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Packaging Corner: A rainbow of tote and bin colors organize inventory, fulfillment

Manufacturers respond to industry trend to color code bins and totes for inventory management.
By Sara Pearson Specter, Editor at Large
May 01, 2013

While the process of organizing products for storage and shipment with reusable totes and bins of different colors isn’t new, the practice has exploded in popularity over the past five years, according to Greg Beaudin, midwest sales representative at Akro-Mils. And, bin and tote manufacturers like Akro-Mils have expanded their product offerings to meet that demand.

“Even as recently as seven years ago, we only had four different standard color offerings in parts storage bins and hand-held totes,” Beaudin recalls. “Today, we offer 15 different standard colors in our parts bins, and we can produce those same colors in totes to meet our customers’ color coding requirements.”

The 15 colors cover a wide spectrum—including berry, black, blue, light blue, clear, gray, green, hunter green, purple, red, sandstone, teal, terra cotta, white and yellow—because both manufacturers and distributors have embraced lean, 5S and Kanban initiatives as a means to reduce inventory, boost efficiency and impact their profitability, says Beaudin.

“Automotive manufacturers helped blaze this trail over the past 30 years, using color-coded bins and totes to deliver just-in-time shipments of kitted components through the supply chain to the production line,” he explains.

Increased use in other industries, such as healthcare, pharmaceutical, third-party logistics providers (3PLs) and retailers, has contributed to the color explosion, Beaudin says.

“Many companies are looking to meet sustainability goals by replacing corrugated cardboard with reusable totes and bins for shipping, as well as to support automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) with a dimensionally consistent storage unit,” he says. “Once they learn they can choose from a rainbow of colors, they see additional opportunities to further organize their inventory and improve handling processes.”

Organization schemes for manufacturing might include designating one tote color for work-in-process, a second color for buffered inventory and a third for products that need further customization for a specific customer. Retailers and 3PLs could use tote colors to group orders by customer, destination or required shipping speed, suggests Beaudin.

“I’ve even seen some retailers purchase a unique color of tote just to handle their hot Black Friday items, or in support of a special promotion or anticipated demand,” he adds.

About the Author

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Sara Pearson Specter
Editor at Large

Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Logistics Management as an Editor at Large since 2001. Based in Cincinnati, Specter has worked in the fields of journalism, graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for 15 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky., with a bachelor’s degree in French and history.


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