by Clint Boulton

Ranpak digital transformation expands sales of packing robots

Oct 19, 2020
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

The maker of automated packaging machines is banking on a customer-facing and back-office transformation to bolster sales, says CTO Michael Gliedman.

Michael Gliedman, CTO, Ranpak
Credit: Ranpak

The COVID-19 outbreak galvanized an already thriving ecommerce sector, as consumers flocked to shop online in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Little-known manufacturer Ranpak, which plays a critical role in getting goods from warehouses to peoples’ homes, was well prepared for the onslaught of online orders, owing to a culture change around digital technologies and automation.

Ranpak makes paper products that provide cushioning in goods packaged for delivery, but just as importantly, it makes several automated machines that convert paper into a variety of packaging solutions. and Walmart are among the marquee retailers using Ranpak machines and paper to pack and cushion their shipments. That honeycombed-shaped stuffing nestled around a product in one of your delivered packages? It may well be Ranpak filler.

“Everybody is now thinking digital — that message is clear,” says Michael Gliedman, CTO of Ranpak, which generated $270 million in sales last year. “Digital transformation is about technology and fixing processes and revisiting the way you do things in a better way, with a big, human component.”

Interest in using digital technologies to transform businesses has soared during the pandemic, as CIOs raced to better support employees and customers. Forty-seven percent of more than 4,200 IT leaders surveyed by Harvey Nash and KPMG said that COVID-19 has permanently accelerated digital transformation, says Sean Gilligan, president of technology recruitment for North America at Harvey Nash USA. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and automation are often part of the transformation strategies, Gilligan adds.

Revamped website underpins transformation

Automation plays a critical role at Ranpak, but until recently most people didn’t know what the company did because it struggled to communicate its automated machine vision. When Gliedman, who also runs digital and corporate marketing for the company, joined Ranpak in 2017, he found a familiar scene: A 46-year-old company well behind the digital curve, rife with legacy technologies and entrenched ways of operating.

At a time when most corporations had embraced responsive web design, Ranpak’s website was industrial looking and static, Gliedman says. “You couldn’t even modify it,” he adds. The digital team refreshed the website with cleaner, bolder fonts and infused it with colors and visual media. The new design, which was also responsive to any device screen size, made it easier for staff to add content, including videos and articles hawking the company’s paper products and machines, as well as customer testimonials and case studies.

As part of its B2B marketing strategy, Ranpak promotes such content across social media, including LinkedIn and Google, to maximize exposure and cultivate a larger following. “The website is a great vehicle for promoting what we stand for, the use of our products and the company culture,” Gliedman says.

A highlight of Ranpak’s newfound promotional savvy is the website’s automated solutions section, which features the company’s larger, high-throughput machines. To date, the company has placed such machines, which do everything from size and cut Ranpak paper and boxes to packing them with paper and putting lids on the boxes in warehouses.

“These companies are looking to automate their lines and make warehouses run more efficiently and get product out the door,” Gliedman says.

Innovation from the back-office to the warehouse

To complement its modernized website, Ranpak replaced aging on-premises systems with SugarCRM, which helps the company identify, target and track sales leads. When a customer fills out an inquiry form on Ranpak’s website, it flows to SugarCRM, which categorizes leads by territory. LeadFeeder helps Ranpak identify what companies are coming to its website.

“It’s been a good change for the sales force and gives us more visibility into the data,” Gliedman says. The next leg in this back-office overhaul includes a new cloud ERP system, which will improve the way Ranpak processes orders.

Companies seeking to compete in the digital era are also scouting out new ways to automate service delivery, according to 71 percent of IT leaders surveyed for the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey.

Ranpak is exploring sensors to help analyze data generated by its 100,000 machines in the field. The internet of things (IoT) data will help Ranpak predict whether a part will require replacement before it fails, as well as paper throughput. If packing materials run low, a sensor will fire off a replenishment order to Ranpak’s ERP system.

Also under consideration: 3D cameras, AI software and machine learning technology, “anything to help our machines perform better,” Gliedman says.

Communications is critical for culture change

Ideally, the digital work will help Ranpak better compete with other automated packing companies few people have ever heard of, including Automated Packaging Systems and Polyair Inter Pak.

Gliedman says Ranpak’s tech transformation wouldn’t have been possible without a culture change predicating on thinking and acting like a “digitally forward” company.

Early on, Gliedman identified champions to communicate the importance of using digital capabilities to drive key aspects of the business transformation. To get ahead of typical change management challenges associated with implementing new technologies, Gliedman made sure that his staff pre-announced new solutions, such as the company’s move to Office 365 and the new CRM system.  

Ranpak recently hired about 30 people in IT, operations, finance and its warehouses. “We’re not hunkered down until the pandemic is over,” Gliedman says. “We’re looking to continue to grow.”