For more than 100 years, corrugated boxes have reigned as the go-to method of packaging for product transportation. In today’s market, corrugated materials are used to display, promote, and package just about every product on earth. Whether it’s food, toys, office supplies, computers, clothes, furniture, or electronics, everything we buy has traveled some distance to reach us and will typically have been protected by a corrugated container from its original point of manufacture.

Benefits of Corrugated

The origins of the corrugated paper manufacturing process can be traced back to shipping and packaging operations in the 19th century. Today, it is used throughout most of the world during transit from the manufacturer all the way to the point of sale, or direct to the consumer’s home. Some of the extensive benefits of corrugated include its:

  • Minimal weight
  • Practicality
  • Usefulness
  • Sustainability
  • Recyclability
  • Design and merchandising appeal

In addition to these practical and environmental benefits, corrugated also offers limitless design possibilities and merchandising appeal to consumers. Even when the destination has been reached, corrugated can be recycled and used for the same purpose all over again.

Innovation in the Corrugated Industry

Corrugated manufacturers continue to improve their corrugated paper manufacturing process and products to adapt to changes in distribution systems, the needs of retailers, and consumer demands. This includes finding ways to build stronger paper that’s lightweight and water-resistant.

To remain versatile in the face of these ever-changing demands, corrugated facilities have equipped themselves with machine-automated technology that enables them to make an astounding $23 billion annually in the United States alone. As populations increase and the demand for products continues to grow, corrugated is likely to remain the best option for transporting products and materials safely all around the world.

The Corrugated Paper Manufacturing Process

The process for making corrugated boxes involves six steps that begin with sustainable timber harvesting and finish up in a specialty carton plant like the one used by FGS. To understand this process with a simple illustration, you can take a piece of paper and add waves in it (known as flutes). Glue the fluted paper to layers of strong linerboard and hey presto — you’ve got a tough piece of combined board that can take a beating while protecting even the most fragile of contents on the inside. 

The production of commercial corrugated is a little more involved than the example above, involving specialized machines and customization. Find the details of each step of the corrugated manufacturing process below:

Roles of thick brown paper being machine-rolled for corrugated packaging.


1- Sourcing the Materials

The raw materials used in the corrugated paper manufacturing process are largely composed of cellulose fiber from the wood pulp of pine, fir, and cedar trees found in the forests of California, Oregon, and Washington. To ensure the ongoing health of these forests and prevent environmental damage, many companies — such as Fruit Growers Supply — only use trees that are grown and harvested using sustainable, environmentally friendly methods that cause no damage to wildlife or nearby indigenous tribes.

To harvest the wood pulp, selected trees are cut, their limbs are removed, and the trunks sent to a paper mill where a chemical process breaks down wood chips into a pulp that is used for making paper products. The fiber used in the corrugated paper manufacturing process is separated out from the pulp using mechanical, chemical, and semi-chemical techniques and sent to the carton plant for processing into corrugated fiberboard. Whereas the lumber industry used to burn byproducts like sawdust and small chips as waste, these materials are now used along with recycled paper (up to one third of the final product) as a source material for the production of new paper and corrugated fiberboard.

Overhead View of Raw Materials in Warehouse

2- The Corrugating Adhesive System

At the adhesive stage of the corrugated paper manufacturing process, corrugators use a substance known as starch to adhere the linerboard to the medium. This starch is the only material not supplied by the corrugated company itself (with paper being the primary source for corrugated) and is usually made to order. The exact mixture of ingredients used in the starch can be adjusted to meet the needs and desired outcomes of the corrugator.

3- Corrugator

To develop the combined board, a machine corrugator places flutes in the medium and glues it to the linerboard. These flutes can be created in smaller or larger lengths as required — with the most common flute lengths being A, B, D, E, and F.

The machines used for corrugating are typically 300 feet long and 20 feet high and are extremely expensive — costing about a million dollars each. In addition to placing flutes in the paper and gluing the corrugated paper to the linerboard, these machines are also able to customize the boards according to the specs defined by the customer. For example, container boards might receive water, grease or slip-resistant treatments at this stage of the corrugated paper manufacturing process, or have internal tapes or strings added to make the box more resistant to tearing and bulging. The appearance of the box can also be changed with bleaches, colored inks, or customized with the application of preprinted linerboard.


4- Box Blanks

Now that the linerboard and corrugated paper have been made into a length of combined board, this combined board must now be cut into a box blank ready for assembly. For this stage of the corrugated paper manufacturing process, a printer-slotter, die cutter, or flexo folder-gluer can be used to cut, score, and slot the combined board to turn it into a box blank.

Rotary Die Plate For Side View

5- Stitcher/Taper

Depending on the needs of the purchasing company, the boxes might be made up on-site after leaving the corrugated facility. Others are prepared at the plant with a stitcher, taper, or flexo folder-gluer. Stitchers and tapers combine corrugated box blank ends together with staples or tape to form the completed box.

6- Laminator

Next in the corrugated paper manufacturing process, a laminator machine glues layers of single or multi-wall corrugated board together to create strength. This machine is typically used for bulk bins, corrugated sheets for pads, and specialty applications.

Specialty Processes

Often times, corrugated boxes need to be enhanced using specialty processes that increase the box’s protective capabilities or help the customer to better organize the contents of the box. The following are examples of specialty processes and additions used in the corrugated paper manufacturing process:

  • Laminated corrugated pads
  • Corrugated boards glued to plastic films
  • Pre-glued trays and box bottoms
  • Die cut shapes
  • Corrugated partitions

Sustainability and Recycling in the Corrugated industry

There are several benefits to the corrugated paper manufacturing process as it pertains to recyclability and sustainability. Here are a few:

  • Manufacturers can easily use earth-friendly inks on corrugated paper.
  • New starches have been developed that are not harmful to the ozone layer.
  • Formaldehyde, which is proven to be a hazardous emission, has been significantly regulated and reduced in today’s corrugated paper manufacturing process.
  • Water waste by the industry has significantly diminished from past levels thanks to the Clean Water Act of the 1980’s.
  • Corrugated manufacturers encourage their suppliers and end users to recycle the finished corrugated boxes for sustainability in the paper industry. Environmentally conscious companies choose to source paper from sustainable suppliers for the corrugated paper manufacturing process, while reducing and recycling their own paper waste.
  • Updated health and safety requirements have lead corrugated manufacturers to produce boxes that carry food safely and without creating health risks for the end consumer.
  • The corrugated industry aims to create green packaging materials and has a recycling rate beyond that of all other packaging materials used today. Compared to other packaging options, corrugated uses less raw materials to create a recycled product.

Learn More about Corrugated Products

At Fruit Growers Supply, you can find more information about how corrugated cartons can be used by local businesses for all of your produce shipping needs. Fruit Growers Supply Company has perfected a corrugated paper manufacturing process that is technologically advanced, fast paced, and environmentally friendly. Subscribe to our e-news for information about corrugated, pallets, irrigation systems, and contact us for a no-obligation quote.

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