Returnable shipping containers a major boon for plant and warehouse availability

Reusable containers can increase plant and warehouse availability, and reduce plant downtime.

By Dave Madden and Thomas R. Cutler

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It is not often that returnable shipping containers are considered an aspect of delivering highly efficient and cost-effective solutions for maintenance and asset care requirements. The result of using reusable containers increases plant and warehouse availability, reducing plant downtime. The best implementation of sustainable packaging involves Lean and continuous process improvement including plant overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), while reducing maintenance costs.

Asset Management Evaluation can be defined as an investigation into the whole or part of the asset management processes, structures and systems of a firm. Using a logical approach and organizational principles, a structured methodology must include the utilization of space and packaging. 

Folding bulk containers, industrial totes and metal storage bins are used over and over again within a facility or between a supplier and a customer. They can be used thousands of times. These bulk boxes are much cheaper in the long term when compared to buying cardboard boxes and wood crates every time that product is shipped. Savings can be observed in the per-piece packaging cost. The upfront investment in returnable packaging might cost more, but savings can be realized quickly through repeated use (the same bulk containers, metal bins and totes are used over and over), labor (no more box assembly), material-handling (fewer moves from stackable containers), quality (fewer rejects due to damaged packaging), and floor space (plastic and metal containers can stack very high).

The per-piece packaging costs for used bulk containers and totes can be as low as 5% of the costs for a comparable expendable solution, depending on shipping volumes.

Returnable packaging also reduces waste created by businesses. The EarthWorks Group estimates that 30% of landfill waste is created by plastic and paper packaging. The use of cardboard products and other one-time-use packaging products contribute to this waste.

On-site evaluations, including kaizen events, usually start with a plant tour and include structured interviews with a cross-section of maintenance personnel, as well as multiple departments including operations, quality, safety, environmental, finance and engineering.

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The principle areas of a maintenance evaluation include:

  • Characteristics of plant operation (redundant and one-time-use packaging often is ignored in a maintenance evaluation.)
  • Existing maintenance objectives (stackable packaging options save space and reusable containers save money.)
  • Maintenance schedules (Maximized container visibility drives continuous maintenance improvements.)
  • Maintenance workload (Reduced labor requirements include moving away from cardboard packaging assembly, which drives significant workload reductions and cost-savings.)
  • Work planning and control (Reusable packaging solutions allow for strategic planning processes.)
  • Maintenance control (Wasteful and unused packaging can be eliminated.)

Packaging maintenance evaluation benefits include:

  • Revealing the true performance of current maintenance systems in quantifiable metrics by which comparisons to alternative packaging solutions can be offered.
  • Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the maintenance systems.
  • Benchmarking: Comparing the present situation with known best practices in other maintenance organizations and with sound principles of management.
  • Providing a clear and cost-effective road map for Continuous Maintenance Improvement through effective reusable packaging solutions. defines enterprise asset management (EAM) as the whole life optimal management of the physical assets of an organization to maximize value. It covers such things as the design, construction, commissioning, operations, maintenance and decommissioning/replacement of plant, equipment and facilities. "Enterprise" refers to the management of the assets across departments, locations, facilities and, in some cases, business units. By managing assets across the facility, organizations can improve utilization and performance, reduce capital costs, reduce asset-related operating costs, extend asset life and subsequently improve return on assets (ROA).

It would be naïve to believe that use of the best packaging and container solutions for any enterprise is not part of maintaining optimal availability, reliability, and operational safety of plant, equipment, facilities and other assets; it  is essential for an organization's competitiveness.

Examples of reusable packaging in industrial maintenance and asset management

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