Editor’s note: The following column by Phillip Biga, senior manager, market strategy, ORBIS Reusable Packaging Management (RPM), is part of Modern’s Other Voices column, a series featuring ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.
Reusable packaging offers tremendous benefits — from increased sustainability and efficiency to improved worker safety and product protection. However, reusable packaging is only beneficial if managed properly. With proper attention, companies can gain key insights hidden in their supply chains.
Companies that have the most success with reusable packaging address both inbound and outbound movements through a dedicated management process. A process that effectively tracks, retrieves and maintains reusable packaging assets creates value and protects the investment. Without a dedicated management process, companies may be missing out on valuable insights into their supply chain. Here are three insights an effective process should help uncover and address:
Poor reusable packaging handling along the supply chain
A management process will identify areas of the supply chain where packaging is not being handled properly — whether it’s the way it is maintained, stacked, stored or moved. It will help address this misuse and add accountability throughout the entire supply chain, protecting your investment and extending the usable life without excessive scraps or major repairs. Consider your personal vehicle for example – it will last longer and drive better when it is well-maintained. If reusable packaging is treated like any other valuable asset, the better its useful life will be for your organization.
A management process also will help eliminate the accumulation of damaged packaging, which can cause fleet constraints when being collected and repaired in batches. In addition to having a process in place, assigning a dedicated team to collect, clean and return packaging with recommended care and attention also can help reduce packaging misuse. This dedicated team will be able to focus its time and attention on the management system to guarantee it’s running as smoothly as possible.
Limited reusable packaging availability and visibility
According to a recent study by a leading automotive supply chain trade publication, packaging availability is the No. 1 concern among 22 percent of packaging experts, followed by packaging visibility with 21 percent. This study may be specific to the automotive industry, but the results hold true among the majority of reusable packaging users.
It is critical that packaging is available when and where it is needed within the supply chain. Dedicated packaging management resources will ensure a consistent process to route packaging to the proper locations, reducing loss and production interruptions. These resources use tracking software and technology that can integrate with customer order processing systems and provide the desired visibility. This includes balance forward tracking, or sensor-based technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth (BLE) and global positioning system (GPS) devices. The data collected from this technology provides insight to dwell times, transit delays, and many other conditions which can create interruptions in the supply chain.
Inefficient reusable packaging return during transportation
Without a packaging management process, empty reusable packaging often gets transported for miles to the wrong location. Unfortunately, return packaging routing is not always optimized, limiting opportunities to consolidate and efficiently return assets to the correct location. A third-party management provider is a great solution to eliminate these wastes. Third parties can effectively coordinate with transportation, collect packaging at strategic locations, and advise on return routes that will reduce the number of miles traveled and ensure proper return. This results in reduced transportation costs as less is spent on lost or misplaced packaging, unusable truck space and labor time.
If you’re looking to restructure or implement a reusable packaging management process, a third-party provider may be the right solution. They will evaluate your supply chain and analyze how materials flow throughout the system to determine what management services are needed before proposing a solution. Moving non-core functions to a third-party provider reduces risks and helps manufacturers stay focused on their core business.
All types of reusable packaging can benefit from proper management — including bulk containers, dunnage, pallets, metal racks and totes — to uncover insights and continuously improve. Don’t let these insights go to waste. Pinpoint them now by evaluating how your materials are being handled, where your packaging is getting lost or damaged, why availability is lacking and where transportation can be optimized. Reusable packaging is immensely valuable to supply chains within all industries. When not managed properly, however, it can’t deliver the utmost value.