippers and customers. But roll packing means they use up to a third less space.

The work never ends

Continually minimising the air that’s transported and reducing packaging materials is vital in the drive to lower emissions and costs. All this while ensuring products arrive damage free and easy for customers to take home and assemble. IKEA of Sweden Packaging Engineer, Björn Götesson, explains: “In the future I imagine that new and groundbreaking materials will open up opportunities to further improve our products and packing. The work simply never ends.”