Packaging Corner: Technology manages returnable packaging, cuts loss

Asset management programs, RFID and GPS solutions are helping companies keep track of closed-loop transport packaging.
By Sara Pearson Specter, Editor at Large
August 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

With an investment in reusable transport packaging—such as plastic trays, containers and pallets—comes the added challenge of keeping track of it all. Even within a closed-loop system (with products or components shipped in returnable packaging from a supplier to a manufacturer, or from a distribution center to a retailer and sent back empty), assets can disappear.

To help users better manage their returnable investment, Rehrig Pacific ( has expanded its asset management service offerings.
“We offer everything from behavioral usage training—teaching the associates and truck drivers who handle packaging about its value to the bottom line—to attaching modern sensing technologies for hands-free management,” explains Kaley Parkinson, the company’s national sales manager of supply chain technology services.

The evolution of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and readers makes the technology a much more cost- and process-effective way to monitor returnable packaging, he says. “Because RFID tracking is at the each level, it gives visibility to what every asset is doing and highlights weak points.”
By implementing an asset management program, Parkinson’s customers have seen 30% to 50% reduction in reusable packaging losses in the first year. Plus, there’s an extra benefit beyond loss mitigation, he says.

“Reusable transport packaging has a unique place in the supply chain; it’s everywhere. Adding RFID allows it to be leveraged for greater business intelligence,” he explains. “You can tie it to the goods in the containers to improve freshness, reduce shrink and manage personnel because it adds a layer of accountability.”

To locate reusable packaging that’s gone AWOL outside of a known loop, Rehrig Pacific applies global positioning system (GPS) technology to a few assets to see where they roam.

“We’ve uncovered incidents such as theft to recycle the plastic for money, misuse by another trading partner, confusion by drivers over ownership of similar, unbranded packaging and even misappropriation by a different location within the same company,” says Parkinson. “Using RFID and GPS takes a problem that often comes down to finger pointing and lays clear facts on the table.”

Read more Packaging Corner

About the Author

Sara Pearson Specter
Editor at Large

Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Material Handling Product News as an Editor at Large since 2001. Specter has worked in the fields of graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for nearly 20 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. She owns her own marketing communications firm, Sara Specter, Marketing Mercenary LLC ( Clients include companies in a diverse range of fields, including materials handing equipment, systems and packaging, professional and financial services, regional economic development and higher education. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky. with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she and her husband are in the process of establishing a vineyard and winery (

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