Charles Shaw, vice president of operations at Carquest Auto Parts, was well acquainted with the benefits of nestable, reusable containers: Reduced return shipping and storage costs, better product protection and improved efficiencies throughout the distribution system.
His company had been using FlapNest 2416 containers manufactured by IPL Inc. (Saint-Damien, Quebec) in its Montreal, Canada distribution center for several years. The size of the reusable container (24 x 16-in.), however, was not compatible with totes being used by the rest of the company's more than 40 North American distribution centers.
Carquest supplies the professional automotive service repair industry with replacement parts, tools and equipment. The company began in 1974 with 100 auto parts stores. Today, the company's distribution centers pick and ship products in less-than-caseload lots to nearly 4,000 retail stores serving North America.
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Shaw says he approached IPL and asked them to apply the same design technology and features of its FlapNest 2416 to a larger container, 27.4 x 17 x 12.6-in. At the beginning of the design process, IPL made a thorough study of Carquest's material handling and distribution operations. It quickly became apparent the containers being used by Carquest were splitting on the bottom as well as at the corners and hinge areas.
"We have a very demanding application," Shaw explains. "Our products are heavy and bulky. The containers were breaking too often to provide a good return on investment."
A study of the auto parts distributors' operations showed the bottom breakage was caused largely by the hand trucks workers in the distribution center used to move stacks of totes. Workers would slide the steel dolly under the totes. When the dollies were tilted back, the pressure on the center of the bottom of the totes caused the containers to break.
IPL designed a new tote to suit the company's current processes. The resulting container has a reinforced base with a waffle pattern of ribbing on the bottom that can withstand the abuse of the steel dollies. A reinforced double-wall collar provides added protection against corner and collar damage.
"IPL designed its new tote to prevent the breakage we were experiencing with other totes on the market," Shaw says. "To date, we've not had any reports of these totes showing the breakage problems we experienced with the previous totes."
IPL's audit of Carquest's distribution system also uncovered a significant percentage of totes with broken wire hinges. To resolve this problem, IPL incorporated plastic hinges for the attached lid. In addition to providing the necessary strength, the all-plastic hinges reduce the risk of on-the-job accidents, lost time and worker's compensation claims, commonly associated with wire hinges.
"Our insurance company and our associates were happy to see the absence of wire hinge fasteners on the totes," Shaw says. "The wire hinges used by many manufacturers are the cause of numerous injuries and instances of torn clothing." Additionally, the plastic hinges are easily repaired and increase recycle scrap value of the containers. The tamper-resistant and tamperevident hinges also reduce theft when properly secured.
The containers stack with lids flapped shut and nest with lids flipped open. It's a combination of product protection and security, with an efficient return of shipping and storage containers.
Other features of the new container are:
- CAD engineering optimized the lid with additional ribbing to increase its strength and minimize product damage in high stress areas around the container's perimeter.
- Additional enhanced security features include tie-wrap and clip compatibility, and positive strapping locations in both directions.
- Nesting ratio of 5:1 reduces return shipping and storage costs.
- Ergonomic handle design allows easy access to empty units when nested.
- Patented leak-resistant lid reduces risk of contamination and content damage.
- Compatible footprint with existing industry standards and with totes from other manufacturers for trouble free conversions.
- Optional de-nest ribs increase handle access and compatibility of other brands when nested.
- Optional damaged-container recycling services further reduce overall costs and improve return on investment.
Carquest is currently phasing in the containers at all of its distribution centers. The totes are hot stamped with the names of the individual distribution centers for easy identification.
"Given the quality of the product," says Shaw, "the pricing is competitive. You can buy a cheaper tote, but it's just that, cheap and shortlived."
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The design of the container's lid helps to stabilize and unitize the load. Containers are nested 5:1 for return to the distribution center.
Brian Shaw says the new totes were designed to carry more products and resist abuse on the bottom, corners and hinge areas.