Reusable packaging can’t manage itself, at least not yet.
Somewhere in a tidy counselor’s office, reusable bin and front line ops manager alike plop awkwardly, side by side onto some comfy Herman Miller chairs as the air swooshes out. Actually, the bin is resting on the floor and the manager is on the chair.
There are a lot of things that have never been communicated. There are deep rooted problems in the relationship. The empty bin has a hollow feeling of being left unsupervised, unnoticed and unappreciated. The manager feels betrayed by the blatant lack of loyalty, including the perpetual nosebleed of replacement and repair. The therapist is there to find common ground.
Over 25 years ago when I walked into a pallet program that was a disaster, I wanted to train our distribution center front line personnel regarding pallet handling and management. My manager of the day said something to the effect that such an approach was like hitting a mosquito over the head with a sledge hammer. Bottom line, he initially thought it was too big of a focus for too small of an issue. Opportunity cost. Was this the best investment alternative available for labor and management resources? It was hard to find someone who believed that proposition.
Once we quickly achieved an $800,000 turnaround on our annual pallet spend, however, he became a huge champion of the program, and things got progressively better. Undoubtedly there were positive spin offs in terms of product damage reduction and productivity gains, but we weren’t sophisticated enough to track such things at that time. We did note a reduction in lost time accidents related to pallet usage, which probably translated into a saving of over $100,000 per year.
The thing is that reusables for the most part still don’t manage themselves, at least not yet. There is a reluctance to spend the time and effort to mange them because they are just supply chain packaging and business leaders are, after all, trying to keep a business on track by “keeping their eyes on the prize”. Returnable packaging is supposed to go to the right trading partners, at the right count and condition, and it is supposed to return in a timely fashion, in the right quantity. It is far too often expected to just execute as envisioned. Oddly enough, there is too often surprise and disbelief when it does not.
The reality is, however, that people make reusable programs work. And unfortunately, front line packaging handling and decision making can be a distraction. On top of that, training can be relentless in the current labor environment and high turnover rates. There is hope that smart packaging and packaging sensitive automation will increasingly take human error out of the equation, but can your business afford to wait?
One company that has opted to tackle container management through an emphasis on training is Jettainer. The outsourced Unit Load Device (ULD) provider has signed up for the “Ten Rules for ULDs”, publichsed by ULD CARE, a non-profit Canadian corporation focused on preventing damage to ULDs through raising awareness. The IATA reports that there are 900,00 ULDs in circulation, with a replacement cost of over $1 billion annually and damage repair costs of $330 million.
The ten rules are recommendations for correct handling, including information on proper loading, adequate transport and the exclusive use of intact containers.
Frank Mühlenkamp, director global operations at Jettainer and board member of ULD Care, was quoted in Air Cargo News: “The ULD Care Code of Conduct is an important step towards raising awareness of this topic within the industry. We fully support these efforts and are pursuing further approaches to reduce avoidable damage, for example through our JettCare programme.”
Jettainer, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Cargo, has trained several thousand ground handling employees around the world in a specially designed “ULD-X-Perts” training course through its JettCare program. In doing so, the focus is laid on correct storage as well as proper handling of the units.
ULD Care started as a committee of IATA in 1971 and has been working independently since 2011. The company has committed itself to establish regulations and awareness for an adequate handling of ULDs within the global transport chains.
How much do you spend on pallet and container loss and repair, and what are the costs to your operation related to cost per use, availability, delays, repacking, damage and customer experience? Relationships and engagement matter, even for, and especially for your packaging systems. Reusable packaging provides great value, but it can’t deliver on its own. It needs your help.