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Wrap Battle: Why It Might Be Time to Take Issue With Your Supply Chain Packaging (And Where To Start)

By Contributing Author | 02/16/2017 | 3:00 PM

By:  Rajiv Saxena, APL Logistics

Picture this:  You’re at a celebration where the guest of honor has received a huge package that contains a microscopic present – a fact he or she discovers only after unwrapping a series of increasingly smaller packages that are included inside.

Sound familiar?  It should, and not just because it’s a common form of gift-giving humor. 

The transportation of raw materials and finished goods has a similarly superfluous practice. It’s called supply chain packaging – or more accurately supply chain packaging complacency.

There’s no question that this outer shipping layer is often essential for securing and protecting items during transit.  However as a longtime engineer who has spent most of his career working in the logistics industry, I can safely say that many businesses are using far more of it than they need to – and spending more for everything from packing materials and freight to warehousing and waste management because of it. 

The question is, why?  Where are the potential pockets of inefficiency?  And as logistics professionals what can we do do to encourage our companies to address it?


Why Is Some Supply Chain Packaging Inefficient?

It’s not difficult to see why this excess happens. 

For one thing, the typical contract between many companies and their suppliers usually leaves suppliers responsible for getting products prepared for long-distance shipping.  Since most of these contracts hold suppliers liable only for product damage – and not for shipping inefficiencies like higher freight bills – it’s only natural for them to play it safe and over-package.

For another, many companies aren’t overly diligent about monitoring or discouraging the potentially inefficient packaging decisions their suppliers make.  Few routinely question whether the supply chain packaging materials, measurements and configurations their suppliers have chosen are optimal matches for their products’ requirements.  And most don’t have disincentives in place to make suppliers think twice about using poorly designed or bloated packaging.


How Can You Spot Supply Chain Package Inefficiency?

It’s not too difficult to find the answer to the second question either, because even a little bit of observation at DCs, cross-docks or stores’ receiving docks will often uncover a good number of potential packaging “misses.”

For example: Your packaging might be a candidate for dimensional reductions if you notice a substantial size differential between a product and its exterior packaging; larger quantities of cushioning material than you’re used to seeing; or a significant amount of airspace in each outer package. 

It could have a stackability or cubing limitation if crates or boxes can only be stored in single or double rows/layers in your DC or there appears to be considerable empty space (especially at the top) in each incoming trailer or container. 

And if a box, package or crate can’t be picked cleanly via a standard forklift or other common material handling method, it could indicate a major throughput problem just waiting to happen – or explain why one recently occurred.   

Plus, while it’s only natural for there to be SOME packaging materials that require disposal after items have been unloaded, unpacked and processed, the presence of too many of these materials could be a sign that overstuffing is taking place – or that it’s time to consider a switch to reusable materials.


What Are Some Of The Possible Solutions?

In an ideal world, this would be the place where I tell you that supply chain packaging inefficiencies are just as easy to cure.  However in the real world, it’s not quite so simple.  

Many of the most effective antidotes -- including identifying alternative packaging configurations; conducting packaging optimizations; performing simulations; and building and testing prototypes – aren’t the kinds of things a company can administer overnight.  And most require skills the average shipping professional doesn’t possess. 

Ultimately you will probably need to tap into the expertise of your in-house engineers, packaging consultants or one of your 3PLs’ engineering departments and be willing to give the process some time. 

But in the long run, you’ll be glad you did, because a new and improved supply chain packaging approach has the potential to pay major dividends in terms of freight savings, carbon footprint reductions and other material handling improvements.  Eventually it could help transform this long-neglected area of the supply chain from a mere check in the box to a true strategic performer.


Rajiv Saxena
Rajiv Saxena is head of supply chain solutions at APL Logistics, one of the world’s largest global supply chain management providers. APL Logistics is the go-to global supply chain specialist for companies in the Automotive, Consumer, Industrials and Retail sectors.The company has a global network covering all major markets; backed by a multinational workforce of about 7,700 people. APL Logistics is a member of the Kintetsu World Express group, a global logistics services provider. 

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Welcome to "One-Off Sound-Off," a blog page devoted to guest commentary on all things supply chain. This is a space where industry leaders can share their opinions and expertise with the logistics and supply chain community. If you have an article or commentary you'd like to share, please consider sending a guest blog proposal to feedback@dcvelocity.com.


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