What Makes a Great Plastics Supply Chain?

A healthy supply chain is the circulatory system of a strong business. You rely on it as much as your body relies on your heart, and without it, the lifeblood of your company would cease flowing. This is as true for your blow molding projects as it is for any other aspect of your business.

In June of last year, IndustryWeek released their Top 25 Supply Chains of 2015. Based on that report, here are some characteristics of a robust supply chain and how they apply to the plastics industry.

Sustainability

Sustainability is paramount for nearly all supply chains. In plastics, this means innovating with recycled plastics, developing bioplastics capabilities, and striving towards zero net waste production.

According to Plastics Industry, great plastics companies commit to zero net waste by:

  • Removing recyclables and reusables from landfill-bound waste;
  • Implementing an in-house energy conversion process, such as pyrolysis, gasification, or incineration with energy recovery;
  • Partnering with other suppliers who can effectively recycle or repurpose waste diverted from landfills; and
  • Educating employees on in-house waste diversion and zero net waste initiatives.

Sustainability efforts also depend on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Walmart, a regular on IndustryWeek’s top supply chain list, committed to eliminating 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its carbon load.

Many customers take sustainability very seriously. Great suppliers solicit their customers — external and internal — on the sourcing issues that matter to them and align their strategies with this input.

Transparency

Strong supply chains sync many moving parts. Transparency is crucial to keep suppliers, manufacturers, and executives all on the same page.

Great plastics supply chains strive for total transparency. For example, according to Inbound Logistics, BASF, one of the world’s largest plastics suppliers, communicates closely and frequently with customers and supply chain partners, many of whom are plastics molders. They form collaborative relationships, helping each other reduce fixed costs and adjust to global fluctuations in product demand.

Transportation

Every stage of the plastics supply chain depends on transportation that functions smoothly. From the ship or train that delivers resins to your blow molder, to the truck that freights your finished product to your customers, a great supply chain runs on well-managed logistics.

Expert plastics supply chain transportation is all about speed and efficiency, which can be optimized through transportation management systems. BASF implemented such a system and found it “increased control over freight routings, ensuring that we not only achieve our internal goals but also meet commitments to our partners.”

A few more transportation examples from the non-plastics world:

  • Lenovo has a “sell on the water” capability, allocating product to customers while the goods are already in transit.
  • Home Depot and Walmart rely on omni-channel distribution to ship goods by the most efficient means available.

Systems integration

“Sometimes the greatest dividends are achieved by simply envisioning a routine process in a different way,” says Gordon Heisler, former transportation director for Sunoco Inc.’s polymers division and now a senior consultant for the Professional Logistics Group, Inc.

Great plastics supply chains integrate procurement, quality control, production, inventory, transportation, and warehousing to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency. Heisler notes that, in one case study, a simple systems integration software shaved 20 minutes off the processing of every shipment.

Well-aligned metrics

Finally, success must be measured. Otherwise, how do you know it happened?

Great supply chains mind the KPIs that align with their business goals. Functional metrics — from inventory turns to customer service — must be in dialogue with the larger picture and anticipate future needs.

Forecasting is a bit trickier with plastics than many other industries because it is undergirded by the ever-fluctuating price of crude oil. Despite this difficulty, Heisler suggests that plastics companies push to find meaningful, big-picture metrics to guide them. Rather than simply focusing on the every day, “you have to strive to define best-in-class supply chain operations in your industry,” he says. “Only then can you formulate a method to benchmark your supply chain against it, and develop a strategy to improve it.”

A great plastics supply chain is made up of great suppliers at every step of the process. Custom-Pak is the industry leader for blow molding. Contact us to learn more about working with Custom-Pak.