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Packaging’s Major Role in the 3PL Jigsaw, by Lester Barratt

Lester Barratt, International Key Account Manager at Sealed Air, a global leader in innovative packaging solutions, talks to Materials Handling World about emerging markets within the 3PL sector and the need for companies to further reduce costs on their packaging operations.

Packaging can often be the forgotten piece of the operational jigsaw, but effective packaging solutions can help to reduce overall costs through damage reduction in the transit cycle and reduced packing time, resulting in benefits such as increased productivity, less storage and less waste. By making operations more efficient in this way, packaging can play a huge role in the success of companies and in particular those wishing to expand.

Sealed Air is able to meet the needs of ever changing markets due to its investment in research and development. This enables it to bring new inventive solutions to the market in the least amount of time. Due to the vast industry knowledge that the company has, it is ideally placed to support 3PL providers that need to offer innovation in the services they provide to their customers. Keeping up with the latest trends and industry developments is crucial, as well as taking advantage of the benefits that are presented by emerging markets.

The most prominent emerging markets within the 3PL sector include; China, India, Brazil and Mexico, with each country experiencing accelerated growth through industrialisation. Many 3PL providers already conduct business in these countries and will need to ensure that they have professional packaging systems to operate both locally and across the globe.

Europe continues to lead the 3PL outsourcing market with annual revenues greater than North America, Asia-Pacific and Latin America1. The latest Global 3PL report suggests growth in the sector is continuing, although in the last two to three years, economic volatility and uncertainty will have had a negative impact on the overall rate of growth.

With the majority of 3PL operators aware of the enormous growth opportunities being presented in both the e-commerce and retail distribution sectors, it is important for them to have efficient processes in place to meet increased demand.

Equally, 3PL providers often manage warehouse operations, such as picking and packing, labelling, assembly, inventory management, reverse logistics and all associated operations within the warehouse environment. Streamlining these operations becomes vital to the 3PL provider in remaining competitive in the marketplace. Protective packaging plays an important role in managing the costs within the operation.

The key to Sealed Air’s success with 3PL providers is its ability to provide detailed analysis of the operational savings by matching the correct packaging material to the specific needs of the product being packed. Globally, Sealed Air has unique Packaging Design Centres focused on providing solutions which are tailored to the shipping environment and result in the maximum protection with the minimum amount of material.

It can therefore provide the solution that generates the most suitable cost benefit to the operation. For example, more complex products may require a bespoke material, while higher volume shipping environments can often require one of many automated packaging systems. Working in collaboration with the 3PL provider, Sealed Air is able to meet the needs of their operation and provide the valuable innovation their customers crave.

One example of working with customers more closely is through a new initiative called Smartlife® – shifting the focus on packaging from ‘minimisation’ to ‘optimisation’. This initiative has allowed customers to improve operational efficiencies, maximise resources and purge waste, resulting in an improved carbon footprint.

Looking first at the role and performance of their current packaging is the best way that 3PL companies can truly improve sustainable packaging practices. Furthermore, this approach can often help companies to realise financial savings. If companies evaluate the performance requirements of their tertiary packaging and the variables that impact on performance requirements, they can determine and optimise the best fit packaging solution. This will help companies to take their first step towards improving sustainability as they’ll be able to effectively reduce packaging material volumes, while maximising product protection.

An expert packaging manufacturer such as Sealed Air will work in partnership with a company to complete this evaluation. Sealed Air has developed a unique process of evaluation known as Packaging Value Analysis (PVA). This involves comprehensive testing including size, volume and surface area of the product that will be packaged. PVA is completed in Sealed Air’s Packaging Innovation Centres across Europe, and also involves the cross referencing of the packaging requirements of thousands of products from Sealed Air’s central database.

Sealed Air performs a number of tests, inline with standards set out by the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), to ensure the packaging solution will protect the product in ‘real’ terms. Before the testing procedure begins, the packaged product is weighed to ascertain the drop height at which the product should stand and the speed at which it should be vibrated. At the Packaging Innovation Centres, testing involves a vibration test. A packaged product is placed on a fixed vibration table and subjected to 14,200 impacts and includes a 10 sequence drop test, where the product is dropped on all surfaces, from its most fragile base corner to its largest flat face.

Once the PVA is completed, the most effective packaging materials can be determined. It is at this stage that packaging manufacturers should continue to work with companies to help them understand the full lifecycle of the packaging material as well as the product that is being packaged. This promotes a comprehensive understanding of the actual environmental performance of the different packaging options.

In conclusion, there are many factors 3PL providers should consider when changing their operational process. In many cases a period of integration is required for new procedures and processes. That is why Sealed Air has teams dedicated to providing its partners with the necessary support needed through the entire project life cycle. Continuous evaluation is the key to adapting to market trends and is why it has long standing partnerships in the marketplace.

For more information on packaging product options visit: http://www.sealedairprotects.com/
For Sealed Air’s global policy on sustainability visit: http://sustainability.sealedair.com/environment.aspx

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