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Atlantic was privileged to host the GMA Supply Chain Committee Meeting at our Packaging Solution Center in Charlotte, NC.

This group is made up of food industry professionals on the manufacturer and retailer side, as well as the packaging and platform side, with a focus on distribution. All parties are members of the GMA (Grocery Manufacturer’s Association) and are committed to improvement and progress in packaging and distribution.

The Supply Chain Committee is tasked with some tough but important goals:

  • Identifying the challenges faced at every step along the distribution chain
  • Discussing and brainstorming ideas that could help
  • Proposing solutions that would ease these challenges on all sides

This particular meeting was coordinated by Atlantic Packaging & CHEP, the global leader in pooling and supply chain management solutions.

The primary focus of the meeting was how to optimize unit loads, which then created discussions around variations and inconsistencies in pallet stacking, what’s causing them, how it impacts distribution centers (especially high velocity operations), and what manufacturers and retailers can do about it.

Barriers to Optimizing Unit Load

It seems straightforward. Stack it, wrap it, ship it. But there are a ton of factors contributing to optimizing a unit load. And because perfection is so elusive, we find ourselves facing a multitude of barriers when trying to palletize our products and move them through the supply chain in an effective, efficient manner.

What are these barriers?  A few of these include the variety of products being packed, changes in primary product design and packaging, and changes in secondary packaging to meet sustainability goals.  Any of these factors can cause overhang or underhang on the pallets and affect the integrity of the load as it moves through the supply chain as well as efficiency and productivity in distribution centers.

Another challenge is that manufacturers on the shipping side and retailers on the receiving side often have different needs and objectives when it comes to how a unit load is built. And then these needs can vary with every vendor and every end user customer.  A lack of clear standards industry-wide is one of the biggest barriers we face.  And defining these standards is one of the objectives of the GMA Supply Chain Committee.

Standards also come into play when stretch wrapping these pallets for shipment.  This stage of packaging is often the last line of defense for protecting the products, preventing damage, and promoting safety. But the lack of understanding of the science of stretch wrapping and all the factors that contribute to wrapping a successful load leads to inconsistency with almost every pallet shipped.  And that leads to increased damage, unsaleables, out-of-stock items, and safety risks.

Defining standards in stretch wrapping for the food and beverage industry is also something that the GMA Supply Chain Committee is tackling.

What Did We Learn?

The Solution Center proved to be a worthy environment for this meeting, as members had the chance to learn firsthand the intricacies of stretch wrapping for pallets.  With Atlantic’s Stretch University session and demonstrations of our TruMotion testing equipment, we learned that it matters how much film is pre-stretched, how the tension it set, and how the products are stacked, wrapped, and secured to the pallet.  We also learned that, even with the optimal stretch wrapping applied, it also matters how we monitor the machines to maintain that optimal application over time.

With sustainability initiatives cutting down on secondary (and even primary) packaging, stretch wrapping can play a critical role in making sure the products arrive at the shelves intact and undamaged.

Damaged product is a big problem for retailers. When they have to reject a pallet of products due to product damage, it affects the efficiency of their distribution centers and their in-stock, on-shelf supply.

It’s also a problem for manufacturers who are faced with costly returns, re-works and pallets of unsaleable goods.

Other critical factors that affect both manufacturers and retailers are stack patterns on a pallet, labeling applications, and over-packaging.  With outdated and non-enforceable Industry Standard Guidelines, inconsistencies abound in all these areas, causing inefficiencies in both manual and automated distribution centers.

When we can solve the problem of damage and inconsistencies, unsaleables go way down and sales go way up.

Communication is Key

Through in-depth discussions and input from all sides at the GMA Supply Chain Committee Meeting, it was clear that productive communication is the key that could help to address the cause of most inefficiencies.  This applies to all parties involved in product development and distribution – from sales and marketing, to R&D, package design, packaging, logistics, receiving, and distribution.

With a clearer understanding of how each decision affects every step of the supply chain, we can develop better industry-wide standardized processes and best practices that work for everyone up and down the chain.

Developing these guidelines is a goal of the GMA Supply Chain Committee and they are making steady progress in the right direction.

What to Do Next

Part of the objective of this committee meeting in March was to prepare for a break out session at the TPA Supply Chain Conference in Orlando on Tuesday, April 17th from 1-2:45pm.

The session is titled: Best Practices for Building, Handling & Transporting Unit Loads. We strongly encourage everyone to attend this meeting to gain context and to provide input on unit load optimization, particularly for highly automated operations.