Apply Some Revolutionary Thinking

Clyde E. Witt , executive editor

Transport packaging is not all science and technology. If it were that easy, anyone could do it. It's also about law, art and history — or at least experience. And it's about criticism.

When transport packaging gets around to discussions of palletizing, most often the focus is on technology and numerous options available to handle the variety of things needed to be stacked. Rarely, if ever, is there discussion about products being produced to fit available pallet sizes, where products are going or the receiver's requirements.

Getting to those points in the discussion would require a blend of education, technology and that most elusive of ingredients — common sense.

Recently I've been intrigued by the inventiveness of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other thinkers. They took the art, science and economic realities of their day, and blended those with their experiences and common sense, to form a new nation.

Could some of their thought processes be applied to transport packaging, pallet selection and material handling? It's a bit of a stretch, I know; however, these concepts are general enough to work. They fit my palette.

Thomas Jefferson had an uncanny sense of being able to identify the objective before he defined the problem. By knowing what he wanted to achieve, he could more accurately visualize what stood between himself and the ultimate goal.

Knowing the goal generates desire, or motivation, to achieve the objective. In transport packaging the objective is beyond getting the product onto a pallet. It's more than getting product to the customer. It's those, plus getting product there undamaged, on time and in the proper quantity and sequence. There is also legal precedent indicating a shippers' duty to package goods in accordance with carriers' packaging specifications, a subject I've written about numerous times in the past 20 years.

Jefferson's approach was to look at the big picture. For him the picture was much larger than any of us can imagine. In our world the picture is customer loyalty, framed by budget constraints of our companies. I'm convinced that Jefferson's picture had no frame.

What to do? Begin by asking yourself what is the challenge you're facing. Why is there a problem in the first place, and who is creating this problem for you?

Another tip from Jefferson: Don't try to remember everything. And this was a guy who could read in seven languages. Commit your thoughts and thoughts of others to paper. You can more quickly compare options, create matrices and illustrate your ideas when they are written.

With the objective of what you hope to achieve in mind, assess whether the problem at hand is recurring or just a fluke. Is the customer experiencing damage because this load was overhanging the pallet, or do you always load the pallet in that manner? Possibly the problem was perpetrated by a poorly educated lift truck operator and has nothing to do with palletizing.

Transport packaging problems can be a function of personality as much as anything else, just as Jefferson discovered in dealing with King George III. You have to know whom you are working with on the receiving end of the shipment. Visit your customer's warehouse or factory. Don't accept on blind faith its explanation of how it handles product. Remember, you're trying to build customer loyalty, not customer satisfaction. Had King George III understood the realities of his supply chain and instructed his purveyors of tea to package the product in watertight, reusable containers, history might be different.

And how does Ben Franklin fit in? On a hot June day in Philadelphia, as Jefferson sat in the Continental Congress, gnashing his teeth while colonial representatives ripped apart his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Franklin leaned over and advised him to never let the public edit his copy. Good advice for writers and packagers alike. Stick to your ideas. You're the pro. It's why they pay you the big money.

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