The Pros and Cons of Tray Shrink Systems for Shrink Packaging Lines

24 February 2016 //

Tray Packaging

Combining shrink wrap and trays is a common packaging solution for a number of industries, largely because it’s easily adaptable and cost-effective. While automation is typically used as a differentiator in tray shrink equipment options, it’s not the only thing you should consider when determining what will best fit your needs.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of three typical tray shrink systems.

1. Manual

Used as a complement to manual loading processes, this type of system is ideal for low throughput of up to 10 packages per minute and where labor costs are manageable. The trays are pre-formed or molded and provide the added versatility of use with shrink wrap on manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic packaging equipment.


  • Highly flexible concept that accommodates short-run products
  • Low capital equipment and maintenance costs
  • Uses all tray types: corrugate and chipboard (glued/pre-glued/locking), thermoformed, molded pulp and reusable
  • Adapts to products that require nesting into form-fitting trays


  • High manual labor
  • Limited throughput

2. Semi-Automatic

Semi-automatic replaces pre-formed/molded trays with those automatically produced by a stand-alone tray former. When a tray former is used in conjunction with an automatic shrink wrap machine, the overall throughput rate typically ranges from 10-20 packages per minute. It’s important to note that the tray loading process can be labor-intensive and cause bottlenecks, both of which may be alleviated with the integration of an automated pick-and-place/robotic system. Loaded trays are then wrapped in film and shrunk on an automatic shrink-wrap machine.


  • Moderate capital equipment and maintenance costs
  • Uses a majority of tray types: corrugate and chipboard (glued/pre-glued/locking)
  • Adapts to products that require nesting into form fitting trays
  • Mid-level throughput rates


  • Higher labor costs (if trays are loaded manually)
  • Limited range of flexibility
  • Potential for bottlenecks

3. Fully Automatic

Unlike its stand-alone counterpart, a wrap-around tray former is an integral part of a larger shrink-wrapping machine that operates as a single automatic solution. Positioned in the center of the larger machine between a collator and shrink wrapper, a wrap-around tray former creates trays out of corrugate blanks by erecting and hot gluing the walls around product as it indexes through the system. Like semi-automatic, fully automatic processes could introduce bottlenecks.


  • High throughput rates
  • Low labor costs
  • Mid-level maintenance costs
  • Accommodates extended product runs


  • Uses a limited range of tray types: corrugate & chipboard (glued)
  • Limited range of equipment flexibility
  • Potential for bottlenecks

When it comes to picking a tray shrink solution for your shrink packaging line, there are a number of factors to consider. Contact EDL today to discuss your options. We’re happy to help.