Bioplastic shipping containers used for consumer electronics repair may cost more per unit, but they can be cheaper overall because they're reusable and can be recycled back into the supply chain in a closed-loop/reverse logistics setup. (Source: Ecospan)
Reverse logistics has become important in recent years, especially with consumer eletronics. While most of the return packages I see are cardboard, I wouldn't be surprised to see plastics become popular.
Reverse logistics has its own trade magazine now, as well as conferences. For decades, most companies saw it as a necessary expense and shrugged it off. Then a few companies -- like Dell -- revamped their reverse logistics and saved millions. Now it's a niche study within supply chain managementm with its own professors. My years of supply chain management coverage are showing.
It's gone through its own outsourcing pattern. Off to China, and now "near-shoring" is all the trend.
Rob, that's interesting feedback. What's your understanding of how common reverse logistics is? And do you have a sense of how often it's being combined with close-loop recycling? My understanding is that closed-loop recycling still isn't common for any plastics.
Well, the timing seems right Ann. In just the last few years, companies have started to track their reverse logistics costs. They're started to appoint reverse logistics executives to keep the costs trim. Any savings is going to get their attention.
CL, I believe that more of the savings involved in this case study were due to the shift to plastic from cardboard, than due to the closed-loop recycling. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, especially for the perspective on issues surrounding the sourcing of recycled materials. The market for same is so new that there aren't many controls in place yet. Work is going on to change that.
The "bio" part of the plastic is certainly a unique variable in the story but the closed-loop nature of the system is the critical piece that allows this program to work. By itself, this aspect eliminates a lot of the uncertainty and costs of using recycled material because the entire material stream is controlled and verifiable.
Part of my employer's business is injection molding. Because of the recent climbs in resin prices, we have had to increase our use of recycled plastics the last few years. While using more recycled material was always an altruistic goal, it is a costly process if one has to go outside the company for recycled material. This is because there are few controls on the delivered regrind, even from long-term partners in the recycled plastic consolidation business. In any given delivery, we can have gaylords of PP or HDPE that perfectly match our specs, while others on the same truck have contaminants, i.e. ABS mixed in, PP and HDPE intermixed, metal shavings.
As our injection molding machines cost over a million dollars each, and the molds can easily top $200,000, it is critical to catch these impurities before they can cause any damage. Therefore, an on-site test lab had to be set-up and personnel trained to check each individual gaylord.
"Unfortunately" our products' durability preclude the ability to count only on our own waste stream. The closed-loop system in your article eliminates the necessity of these checks for this company.
Interestingly enough, even without the recycled plastic component, most of our customers show similar savings cited in the article when they switched from paper cardboard to our plastic returnable material handling products.
bobjengr, I agree: the "bio" part is the most unusual part of this story. But closed loop/reverse logistics systems that recycle products and packaging materials are not exactly typical, either. Thanks for telling us about GE's system. It's my understanding that bioplastics don't have a shorter life than petro-based ones; that's a common misconception.
Rob, good point. The bioplastics companies are very interested in building separate, alternative infrastructures like this closed-loop reverse logistics system. But OEMs must be convinced first. Persuading them to engage takes clear ROI savings, as in this case.
Excellent article Ann. General Electric experienced the very same circumstances in realizing that moving from cardboard to plastic "returnables" was a tremendous savings—tremendous. At GE we used to compress our cardboard boxes and resale to a company that reprocessed the material. Now, GE requires the use of plastic and recycles those containers to the OEM sending components and other parts. GE basically owns the returnables or coops the cost with the OEM. What's unique about the article you posted is the Bio part. This is really interesting and I can see how cost reductions could further be realized with this accomplished. The containers we used measured 40 inches by 48 inches and had interpack suitable for insuring the parts did not rub together during shipment. Other returnables or "totes" measured 28 inches by 6 inches by 9 inches tall. Same concept. I suspect bioplastics have a shorter "life" than basic plastic; even so I can see a great cost savings when applied to the manufacturing and procurement process. Again—excellent article.
Actually, I don't think the confidentiallity need is all that unusual. Given that it is a big company, we are probably talking about some substantial savings, even if it's just pennies per container. Basically, unless you have a substantial development, it's these incremental savings that can translate into the bottom line. Until this technology is more widely known and implemented, the company in question probably does not want its competitors to know how it got those few extra cents out of the cost.
Thanks Ann-Maybe it's the tone of the quotes taken out of context. There's a repeated referral to a single big customer, who's using this very innovative approach. The need for confidentiality is unusual under the circuntances touted in the article. Maybe there's something more that I'm missing.
I understand that the key to the savings is the re-use of the shipping container. The article briefly mentions recycling and I wanted to know more. Thanks for the info.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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