By Scott Lowry | March 10, 2016

Returnable engineered (custom) containers are an important part of the manufacturing supply chain and can help companies better manage the flow of goods to and from suppliers and customers. However, the inability to track these returnable engineered containers can result in:

  • Shortages
  • Shipping delays
  • Production line delays
  • Unnecessary purchases or rentals of additional containers

Companies often overcompensate for this lack of visibility with safety stocks of containers that have to be stored and maintained at considerable expense. Tier 1 suppliers nor the OEMs can afford to run out of containers critical to manufacturing operations.

Recently, Lowry Solutions had the opportunity to develop a returnable container management system using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to help a tier 1 automotive suspension module manufacturer (Company) optimize the use of its reusable container fleet.

The Company provides purpose-built, custom returnable containers to its suppliers enabling them to ship sub-assemblies and parts needed for building chassis. The Company owns these containers and pays to have them built—running out would risk interrupting the supplier’s production. So, if requested, the Company would ship additional containers to the supplier.

However, the Company did not have a system in place to track how many containers were shipped to a supplier or how many they needed to have on hand. The Company engaged Lowry to develop and implement a solution that would help:

  • Better utilize its container fleet
  • Be more proactive when it came to ensuring suppliers had enough containers
  • Reduce unnecessary costs associated with ordering more containers

Lowry’s team got to work defining a container management system that would integrate RFID technology to provide the Company real-time visibility into their container fleet operations.


Purpose-built RFID solution provides real-time visibility for optimal returnable container management

Lowry engineered a custom container management system associates a unique RFID tag with each asset enabling the Company to efficiently track and control its fleet and maintain an accurate inventory. The solution provides real-time visibility so the Company can quickly determine which assets are available, at supplier facilities, and in transit.

The solution has increased productivity, shipping velocity, and drive-on/drive-off times. It has been so successful that the Company plans to expand the system to other plants. Working with Lowry, they also hope to use the system to create automated shipping transactions and advanced shipping notices (ASNs) based on the RFID data.

Leveraging RFID to improve the visibility of its returnable container fleet has helped the Company optimize its assets, ensure a reliable flow of parts from its suppliers, reduce costs by making it easier to match container requirements with production, and avoid purchasing unnecessary containers.

For information on Lowry’s process, from consultation to implementation, please review the our case study on Returnable Container Management.


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