Queen of the cartons
Optimal protection for freight is a must – even more so if it is on a multimodal journey. Like the automotive components that DB Schenker transports from Leipzig. Anna Förster is responsible for developing their packaging.
Hall A in DB Schenker’s logistics center in Leipzig is huge – and it is only one of twelve in total. With 125,000 square meters of covered space, the facility in the northern part of this trade fair city is the company’s largest worldwide, employing a staff of 1,100 who work in two shifts. Up to 100 semi-trucks arrive at the docking bay every day, loaded with components from the BMW plant in Leipzig and from suppliers. The parts are destined for the car manufacturer’s plants in Shenyang, China, and Rosslyn in South Africa. This is where the BMW 3 series and the X1 model range are assembled for quite a number of markets. Customs duties are considerably lower than the dispatch of fully-assembled cars.
Subassemblies for the undercarriage support bracket are unloaded in Hall A. The 1.5 by 2 meter components for the X1 model each weigh 50 kilograms and have caused Anna Förster and her team quite a headache. “It’s the large metal components that are always a challenge,” says the Head of Packaging Planning at DB Schenker in Leipzig. The bracket’s edges are extremely sharp – and prone to corrosion. The team’s solution was to first pass the brackets through a unit where they were sprayed with oil to protect them from corrosion.
It took about three months for the 26 packaging planners in Leipzig to integrate this process into the workflow before they could ship the first brackets. “First we developed a 3-D drawing on the computer and simulated the packaging,” explains Anna Förster. “The solution was a wooden crate with a board. We wanted to transport five of these brackets at a time so we developed fitted mounting kits with cushioned foam strips.” A prototype was shipped to China by rail, but it turned out that foam was not ideal. “We looked for something more stable,” says the graduate engineer. Following several modification, it all worked without a problem.
The wooden crate lies flat on the floor. An employee staples it together while two of his colleagues remove five brackets one after another from the belt of the rust-proofing machine and carefully place them in the crate. The crate is then covered with plastic sheeting to keep out any dust which would otherwise render the parts unusable.
A forklift brings the 300-kilogram packet to the “stuffing” area. The shipment is then booked and the customs documents are printed before the entire package goes into the container. The sealed container is shipped to Bremerhaven or Hamburg by rail or truck. Every day, 60 to 80 containers leave the facility. The journey from Bremerhaven to China lasts six to eight weeks; shipments to South Africa, which depart in Hamburg, take eight weeks. Multimodal transports in particular, which involve a succession of different modes of transport, require packaging that provides maximum security for the cargo. Once the freight reaches its destined BMW plant, it is unpacked and any damage is reported immediately. In this case, Anna Förster and her team would have to go back to the drawing board.
The 31-year-old studied packaging technology at the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig. Even so, wrapping gifts is not really her thing. “I might be creative, but I don’t have much patience,” she admits, which is why she leaves the gift-wrapping to her husband. In May of 2011, she was appointed head of the packaging planning department – at the time, it was a team of six.
Cost effectiveness and ease of handling are a must
“What’s required is high-quality, secure packaging which meets the economic requirements but is also easy to handle,” says the graduate engineer. “We always have to keep an eye on transport costs and container capacity.” In doing so, the experts discovered something surprising: “Sometimes it’s faster and therefore more economical to pack components in foam in specially-made packaging than to use standard packaging which has to be specially secured.” More often than not, standard packaging solutions are used which are designed on a modular basis: crates and boxes fit over and into each other so that the container can be loaded optimally. Ultimately, whether it is special or standard packaging – everything is done in close coordination with the customer.
New components that have never been shipped before need to be registered. They are weighed, measured and then photographed. To date, Anna Förster and her team have found suitable solutions for around 11,000 different objects – from screws, indicators, headlamps, engines, gearboxes and body panels to camouflage sheeting for test mules. Packaging instructions are developed for every component, and they can be called up on the computer. There the colleagues can see what the component looks like, which packaging is used, how the component should be packed and whether it needs special handling – if gloves should be worn, for example.
Anna Förster and her team adhere to DB Schenker’s objectives. That also means respecting the environment, for example when loading the containers: the fuller the container, the more sustainable the transport. Corrugated cardboard and wood are preferred materials since both are easy to recycle. Only unmixed plastics are used as they can be reprocessed. The colleagues in China and South Africa who take delivery of the consignments also push for less waste. The goal of the packaging experts is to use a minimum amount of material – without compromising transport security, of course.
Last modified: 27.04.2015