Five Automotive Supply Chain Disruptors and How They Impact Packaging

The automotive industry has relied on reusable packaging for part shipments for decades and as it evolves, so do the packaging requirements. With trends towards more electric sensitive parts to lithium-ion batteries, planning part packaging for new vehicle launches is more important than ever.

There are several automotive disruptors at play, as outlined by Scott Krebs, Director of Marketing for ORBIS Corporation. He spoke at the Reusable Packaging Association Learning Center at PACK EXPO Las Vegas.

Scott Krebs

Increased specialization and complexity of automotive options drive the need for bridging standardization and specialization

Krebs envisions a near future where we will be looking at electric vehicles, autonomous, new ride-share formats and more, while probably still maintaining our personal vehicles for weekend driving. OEMs are going to have to have multiple different options, he stated, and that is going to drive a lot of complexity in the supply chain as well as on the assembly line. How do you take a standardized tote where every vehicle or every third vehicle is different or unique, he asked rhetorically.

“So you need standardization, but you also need to develop into that a way to deal with the flexibility,” Krebs continued. He is looking to part kitting as a solution. While part kitting isn’t new, it makes sense, allowing OEMs to balance the standardization and flexibility required for automotive assembly in a complex and customized environment. 

More sensitive technology components will increasingly require protective packaging

With the development of autonomous vehicles, there will be a design shift toward making the most of passenger time by adding technology to make it more valuable to passengers. There will be a change of focus from the outside of the vehicle to the interior. There will be more display screens. 

“You’re going to see more technology components and more parts sensitive components.,” Krebs said, “so you’re going to be needing to invest in more protective packaging.”  He recommended that someone in your company become knowledgeable about electrostatic discharge (ESD) or to work with a packaging provider that has that expertise.

“If you’re talking to packaging companies, definitely make sure that they have the capability to take care of that specialization for you,” he added.

Smaller parts will create opportunities for a different approach to packaging

Look for electric vehicles to have smaller motors, transmissions and related drive train components, Krebs noted. While internal combustion engines are typically shipped on a large rack, multiple smaller engines will be a better fit for standardized reusable plastic containers that will hold several engines and compatible with automation or picking and placing those parts. 

Work with a packaging expert for certification of lithium-ion battery packaging

There are a number of requirements regarding the packaging of lithium-ion batteries. Considerations such as the state of the battery, battery weight and mode of transport all come into play. And every time a change is made, the packaging will be required to be recertified.

“There are (RPA) member companies here that will do that as a service,” Krebs said. So if you go to them and work with them and purchase their packaging, they will support you on that type of certification. And then you don’t have to worry about anything. And it’s all done for you. 

“You don’t need to be experts in battery packaging. Let the experts do that.”

Automotive turns to intelligent packaging to increase supply chain visibility

Krebbs reported that OEMs, tier suppliers, and 3PLs are looking at how to better share routes and cross docks in order to increase efficiency, remarking on the significant amount of trucks running empty. Technologies to improve visibility, such as intelligent packaging, are critical to such initiatives. OEMs such as Toyota are looking to convert 100% of their reusables to provide such visibility.

A transformation is underway from the barcode tracking of reusables to RFID, which allows the automated capture of multiple containers at the same time, as well as Bluetooth, allowing the truck driver to capture what is loaded on his truck and communicate the information to the network. 

GPS, while comparatively expensive, is used for targeted applications. From an audit standpoint, Krebs said, if there is preliminary data suggesting an issue, then the targeted use of GPS can help reveal exactly what is happening.   

For more information on reusable packaging and tracking technologies, be sure to check out the new RPA white paper, A Smarter, Technology-Driven Supply Chain with Reusable Packaging Systems.