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back to index backAMERItalk April,  2017

Delivering Excellence Globally: Insights into Cost Effective International Packaging

In today's global marketplace, many of the durable goods we purchase are compiled of parts from a multitude of sources. Manufacturers receive components from suppliers all over the world, and many have their own internal supply chains with components produced at a facility on one continent and shipped to another for final assembly and delivery to the customer - who may also be in another country.

Global shipping is a growing trend, and companies are putting a focus on shipping processes that reduce cost and protect their investments.

To achieve cost savings, OEMs should put the focus on efficient packaging, effective transportation, and reducing the need or frequency of repacking wherever possible.

Avoid Repetition and Rework

The materials and labor required for packaging and especially shipping are highly significant.

It is important to do it right the first time and that means knowing what is being shipped and where it's going to ensure it arrives unharmed and the receiver can handle it.  Components moving inbound through the intercontinental supply chain from a sub-supplier or 3rd party logistics center sometimes go from the supplier to a consolidation center before they arrive at the OEM receiving plant.  If the address for the first stop is domestic, suppliers may not know that the ultimate destination is another country and will not follow global protocols, resulting in a need to repackage the contents at the consolidation center.  Sometimes, international shipments make it through customs, but the OEM will not accept their original packaging, so they are repackaged at a supplier's warehouse stateside.

There are major cost implications with repackaging.

Costs go up when a new fleet of packaging is required for the loop between the warehouse and the plant.  There is also the labor cost, which the supplier will pass on to the OEM.  In addition to the increased cost, the more times the contents are handled, the more opportunity there is for human error or damage.  The best approach is to know where the parts are going, design original packaging that is acceptable to the OEM, so that they can receive the original shipment in its original packaging.

Plan for Environmental Challenges

Despite the best efforts of suppliers, a lot can happen on a journey of several thousand miles.

Environmental challenges can sometimes cause damage that renders the parts unusable, causing serious delays to the OEMs on the receiving side.  Shipments that are waiting in customs are sometimes stored in a lean-to or out in the open, exposed to the elements.  For shipments traveling by plane, extreme temperatures in the air or on the tarmac can cause shipping materials to become brittle and break.

In wet or humid climates - ”or where parts are stored on shelves longer than is recommended”, corrosion can cause real damage.  Corrosion inhibitors such as VCI products, coated paper, film, or plastic bags can protect the items from corrosion.  Desiccants and a robust closure method can provide a further layer of protection to keep moisture from penetrating the inner packaging.  Upon arrival, accurate labels are needed to indicate how long the packaging can guarantee the parts will be free of corrosion while stored in the receiver's warehouse or production facility.

Optimize Transport

Each mode of transportation has special circumstances associated with it. Optimized packaging for the type of transport mode used is a way to achieve cost savings and protect products.

Products that are transported by truck or container ship can be jostled during loading/unloading or transport. Blocking and bracing can secure the load more firmly and special airbags are used to cushion the areas around the cargo and keep the contents from shifting. Shipping by air can often be the roughest mode of transport. Containers may be placed on their sides or upside down to fit in the plane's cargo area, and the change in orientation can exacerbate rough handling during loading and unloading.

Protecting shipments from damage is not the only step to take to make the shipping process itself more efficient. Maximizing the space in the shipping containers”especially when shipping internationally is the best use of shipping dollars. Sea containers are expensive, and should be packed with as many parts as possible.  The containers are modular and of a standard size to make it easy to stack them on ships.  Knowing the dimensions of the container in advance can help with planning and selecting packages with heights and widths that fill the space.  For example, the effective interior width of a sea container is 90, so planning boxes, crates, or pallets with widths that are a factor of 90 will ensure a tight pack. To fill the height of a standard sea container, consider both the height of boxes and their ability to bear the load of the boxes stacked on top of them. Corner posts and angle boards can be used to increase stacking strength.

With standard cubic sizes, it is possible to plan the maximum efficiency of packing in advance so there are no questions when it is time to load the container. Failure to plan could lead to underutilized space and more area inside the container for the items to shift and damage to occur.

Do it Right the First time

There is so much at stake when it comes to cost-effective and timely shipping of parts in the manufacturing industry, it is worth a trial run if time allows.

Packaging validation can give both the supplier and the OEM more peace of mind and better ability to plan.  Send test packs over the intended distribution channel and track how long it takes them to reach the customer. Photograph the test pack before it is shipped and again when it arrives, to assess any wear and tear from the shipping process.

Transportation testing at a certified packaging test lab is a good way to ensure success. Such tests include vibration, impact, drop, and compression tests, as well as the potential use of an environmental chamber. Packaging must conform to all applicable transportation rules and regulations of the country of origin and throughout the supply chain. The onus to perform this due diligence will be on the part supplier, but the OEM will have a stake, so a successful validation process becomes a partnership.

Communicate Effectively

Last but not least, clear communication is paramount.

Language barriers can present a challenge in international shipping, which is why it is critical to plan the path and know where the shipment is going.  Labels detailing fragility or hazards of the contents and instruction sheets packed inside the container need to be multi-lingual.  Translation can be expensive, so also using drawings and graphics to communicate wherever possible is the most effective approach.  When it comes to translation, a picture can literally be worth a thousand words.

Meetings between the shipping and receiving teams can be done with video or teleconferencing, and often one or both parties must be flexible about working around time zone differences, meeting early in the morning or in the evening after hours.  Ideally, there would be someone who is fluent in both languages present on all calls, so that everything is clearly understood. 

OEMs can be sure their needs are made clear by creating clear pallet and container standards for international shipments, as well as expectations for corrosion protection.

Deliver Excellence

When parts are traveling long distances with little to no room for error to meet a schedule, there can be some challenge for both the shipper and the receiver.

When a shipment is in transport, it is out of the hands of both parties. Effective planning and attention to deal can give both sides the comfort of knowing they have done everything they can. The goal is to deliver component parts and assemblies cost-effectively, on time and without damage in a safe, ergonomically friendly and environmentally sustainable container designed to withstand the global distribution environment.

When everyone works together to achieve that common goal, excellence is delivered and the global marketplace thrives.

About the Author
Brett Swanson is Group Manager of Packaging with Ghafari Associates.  He can be reached at 313.425.3667 or

Source: Ghafari Associates - GAI

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