Foldable containers: sense or non sense?

Quite some industrial suppliers are located at a long distance from their customers (OEM’s). Moving to Eastern Europe in search of a lower labour cost in one of their main motives.

In order to limit the transport costs on a roundtrip between supplier and OEM, a reusable packaging container that is foldable seems to be the best option. When using containers with a folding ration of 1:3 to 1:5, a full truck can indeed return 3 to 5 times the quantity of empty containers which were delivered full. From an economic point of view, this reasoning makes sense as savings can be made on the cost of return transport. However, one may forget about the other consequences of this choice:

  • More containers are needed to fill the pipeline as one might wait until a full truck-load can be returned
  • Foldable containers are more expensive than non-foldable
  • The containers are more fragile as hinges can break or deform
  • Storage space is being occupied until the batch of containers can be returned
  • Folding and unfolding the containers cause extra labour costs for both sender and receiver
  • In case of containers combined with dunnage, the dunnage often has to be removed in order to fold the container. Hence, the dunnage can be lost, contaminated or damaged
  • Transport movements of empty containers are to some extent inexpensive due to trade imbalances between the areas of sender and receiver

As a rule of thumb, 300km and more seem to be a reasonable distance to consider an investment in a foldable container. Shorter distances will not balance the extra costs linked to the consequences above.

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