Manufacturing high-quality aluminum parts for the aerospace industry presents one set of challenges. But, shipping them safely presents a much different set. Workers at Marysville, WA-based Northwest Metalcraft Inc. (NWM) know this all too well.

Because aluminum is a soft metal, it is easily damaged. This is especially true when packing and boxing long, narrow and odd-shaped raw aluminum parts for shipment to finishers.

NWM manufactures and sends two parts that differ in width by about 0.375 inch. The finishers, in turn, remove the parts and apply a primer coating to each one. This coating color can vary, depending on which company gets the treated parts. Boeing, for example, gets parts treated with a green primer.

Treated parts are then shipped back to NWM for further processing or packing. NWM managers considered the packing and boxing process to be adequate, but they still had concerns about excessive part handling. For example, the average time it took for a worker to carefully package each odd-shaped part was one minute, significantly reducing production and increasing cost.

This led the company to hire Anderson Paper to develop double-walled corrugated boxes and dividers that are sized to fit the larger part, and therefore, accommodate both. The boxes ensure better protection of parts that are worth thousands of dollars, while the dividers reduce the number of containers needed in the supply chain flow, and save time by making it easy and fool-proof to count parts in boxes or inventory.

To protect the company’s sizable investment in these new boxes, NWM’s manufacturing manager looked into an alternative to repeatedly applying and removing tape each time the box is reused. He decided to have workers try two products from Eco Latch Systems LLC instead.

Corner Clips keep box flaps open and allow for quick and easy loading. Box Latches slide easily onto the box flaps to keep them secure so manufacturers can reuse the boxes and latches indefinitely. Both are made of durable recyclable plastic.

The latch is applied to one side of the box (top or bottom) without or with anchors. Boxes closed with the latch stack easily, and a label can be affixed on the latch. Large latches are available for use with one or two anchors. A small latch weighs half as much as a large one.

Workers slide the latches off to open the boxes. Each latch is strong enough to keep a 40-pound box of nuts and bolts closed when turned upside down.

In this application, both products are neon green in color. The latches feature bright orange locks so workers know that the boxes are not disposable. To track system effectiveness, the bottoms of the boxes are marked during each transit cycle.

The benefits of box reusability have enabled NWM to manufacture a new family of parts that are 30 inches long and much more fragile due to thinner walls. Workers insert a 0.25-inch piece of recycled neoprene foam on the box bottom to prevent part denting and primer chipping during transit.

According to Jim Wilson, CEO of Eco Latch, NWM’s material cost per box is $26.05. Adding $5.42 to assemble each produces a total cost of $31.50. Purchasing two Corner Clips and a Box Latch with one anchor cost only $4.95.

“With an estimated reuse of 20 times, NWM’s $4.95 investment per box for our products will save $625 per box over its lifetime,” notes Wilson. “That represents an extraordinary 126-to-1 ROI in this line of business.”

He adds that his company’s products are saving NWM about 20 minutes of packing time with every box they fill. For more information on clips and latches that enable tape-free closing of cardboard boxes, call 920-541-3404 or visit