Many companies buy product packaging from suppliers
overseas. While there are many benefits to doing that,
there are also risks, warns Adam Brosch, director of global
sourcing and custom tooling for Berlin Packaging, a supplier of packaging products and services. In an interview,
Brosch identified six major risks and some ways to mitigate
them—good advice for buyers of any product, not just
1. Time differences. When your suppliers are on the other
side of the world—which means they’re sleeping while
you’re at work, and vice versa—you can lose precious
days waiting for answers to questions. One solution is to
have “feet on the street”: an in-country representative or
employee who can anticipate questions and ensure that
communications with suppliers include all of the necessary
details from the start.
2. Language barriers. Suppliers may not be fluent in your
language, and they may not be comfortable asking for
explanations multiple times, says Brosch, who has worked
in China. To prevent misunderstandings, follow up discussions with written confirmation of what was agreed
to. For some communications, Berlin uses templates so
information is always presented in a consistent way. Brosch
also suggests having important documents professionally
translated, and then sending suppliers both the original and
3. Quality expectations. If you rely solely on overseas
suppliers to determine that quality standards have been
met, you won’t know about any problems until after
orders arrive. One way to prevent that is to conduct qual-
ity inspections before the packaging leaves the country of
origin. Another is to train suppliers in how to comply with
your quality standards—for example, by teaching them the
quality control methodology you want them to use and by
holding them accountable for following it.
4. Compliance issues. Suppliers’ failure to comply with
social responsibility, quality, environmental, and safety
standards can be detrimental to your company’s relationships with customers. Make sure suppliers understand
both the standards and your expectations, and give them a
reasonable period to come into compliance. Regular audits
of major suppliers are a must.
5. Production scheduling. When an order is late, you
may have to pay a penalty to your customer or ship by air
instead of ocean. Understanding leadtimes—not just for
finished product but also for critical components and raw
materials—can help you anticipate and avoid costly delays.
To prevent shortages, Berlin sometimes pre-buys packaging that incorporates raw materials with long leadtimes,
Brosch says. He also suggests identifying alternatives like
paying for overtime and working with a backup supplier.
6. Logistics. Things can and do go wrong between the
time a shipment leaves a factory and when it arrives at
destination. Make sure your supplier has a Plan B in case of
loss, delay, or damage, and that everybody understands the
Incoterms terms of sale that govern each party’s responsibilities. Having a good logistics partner that offers a number of service options is helpful as well.
International buyer beware
The topic of forklift safety got the attention it deserves on
Capitol Hill earlier this month. On June 9, members of
the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), which represents
lift truck manufacturers and suppliers of components
and accessories, took part in the
second annual National Forklift
Safety Day. The daylong program
provided an opportunity for manufacturers to educate customers,
policymakers, and government
officials about the safe use of forklifts and the importance
of proper operator training.
The main event featured speakers from the Occupational
Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), forklift industry
representatives, and a representative of the Department
of Labor section that has jurisdictional oversight over lift
trucks. Attendees then met with members of Congress to
discuss regulatory issues as well as trade policies that could
benefit U.S. lift truck makers.
ITA says it hopes National Forklift Safety Day will provide
greater awareness of safe practices
as well as encourage safer behavior
in warehouses, DCs, manufactur-
ing plants, and other environments
where forklifts are in use.
Washington-based ITA rep-
resents manufacturers of lift trucks, tow tractors, rough-ter-
rain vehicles, hand pallet trucks, and automated guided
vehicles in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The organization
promotes international standards development, advances
engineering and safety practices, disseminates statistical
information, and holds industry forums.
ITA sponsors second annual National Forklift Safety Day