Cindy Doman is a packaging engineer at Herman Miller. She is also the chair of RPA’s new User Advisory Committee.
RPA editor: The RPA wants to attract more end users. Do you have some ideas on how we can achieve that?
Doman: End users are looking for solutions to common problems that we all have with reusables. We want good content to help us. A strong library of articles, case studies, and tools would help attract more end users.
RPA editor: You participated in RPA’s end user roundtable in May. What did you learn from that experience?
Doman: It was interesting to learn that everyone is having the same experiences across all different industries. We face the same problems of tracking and managing reusables, and making sure we always have enough of them. And most of us are a one-person show in our company.
RPA editor: You also joined the RPA board this year. What is your motivation for becoming active with the association?
Doman: Talking with people in different industries is really helpful. Also, I’m a strong believer in the need to provide more information and educational tools about reusables. I will continue to push that need with the association, and I want to get more end users involved in the RPA.
RPA editor: How did you get involved with reusables at Herman Miller?
Doman: The plant that manufactures our chairs has been using reusables in some form for a long time. I started working at that facility in 2005. At that time, we used reusables mostly to achieve cost savings through piece price reduction and to reduce our carbon footprint. But our understanding of reusables has evolved since then. Now we know that a well-designed reusable has an impact on many different areas, like the way parts are delivered to the line.
RPA editor: How much of your job is focused on reusables?
Doman: Reusable packaging is integral to what I do; it’s about 80 percent of my job. The struggle is that I spend a lot of my time putting out fires. It’s hard to set aside time to think about ways we can get more benefits, like through better tracking or new handling methods.
RPA editor: The RPA breaks down the use of reusables into 4 phases: concept understanding, acceptance, implementation, and refinement. What stage is Herman Miller in?
Doman: We’re in refinement in some areas, and in other stages elsewhere. Our projects go on for 5 to 25 years so the reusables we develop must have longevity and be easily maintained. If your reusable is difficult to fix, it becomes a pain in the neck to maintain and it’s costly. If it’s heavy and bulky, it’s hard on your people on the line. We want reusables that are ergo friendly, travel well, are flexible and easy to maintain, and can be recycled at end of life. Nothing goes to the landfill from my facility.
RPA editor: What has been the most difficult part of implementing and maintaining reusables in your supply chain?
Doman: Getting consensus from all parties involved at the beginning is hard. Someone always feels like they are getting the short end of the stick. You need to agree on how reusables will be managed. It’s also hard to determine how many you will buy, and how you will deal with fluctuations in volume. If you have too many, you have to pay for storage. If not enough, you have to pay for expendables as backup.
It’s also hard to justify the cost of changing the design of a reusable. Initially, you can justify the cost of switching from corrugated to reusable through the cost savings of the packaging, plus the labor savings. The reusable pays for itself over and over again. But then our manufacturing process changes and we want to change the design of the reusable, but we no longer have the big cost comparison of switching from corrugated, and now we are only talking about smaller additional labor savings. So we have to wait until those reusables wear out before we can order the new design. Also, some suppliers require minimum runs on the reusables we order. We don’t need large volumes, so we have to store all the extra reusables.
RPA editor: What has been the easiest aspect?
Doman: I work with a great set of suppliers. It’s fun when I get them on board with my thought process and we work out a solution together. Then we get the sample in and test it, and pretty soon people on the line are asking me when it will be ready. It’s nice when everyone is on board.
RPA editor: Tell us something about yourself.
Doman: I received my degree in packaging from Michigan State University and still live in Michigan. I’m a power boater and love living near Lake Michigan. I also enjoy other outdoor activities with my family like golf, ski, and scuba. This summer I went to the Grand Tetons for the first time, so I’m a big fan of hiking now, too.