How made-to-measure packaging impacts parcel carrier networks

New technology that enables customised packaging for products ordered online reduces the amount of extraneous space in boxes shipped to customers. Danny Jonker, who studied MSc Global Supply Chain Management and Change at SBE in Venlo wants to know how this might impact logistical costs for parcel carriers. We talked with him about his research.

Danny Jonker has a passion for packaging, and has been researching the impact of made-to-measure packaging on parcel carrier networks. “That’s a mouthful,” he admits. “There is now technology available that can make the parcel of an online shipment – something you order online – based on the dimensions of the product; this technology can make a box that’s almost the right fit for that product. It minimises the amount of plastic, air cushions and paper in the parcel, one of the major issues in e-commerce.”

This “air” is a tremendous waste of capacity and puts pressure on the industry, but also on the environment. “What I want to know,” he says, “is if we are able to reduce the average size of an e-commerce shipment, what would be the end effect in the network of a parcel carrier?”

parcelsThe relevance of this topic is illustrated in the United States, were the two main parcel carriers UPS and FedEx switched to a dim weight pricing model. The shipping rate is based on either the weight or the dimensions of the parcel, whichever factor plays the biggest role. For retailers selling voluminous products, shipping rates increased with more than 30%.

“This forces retailers and shippers to rethink their packaging practices, and made-to-measure packaging technology could be one of the solutions,” Jonker says. “If we in the Netherlands—and especially in the Venlo region—want to stay the logistics hotspot of Europe, this is something we should think about, and we should assess the benefits, but also risks could come with this change. Because I think dim weight—a pricing technique for commercial freight transport—will also come to Europe, this is an important topic for both economic reasons and for the sustainability aspect of shipping air in e-commerce.”

His research earned him a finalist slot—one of three–at the FACE-UP competition, an initiative aimed at graduates whose thesis topic relates to air transport logistics (e.g. air cargo, supply chain management, mobility, IT solutions and so on).

FACE-UP finalists Danny Jonker, Caroline Larisch and Femke

FACE-UP finalists Danny Jonker, Caroline Larisch and Femke

To apply, graduate students must provide a short video introducing themselves, the topic of their thesis and ideas on how to modernise the cargo industry, and explaining why they have what it takes to be a FACE. They must also submit a written executive summary of their thesis. The video is viewed and the thesis read by a jury consisting of several experts in the industry. The three finalists then had to give a ten-minute presentation of their research at the World Cargo Symposium (WCS).

The event is an intense one, packed with a mix of plenary sessions, interactive workshops and industry-specific tracks. “Throughout the week we kept hearing ‘e-commerce’ as a buzzword; this definitely highlighted the relevance of my topic,” Jonker says. “There was even a panel discussion on the first day that covered the problem of lightweight, voluminous parcels in air cargo—a perfect fit to my research.”

Although he didn’t see much more of Texas than the inside of the hotel, the event was, he says, extremely worthwhile. “The most valuable part of the symposium was the networking,” he says. “It was a great opportunity to talk with a lot of higher senior executives in air cargo and they were very approachable. I think we had the best talks in the evenings, in more casual settings. You get the deepest insights into who people are, what your ambition is and who you want to be. So that was very nice.”

Becoming a finalist was a great honour, he says, and he thanks his fellow SBE-graduate finalist, Caroline Larisch, for the opportunity. “She encouraged me to enter the competition. She kept sending me messages saying I should, so finally I did. And they liked it, apparently.”

Larisch, like Jonker, studied MSc Global Supply Chain Management and Change at the Venlo Campus of SBE. The programme covers the regular supply chain topics, but also looks at change-related topics like sustainability and entrepreneurship. Giving students not only access to knowledge but also the soft skills required to be successful in a business environment.

As for the fact that two of the three finalists hail from SBE, Jonker attributes that success to the problem-based learning approach at Maastricht University. “PBL helps you think more innovatively. I think it helps you to think more creatively. Besides that, we have to present a lot, so that was definitely an advantage that prepared me to be more lively and interactive during the finals presentation during this competition. It definitely means we are doing something right at Maastricht.”

Danny Jonker completed his MSc Global Supply Chain Management and Change (2018) at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics Venlo Campus. He is currently working in education as Consultant and Lecturer at Fontys Hogescholen in Venlo.





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