A new unitizing process is helping Sony Logistics reduce labor in its distribution centers and maximize protection of its televisions throughout the supply chain—while saving money and materials.
Sony TVs are assembled in Mexico and shipped into the United States, either directly to the distribution centers of retailers or to Sony distribution centers. For 2011 models entering and leaving Sony distribution centers, the company began protecting pallet loads by applying PerfBoard edge protectors from Laminations at the factory level. PerfBoard is value-added VBoard with pre-perforated legs that can be quickly and easily sectioned for any size or height requirement. (Sony still uses some VBoard in special circumstances.)
"The No. 1 reason for using edge protection is to reduce defects," says Jeff Hazell, Sony Logistics quality manager. "With Laminations edge protection, whether it's VBoard or PerfBoard, your product damage is going to go down.
"From our standpoint, product coming in to our distribution centers with no protection is bad, product coming in with straight VBoard was good, and product coming in with perforated VBoard is the ultimate," adds Hazell. "You have total protection and no downside. You get the product coming in with no defects and you are able to maintain that level of protection right through the supply chain."
PerfBoard is available in calipers up to 0.160 inches with standards leg lengths up to 4 x 4 inches, with custom leg-lengths available. Standard product lengths extend to 300 inches, but longer product lengths are available.
Designed for use with automated pallet assembly systems, PerfBoard can also be applied by hand, which is how Sony does it. Workers apply the PerfBoard manually at the factory in Mexico during the stretch wrap process before being loaded by clamp truck for shipment north. "We used to put the VBoard on at the distribution center, but now we put PerfBoard on at the factory, so we see the benefits all the way through the system," says Sony Logistics packaging engineer Matthew Double.
The TVs that Sony ships out from its distribution centers often are in less than full truckloads (LTL), which means they share the cargo space with other products.
"That's where we really see the benefit of the edge protection. LTL shipping is where the damage is most likely to take place," says Double.
When TVs arrive at a Sony distribution center to be broken into smaller shipments and different configurations before moving on in the supply chain, workers apply a quick, light stroke with a box cutter along the perforation lines on the PerfBoards. A clamp truck then completes the separation by lifting the layer or layers free for placement on another pallet. PerfBoard remains with the TVs, protecting them through the supply chain.
"Let's say an order of 18 TVs arrives at the Sony distribution center with three layers of TVs, six units per layer, and we need to ship six TVs to a customer," explains Hazell. "Our distribution center workers will use a box cutter to make a minimal cut on the outside of the perforation at the top of the second layer, just to get it started. Then the clamp truck will pick up that top layer, put it on a pallet and send it on its merry way."
A balanced solution
In creating a customized PerfBoard solution, Hazell worked closely with Wade Bue, Laminations account manager, and Todd Hainer, Laminations manager of new business development.
The trio originally developed a prototype PerfBoard that was scored deeply enough to allow a clamp truck to snap the corner protectors and lift off a layer of TVs with no manual involvement. But making perforations deep enough to allow that to happen weakened the structural integrity of the edge protectors just enough to make it difficult to apply them during shrink wrapping while remaining strong enough to withstand the rigors of shipping and handling.
Working together, the two companies were able to achieve a balance between easy separation and structural strength.
"The reality is that orders come in all different numbers," says Hazell. "Let's say the order size is 15 instead of a full pallet of 18. The warehouse employees can take the top three TVs off the load and keep the bottom two layers as is. The perforated board remains usable throughout because it fits the size of the TV.
"Basically, this assures that the TVs are 100-percent protected coming into the warehouse and within the warehouse," he adds. "We are able to use 100 percent of the PerfBoard on the outbound shipping. There is no waste and the protection is really maximized."
Because customer orders vary—loads arriving at the distribution centers from the factory often have to be broken down and reconfigured—there is always some manual handling of units that needs to take place, says Double. "However, the benefit to us is that the corner boards are already sort of precut by virtue of the perforations, so we don't have the guys on the floor trying to cut up corner boards, which is very hard to do and slows the process down," he says.
More protection, less waste
In supply chains, eliminating damage is always a primary goal, and Sony has a strong track record of performance with Laminations' edge protectors.
"We've done a couple of studies on damage. In the case of TVs, 60 percent of damage is to the edges," says Hazell. "VBoard absolutely prevents that kind of damage. We also did an LTL—Less Than Full Load—study where we compared shipping with and without VBoard. There was about a 50 percent reduction in damage with VBoard. So, our studies show that VBoard reduces damage 50 to 60 percent."
There are also sustainability advantages to PerfBoard, says Bue.
"Using PerfBoard on loads that are being broken down at distribution centers for shipping to different customers means the warehouse is not cutting VBoard and discarding some of it," says Bue. "Instead, a single PerfBoard can be sectioned and used all the way through the supply chain."
Hazell says cost-savings helped him convince corporate decision-makers of the benefits of Laminations edge protection, first with VBoard and then with PerfBoard.
"We had less inbound damage with VBoard and PerfBoard being applied at the factory. We had less warehouse damage handling the TVs. And we had the cost difference of applying edge protection at the plant rather than at the warehouse. So, we were able to successfully make a strong case to Sony officials in Tokyo," says Hazell.
"Once we got VBoard put in place, we have never looked back," Hazell adds. "Now we're enjoying the benefits and we know the edge protection is paying for itself."