Forget Packing Peanuts, It’s All About the Air Cushion

The $475 Fill-Air Flow wants to bring the power of inflatable plastic to small businesses.

Innovator John Wolf
Age 44
Title Vice president for global sector marketing at Sealed Air, the inventor of Bubble Wrap

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Illustrator: Chris Philpot

Form and function
Fill-Air Flow is a device the size of a paper-towel dispenser that creates clear plastic air cushions—a cheaper, sleeker alternative to packing peanuts and the like—at a scale designed to be affordable for small businesses.

Origin
Starting in 2014, Wolf led a team of eight to develop a small-scale packaging dispenser, after Sealed Air noticed a rise in the number of small shipping operations.

Inflation
The 13-by-14-by-8-inch Fill-Air Flow, hung on a wall, feeds a roll of 10-by-8-in. plastic bags into the machine’s inflator. Users can customize the desired fill volume using buttons on the front of the device.

Sealing
The inflator fills as many as 20 bags a minute, sealing them with heat.

Sizing
Using air cushions can make a package 25 percent smaller, Wolf says.

Price
Sealed Air is charging $475 for the hardware, less than half the cost of higher-output competitors such as the Mini Pak’r Industrial Air Cushion Machine.

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Illustrator: Chris Philpot

Market
Wolf says he’s hoping small businesses will eventually account for as much as 15 percent of the roughly $2 billion global market for air-inflated packaging.

Next Steps
Sealed Air says the Fill-Air Flow machine will be for sale in the first quarter of next year. It’s pitching the device to small businesses at exhibitions and trade shows. “It’s so cost-efficient, it takes care of itself in a couple of months,” says HelenAnn Lally, owner of Your Neighborhood Office, a small business in Manhattan’s West Village that’s using the device. Lally says she has also saved space by getting rid of other packing supplies.

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