Automotive Supply Chain

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This chapter consists of the research philosophy, purpose and approach applied for the thesis. Further, the research strategy and the data collection procedures are described. Methods are also outlined together with overviews of conducted interviews and observations. In addition sampling and the data analysis process is described. Lastly, credibility is assessed by discussing reliability and validity of the research process.

Research Philosophy

Research philosophy is concerned with development of knowledge and the nature of that knowledge. Therefore, the choice of research philosophy involves important assumptions of how one views the world. Three main aspects regarding research philosophy exist, namely ontology, epistemology and axiology (Saunders et al., 2012).
We believe that the people involved in the topic serve a key role, and that their actions and perceptions are central as important factors for the packaging operations. As a result, the subjectivist ontological view is most fitting. Ontology involves the nature of reality which can be viewed either objectively or subjectively. Furthermore, since the purpose of this thesis is to gain deep insight in a business phenomenon, we agree with the interpretivist epistemol-ogy. Saunders et al. (2012) argue that rich insights into the business world would be lost if the complexity is reduced to law-like generalizations, such as the positivist approach induces. The interpretivist states that it is necessary for the researcher to understand differences be-tween humans as social actors. This involves emphatically understanding the research partic-ipants and their perception of the world, which might include discovering irrationalities ra-ther than rationalities. We believe that the human actors will be central for how packaging is managed and, therefore, argue that the interpretivist epistemology is the most fitting for this thesis (Saunders et al., 2012). Further, as described by Burrel & Morgan (1982), an interpre-tivist study is value bound as the researcher is part of the study conducted. Thus, it is argued that the study will be subjective from the researchers view. We believe that our choice of topic is bound by our own values and, therefore, accept that the axiology of the research will be subjective from our own point of view.

Research Purpose

With the developed purpose and RQs, this thesis is investigated from an exploratory per-spective. We argue that the exploratory purpose will be the best fit, since the literature on the topic is scarce and we seek to gain deeper insight in the current state of the packaging and returnable packaging operations. In addition, there was a need to keep an open mind as several factors were revealed throughout the research process. As stated by Robson (2011) an exploratory study serves the purpose to find out what is happening, to seek new insights, to ask new questions and to assess phenomena in new light. We also concerned the descrip-tive purpose for this thesis, in order to accurately provide a clear picture of the particular phenomena, through accurately portraying persons, events or situations (Robson, 2011; Saunders et al., 2012). The descriptive purpose was still kept in mind, but this thesis is mainly investigated from an exploratory purpose in order to not lose any potential new insights through the process.

Research Approach

In order to best fulfill the purpose of this thesis three main research approaches were con-sidered. Further, depending on the reasoning adopted to support or justify the conclusion, the type of research can be classified as either deductive or inductive (Saunders et al., 2012). Hugh (2003, p.160) concludes that ”deduction reasons from the mind to the world, whereas induction reasons from the world to the mind”. Deduction is the dominating approach in the natural sciences, where laws are the base of explanations (Collis & Hussey, 2003). In other words, deduction is concerned with testing theory. Since the purpose of this thesis is to explore the topic, and what we might find is somewhat unknown – we argue that deduction would not be the right approach. This leads to induction, which works the opposite way. Here, a certain phenomenon in real life is studied and theory is derived from these observa-tions. Thus, this makes induction the commonly used approach in social science (Saunders et al., 2012). In addition, many authors favor the inductive approach for case studies since it enables themes, categories, activities and patterns to be extracted from the empirical data (Eisenhardt, 1989; Dyer & Wilkins, 1991; Fox -Wolfgramm, 1997). Further, induction does not exclusively have to start without any base in theory, and concepts from prior research can be used when analyzing the data (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008). For this thesis we chose to adapt relevant theoretical elements in the frame of reference, and still keep an open mind regarding the research process – allowing theory to emerge from the results and not be tied to a certain framework or theory. This left us favorable towards induction, as there were concerns that deduction would get us stuck in a particular direction and steer our research in a certain way.
To sum up, the inductive approach was chosen for this study – this is due to its proven suitability towards the case study strategy and the explorative purpose. The case study ap-proach will be further explained in the next section.

Research Strategy

As stated in the purpose, the aim of this thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of packaging and returnable packaging in the context of a supplier. Thus the case study strategy has been chosen, as it provides a suitable framework to gain rich understanding of the context and the processes being enacted (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). Yin (2009, p. 18) defines a case study as « an empirical enquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident ». Additionally Robson (2011) emphasizes that a case study uses multiple sources of evidence for the research on a contemporary phenomenon. Further, a single case was pre-ferred over a multiple case study. This gave us the opportunity to study the particular case in greater detail, within the set timeframe and scope (Yin, 2009). Besides, it was found that a holistic approach to the matter as suggested by Yin (2009) would further improve the under-standing of the topic. The holistic case study includes the point of view of actors involved in the SC and not exclusively the perspective of the focal company (Saunders et al., 2012).
In order to increase the precision and support the validity of the empirical research, it is important to take multiple perspectives towards the studied object. This approach is known as triangulation (Saunders et al., 2012; Runeson, Höst, Rainer & Regnell, 2012). Stake and Savolainen (1995) makes a distinction between four types of triangulation. Three types were found applicable for this thesis, known as data, observer and methodological triangulation. Data triangulation means that data from several sources is used in order to eliminate bias. We have ensured that by including different departments within the supplier as well as the OEM and the sub-supplier in the interviews. Observer triangulation suggests that several researchers with a different background analyze the data. Since we are from different coun-tries and have different work experiences this form of triangulation is established as well. In order to achieve methodological triangulation several methods need to be applied in a study. We have, therefore, included interviews and observations in the data collection.
To sum up, this thesis utilizes the interpretive and subjective research philosophy together with an inductive research approach. Further, the research purpose is mainly exploratory and a holistic case study strategy was utilized. Data, observer and methodological triangulation were also used to increase the validity and precision of the data collected. Lastly, qualitative methods are applied – these are further explained below in the data collection section.

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Data Collection

This section is divided into three parts. First the company profiles of KA, Odette, the sub-supplier and OEM are presented. The aim is to give the reader an insight of each of the companies, which further helps putting everything into context when the findings are dis-cussed. The second part outlines the process that has been applied in order to collect the data. Additionally the time horizon of the study is mentioned.

Company Profiles

Kongsberg Automotive AB

KA is a global supplier of gear shift and fluid handling systems as well as interior components for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. The company started as a part of Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk, originally a Norwegian defense and weaponry company, which started to pro-duce brakes and drive shafts for Volvo in 1957. In 1987 the automotive division became a separate enterprise. Since then KA has developed into a global leader in the automotive in-dustry. Currently the company operates 32 production facilities in 20 countries around the globe and can thus supply its worldwide customers with high quality products due to the proximity to all major automotive markets. About 10,000 employees have created a turnover of 979 million EUR in 2014 (Kongsberg, 2015a).
KA is the focal company in this thesis. The study is based on the Mullsjö plant and the facilities FA1 and FA2, which is part of the driveline and interior division. From this point we will refer to it as ‘the supplier’, meaning KA Mullsjö and not the whole KA enterprise Kongsberg, 2015b).


Odette is an impartial non-profit organization that creates standards, develops best practices and provides services in logistics management, e-business communications and engineering data exchange for the whole automotive industry in Europe (Odette, 2015).


The sub-supplier considered in this thesis is a Swedish manufacturer of turned and milled components. The company puts emphasis on high quality products for the automotive, tel-ecommunications and white goods industry. During the interview the respondent stated that the name of the company should not be revealed. Therefore, we will refer to it as the ‘sub-supplier’ from this point.


The OEM considered in this thesis is Scania AB. It will later be referred to as ‘the OEM’. This company is one of the largest producers of heavy trucks and buses as well as ship and industry engines in the world. With more than 42,000 employees the company created a turnover of over 9,8 billion EUR in 2014. Scania AB was founded 1891 and has since then developed into a global company with production facilities in Europe and South America (Scania, 2015). In the context of this thesis the focus lays on the relationship between the supplier and the production plant in Zwolle, Netherlands, since the interview partner is working at this facility.

Data Collection Process

The data collection involved an extensive literature research in the databases of the library at Jönköping University, which formed the background for a pilot interview with the initial contact person at the supplier. Conducting the semi-structured pilot interview helped us gain valuable background knowledge. Further, on-site observations of the inbound and outbound flows in the warehouses of the focal company were carried out early in the research. The purpose of the observations was to further aid the understanding of the packaging processes. As stated earlier in the delimitations, the literature search was concerned with topics around ‘packaging’ and ‘returnable packaging’. In addition, the influencing factors were limited to ‘power relations’ and ‘collaboration’ in the beginning, as these was stated relevant by a ma-jority of research papers.
Based on insights from the observations and the literature research, the interview guide was developed. In collaboration with the contact person at the focal company we assembled a list of potential participants for the interviews. The contact person then scheduled interviews with internal and external partners. Subsequently the data from the observations, internal and external interviews was collected. Figure 3.1 gives an overview of the data collection process.
The next section starts with describing the data considered, the sources of data and the time horizon for the thesis. Further the actual methods used are presented together with con-ducted interviews and observations, as well as the sampling of participants for the data col-lection.

Qualitative Data

Research can be classified as either quantitative or qualitative. In regard to definition, Eriks-son and Kovalainen (2008) argue that this most often is done by contrasting qualitative and quantitative approaches to each other. The main differences of the two, is that qualitative research is non-numerical while quantitative research is concerned with data in numbers (Robson, 2011). Since the purpose of this thesis is to gain in-depth knowledge about the topic, qualitative data has been used. Qualitative data is described as ideal to understand reality that is socially constructed as well as for interpretation and understanding of a partic-ular phenomenon (Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2008). Qualitative data can also give insights rooted in the perceptions and thoughts of the respondents, and such data would be unfeasi-ble to collect through quantitative methods.

Sources of Data

Primary data is defined as data that have been collected for the first time and are, therefore, original. Whereas data that has already been collected by someone else for some other pur-pose is known as secondary data (Kothari, 2004). For the data collection in this thesis, a multi-method approach for collecting primary data has been adapted. Boyer and Swink (2008) advocate the use of multiple complementary approaches in order to develop a holistic understanding of operations and the SCM phenomena. In addition, Rohlfing and Starke (2013) recommend a multi method approach as it provides a great variety of ways in which empirical data can be collected. In contrast to using only one data collection technique, this approach strengthens the results by broadening the understanding and providing a wider perspective of the phenomena which is studied.
In terms of primary data for this thesis, interviews and observations have been utilized. Sec-ondary data has been included by reviewing internal company and external documentation from Odette. The methods themselves are further described in their own respective section below.

Time Horizon

The time horizon of case studies can be categorized into two parts, cross-sectional and lon-gitudinal. Cross-sectional studies feature information gathered over a shorter period of time, to form a ‘snapshot’ of a particular phenomenon, while the longitudinal form a series of ‘snapshots’ over a longer period of time (Saunders et al., 2012). In this study, the cross sec-tional time horizon is adapted, since information is gathered through interviews and obser-vations over a shorter period of time. This time aspect also goes along with the scope, de-limitations and given timeframe of this thesis.


This section is concerned with the data collecting methods for the empirical material used in this thesis. Interviews, observations and sampling are imposed here.

Table of Contents
1 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Problem Statement
1.3 Purpose and Research Questions
1.4 Delimitation
1.5 Thesis Disposition
2 Frame of Reference
2.1 Automotive Supply Chain
2.2 Packaging
2.3 Influencing Factors
2.4 Summary
3 Methodology
3.1 Research Philosophy
3.2 Research Purpose
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Research Strategy
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Methods
3.7 Data Analysis
3.8 Credibility
3.9 Delimitations
3.10 Summary
4 Findings 
4.1 Packaging & Returnable Packaging Operations
4.2 Important Factors for Returnable Packaging Management
4.3 Summary
5 Analysis 
5.1 Current Management
5.2 Important Factors for Returnable Packaging Management
6 Conclusion
6.1 RQ 1
6.2 RQ 2
7 Discussion
7.1 Concluding Remarks
7.2 Managerial Implications and Future Research
List of References
Returnable Packaging in the Automotive Supply Chain From a supplier s perspective

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