Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The 'history' of pre-automation packaging.

I am thankful for standardized freight shipping containers. They made international trade easier and cheaper with trivial drawbacks because making all the boxes on all the boats the same stackable shape got rid of a lot of friction in the system.

Trains all over the world could carry almost anything that came off a boat with the need for special fittings because they could be equipped for the standard box and done. Boats could be designed to hold a fixed number of crates, and there was never a struggle to find the arrangement of crates that was less likely to topple at sea. The logistics of moving goods became predictable, and machinery could be designed to lift and move these huge crates more easily.

I am thankful that the consumer goods industry developed a set of standards for groceries that took advantage of the same principles and began to deliver goods in the same stackable, returnable, airtight cubes across all stores and most products.

Does anyone even remember how wasteful it was to have to wrap up pallets of ill stacking goods on a semi truck with plastic? The time it took to organize these and the inefficient use of space on shelves and warehouses that came from dealing with boxes of thousands of varieties? 

What about the single use nature of these boxes. The package that cornflakes came in was only good for holding cornflakes and there was no way to store that box for more cornflakes later because otherwise each person would have thousands of boxes. Because the boxes were single use, they were flimsy, and the majority of a grocery store's losses were from damaged packaging.

Because packaging was single use, purchase tracking had to be done manually. You couldn't just being your stack of folded boxes back to the store and have a machine read the boxes' barcodes to look up what was in them and deliver full boxes with the same goods. You had to walk through aisles and pick up and carry around even the most routine of goods instead of acknowledging with a button press that you want the same eggs, milk, and bread as your last shopping trip.

I hope you read about these single purpose, single use containers in history, and they seem strange and quaint to you. The year is 2014 and our people live like this.