Scott Schimming, industry manager at Rehrig Pacific Co., Los Angeles, says that improvements have been made to RPCs to save additional time and money. "RPCs have evolved greatly in the past 10 years," he says. "They're now easier to assemble, easier to collapse, compatible across a wider range of packaging, and are more efficient in backhauls."
Oshtrom says that because RPCs all tend to look similar, manufacturers are now incorporating space for labeling. "This allows for companies to distinguish their RPCs from others," he says. "We're also working on individual barcodes and color codes for improved tracking."
This improved appearance also serves as a marketing advantage, says George.
Most manufacturers are looking into ways to incorporate radio frequency identification (RFID) technology into their RPCs as well to provide a more sophisticated method for tracking. As with other areas of RFID, using the technology with RPCs is still some time in the future as price and standard issues are worked out.
Once the kinks are worked out, however, RFID should have a positive impact on the RPC industry. "An RPC with an embedded RFID chip can last five to 10 years," says Schimming. "That means the supply chain can see a savings in packaging costs as well as avoid the unnecessary expense of slap--and--stick RFID tags for corrugated that only have a one--time use."
A key design improvement that all manufacturers have made is the adoption of a common footprint (60 by 40). "This makes the RPCs from any manufacturer capable of cross--stacking," says IFCO's Heptinstall.
Rehrig's Schimming says that im--proved nest efficiencies mean more collapsed containers on backhauls, which leads to savings in money and freight. "Containers are no longer cumbersome to erect and/or collapse," he says.
Finally, RPCs now have smoother walls and bottoms to help reduce product damage. Improved ventilation is also a part of today’s designs, allowing for a wider range of commodities.
A wide variety of companies in the food industry are putting RPCs to use these days. "Large retailers have seen significant labor savings in their supply chain as a result of implementing RPCs," says Schimming. "Smaller grower/shippers and repackers can utilize RPCs internally or in regional loops and can greatly decrease their packaging costs."
In addition, RPCs have grown in use across a wider commodity range. "The industry is seeing fewer RPC sizes handle more commodities and more packs, such as strawberries, bananas and head lettuce," Schimming adds.
While produce makes up the bulk of RPC usage, manufacturers are constantly looking to match the containers to new commodities. "Produce is seasonal, so we're trying to design RPCs to be flexible," says Oshtrom. "By doing this, we will be able to use RPCs for a wider variety of items."
The main RPC selling point remains, however, the fact that they can go from "field to shelf" fairly easily. "The 'one--touch' model does provide the greatest opportunity to eliminate costs in the supply chain," says Schimming. "If a grower/shipper packs an RPC in the field and it later ends up on a store shelf, there is a significant reduction of labor and produce handling in the supply chain. There is a cost savings gained as well as an improvement in the produce quality at the store shelf as a result."
Environmental Advantages: RPCC Study
Because many businesses and industries have made continuous environmental improvement a principle, the Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) recently commissioned a study to identify the energy, wastes and emissions associated with RPCs and display--ready common footprint corrugated boxes (DRCs).
The study was conducted by Franklin Associates and in October 2004, the "Life Cycle Inventory of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display--Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications" was released.
The study provided a cradle--to--grave analysis of RPCs and DRCs as they were used for shipping fresh produce. Ten different high--volume produce applications were analyzed. The functional unit was 1,000 short tons or 2 million pounds of each type of produce hauled between grower and retailer.