MM&D MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2011 PRINT EDITION:
Sustainable logistics is about cutting costs while using fewer expendable resources, with the added value of delivering items undamaged in a complex supply chain. Companies that find a way to eliminate the most recurring costs can gain a significant financial advantage over their competitors. This is a stunningly simple concept, yet it only recently became viable through the use of reusable shipping crates.
We’ve all heard the slogan, “reduce, reuse and recycle”. Reusable metal shipping crates make logistics processes more sustainable and pro_ table by reducing the amount of packing materials needed, recycling shipping containers and enabling owners to reuse crates in cost-effective and convenient ways. To this slogan, we can add the word “adapt”. By outsourcing logistics operations to a third party logistics (3PL) provider, companies—especially small to mid-sized ones—are adapting and achieving sustainable competitive advantages.
Reusable metal shipping crates reduce costs and well as trash. They eliminate disposable packaging and shipping materials such as shrink wrap, bubble wrap and other packing matter, as well as pallets.
Through the use of crates, pallets are eliminated so companies no longer have to purchase and arrange for outside storage of fumigated or heat-treated wooden pallets. This reduces materials and storage costs while removing harmful pesticides from the environment.
The reusable metal crates offering the best cost-savings reduce the number of shipping containers used because they are designed around the inside dimensions of a 53-foot trailer. They reduce wasted space by maximizing the cubing when shipping products. Various crate sizes allow for flexibility in transport and for customers to mix small, medium and large-size crates to fully maximize trailer volume.
Even companies with uniquely shaped or especially fragile products benefit from employing reusable metal crates by contracting with providers for customized versions. For example, a solar panel company might purchase custom designed reusable crates to protect its solar panels while they are in transit.
By returning metal crates to warehouses so they can be reused, companies are in essence recycling them and therefore eliminating the cost of buying or using additional crates, boxes or other containers. This means sustainable cost savings for many years.
Some reusable metal crates have an additional advantage over the use of traditional shipping methods. Properly designed reusable crates allow efficient access to products for loading and unloading via folding and removable panel doors.
An important side benefit to these doors is flexible racking. Because the crates also interlock and can be safely stacked, they can be used as storage racks. The crates can then be folded and stored or shipped back for reuse as ä ex storage solutions that meet seasonal peak and valley storage requirements.
For those companies which either cannot or choose not to maintain their own logistics processes, 3PLs can fill the need in ways that make the user far more competitive than otherwise possible. Outsourcing logistics enables companies without established distribution networks to grow considerably faster than they otherwise could. At the same time, such companies can focus on their core business offerings.
However, the key is to identify and engage a flexible service provider. Many 3PLs cater to large companies and offer only static packages and pricing, yet there are some that specialize in serving small to mid-sized businesses with custom pricing structures.
Smaller companies should hire 3PLs offering flexible programs while also incorporating efficient information technology with services that complement what those companies have already put in place.
The best 3PLs offer unbundled services like freight forwarding to include drayage, bulk storage with pick-and-pack operations enabling companies to store inventory in off-site facilities and break bulk services. They also offer customized national freight forwarding, inventory sorting, quality control, kitting, assembly and distribution services.
As is the case in other industries, the internet has leveled the playing field in logistics, making green and sustainable operations possible. Flexible 3PL providers now use customer-specific warehouse management systems. They track inventory status and input purchase and sales orders online from any computer in real-time, using companies like Redprarie, Manhattan and SAP. These software systems were designed with multiple customer warehouse management in mind. _ is makes them scalable, so 3PL providers can offer logistic services to multiple clients using dedicated or shared facilities at significantly lower costs than customers might be able to achieve on their own.
Reusable crates coupled with flexible 3PL services provide small- to mid-sized companies cost-effective and flexible offerings for sustainable logistics and warehousing while adding green to their bottom lines. MM&D
Donna St Jean Conti is a marketing communications and public relations professional.