Photo Credit: Giuseppe Ramos

How technology is helping fill the void amid empty space scourge

It’s an astonishing statistic.

According to research by Forbes Insights and packaging multinational DS Smith, shipping containers sailing the oceans from Asia are 24% empty.

What this means is that 61-million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent) containers are shipped unnecessarily each year.

The financial cost of this runs into the tens of billions of dollars, but there is another monumental impact: some 122-million tonnes of carbon dioxide are pumped into the atmosphere by cargo ships.

“Despite the clear benefits of empty space reduction, such as cost savings and reducing the environmental impact, it does not seem to be a high priority on executives’ agendas. Thus, they are, in effect, forgoing a 24% reduction in their shipping costs,” the researchers note.

The growing e-commerce market is exacerbating the problem.

Sixty percent of executives surveyed by Forbes Insights and DS Smith believe that more than a quarter of what they send out in e-com packaging is empty space. DS Smith revealed that on average, empty space ranged from 18% for clothing and footwear to 64% for glassware.

Returns are also a compounding factor, since as much as a third of all items bought online are returned. DS Smith has found that 94% of e-com packages received could be reused to return the product.

Bob Cork Agencies' Gareth Cork says several factors are contributing to the empty space scourge which sophisticated technology can now address.

“These range from unnecessary ullage within a primary or secondary pack to poor cube efficiency of pallet configurations, either as a result of not using the right sized shippers for the primary pack, or simply from inefficient pallet configurations.

“There is also unnecessary ullage within a container due to container loads being packed inefficiently.”

While it may seem a Herculean effort would be required to overcome these issues, the capacities of modern technology have made it that solutions are readily available.

Bob Cork Agencies offers Esko’s Cape Pack software that provides solutions for users to size primary packs, design outer secondary packaging – whether a bundle, shipper or tray – and design pallet configurations to maximise cube efficiently.

This minimises the amount of “air” within the cubic space of a palletised load.

“Once the palletised loads are optimised and designed within a height restriction that accounts for containerisation, the containers are automatically more efficient,” Cork explains.

Another offering is Cape Truckfill container software, which assists when products are not being distributed, transported or shipped on pallets – or are, but together with other products that are off-pallet.

Cork suggests there are other innovations available that can further address empty space.

These include down-gauging on packaging material thicknesses – or reducing the amount of packaging – which will have an impact on the size and weight that packaging adds to products, as well as technological advancements in packaging materials.

Improved planning, or shared grouping of Less Than Container-Load (LCL) is another way to address empty space eradication, though it is not always an easy undertaking.

“With the understanding that transport, shipping, distribution and warehousing are expensive factors in the supply chain, moving and storing more product in less space is not only cost efficient, but also impacts positively on the environment,” Cork says.

Software Packaging Examples

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