The life of a can: Logistics from manufacturing to retail - SmartBrief

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The life of a can: Logistics from manufacturing to retail

4 min read


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In two previous posts on this topic (“What makes the aluminum can so green?” and “The life of a can: How an aluminum can is made”), we’ve learned much about where aluminum cans come from. Now we’ll take a look at how they get from manufacturing facilities to store shelves, typically with the help of a logistics company such as Pennsylvania-based Kane is Able, whose 1,000-plus employees accept deliveries from manufacturers, store goods until they’re needed, break them up into smaller units and deliver them to retailers.

The company does some delivery of raw materials, including cans, to manufacturers, but for the most part Kane deals with finished goods, including canned soft drinks and beer, says marketing director Alex Stark, who stresses the growing role technology has in keeping the system running smoothly.

Manufacturers deliver the beverages to one of Kane’s 17 U.S. warehouses, where workers scan in the RF tags on the pallets. The tags are coded with key data including where and when the beverages were manufactured, down to the lot number and the line that produced them. That’s important because players in every step of the supply chain need to be able to trace the product back to the source in the event of a recall. That also means that when pallets are broken into smaller units, Kane workers assemble them on different pallets and create new tags that include the same information.

Canned beverages and other goods typically come and go in 53-foot trailers that can hold at least 30 pallets, 60 if they’re doubled up, but regulations cap truckloads of goods by weight. Because of that limitation, logistics experts have been finding ways to mix heavier and lighter products into fewer loads, a strategy that cuts labor and fuel costs for the end retailers. In the beverage world, that means big enterprises such as PepsiCo can mix soft drinks and Frito Lay snacks, for example. For smaller merchants with single product lines, it often means convincing manufacturers to allow their products to be shipped with rival brands when they’re all going to the same place, Stark says.

“We have married a lot of those smaller and midsized companies together, then they can deliver more efficiently to the retailer. It’s one of those we’re seeing increase bit by bit, but that is the next frontier.”

Technology is a vital part of the business, even more so since the 2008 downturn has manufacturers and merchants focused even more on figuring out how to cut costs. “There’s a lot of good technology that has enabled a more productive flow of goods from the manufacturer to the retailer,” Stark says. “Technology is a great enabler of the supply chain in general. You know it in your own life – when you order something from Amazon, you know when it’s picked, you know when it’s shipped and you can call it up on your phone anytime, anywhere. In our business that’s becoming more and more the norm; it’s what you know and what you’ve come to expect in your personal life, so if you’re an operator in this kind of business, you know it’s out there and you want it.”

Next time we’ll delve more deeply into how the industry is using technology and making other changes to cut back on energy usage.