Packaging Optimization = Supply Chain Optimization

This post was originally published on EBN.

Packaging optimization is critical to supply chain optimization. To catch big advantages, change your mindset and make packaging a forethought rather than an afterthought.

In a Packaging World article, Elisha Tropper, president and CEO of Cambridge Seals Security (CSS), describes how packaging is typically thought of by manufacturers:

An afterthought… for most [manufacturers of industrial products] packaging is not a consideration. They are manufacturers; they are not packagers. They make an industrial product, and industrial products are dropped into boxes. But whether a box is an inch bigger or an inch smaller, what does it matter?

The truth is, it matters a lot. If you want to optimize your supply chain you need to optimize your packaging. This means changing your mindset when it comes to packaging — packaging needs to become an early consideration.

There are several components of packaging. For example, the product itself, the box or container in which the product is placed to sell, and the box or container the items are placed in for shipping. Each of these components are opportunities for optimization.

Package (re)design
A May 2013 industry study by Freedonia forecasts that pallet use in the US will grow 2.4 percent annually to 2.6 billion in 2017.  The study also reported that demand for new pallets is expected in increased by 3.5 percent annually to 1.3 billion units.

The International Organization for Standardization sets the standards for pallet size; there are currently six pallet standards. The most common size used in the United States is Grocery Manufacturers pallet, which measures 48 inches by 48 inches. The dimensions of a pallet are not always considered with respect to packaging; this is a costly mistake.

Let’s look at an example previously highlighted in Supply Chain DigestAdalis (now H.B. Fuller Adhesive Coated Solutions) worked with a telecommunications company to redesign their packaging to optimize pallet use. By reducing the size of each unit package by 1.5 inches in one dimension, the company was able to increase the number of units that could fit on the pallet by 150 percent (from 120 to 300 units).  The result was a signification reduction packaging (materials) costs and transportation costs.

Product (re)design
Product design or redesign is another way to optimize packaging to optimize your supply chain.

Let’s go back to Elisha Tropper. Tropper was the former owner of a packaging convert and his packaging consultancy, T3 Associates, acquired CSS in 2010.  When Tropper took over at CSS he challenged the company to take packaging optimization into consideration at the point of product design. The company took the challenge and redesigned the product. A significant reduction in package size and materials usage resulted. According to Trooper: “A standard pallet of our boxes can hold about 120,000 seals, while that same pallet will hold only about 80,000 of our competitor’s seals.”

Ikea provides another example, which Colin White outlines in his book Strategic Management. When Ikea first began manufacturing its Bang mug, 864 mugs could fit on a pallet. Ikea redesigned the rim of the mug so as to maximize pallet efficiency — Ikea was able to increase the number of mugs per pallet to 1,280. The company decided it could go further. Another redesign increased the number of mugs per pallet to 2,024. As a result of the product redesign, the company reduced shipping costs by 60 percent.

Outside the box
Ikea has taken packaging optimization for supply chain optimization even further and has created a system called OptiLedge, which eliminates pallet use. Retailers using OptiLedge have realized a savings of been $200 to $300 per container.

Major factors for cost savings include a reduction in man hours to off-load (a savings of between 15 to 23 hours or more of labor per container), space savings (one truckload of OptiLedges would be the equivalent of 23 truckloads of traditional pallets), and weight (OptiLedge weighs under two pounds as compared with the 50 to 75 pounds that a traditional pallet weighs). In addition, OptiLedge eliminates underhang and increases fill rates.

Too often, everyone thinks of packing as the thing that gets thrown away. Smart manufacturers, though, will ensure that good money isn’t tossed out with the box or pallet.