While the many challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted brands in a variety of ways, new package development remains a primary focus for packaging departments. Whether it’s designing packaging for a new product, optimizing packaging for an existing product, or redesigning packaging for existing projects to better meet the evolving needs of the brand, this process remains an important priority. What has changed is the ability to bring outside experts into a brand’s facility to evaluate products and develop packaging solutions.
While the traditional approach to new package design involves on-site engineers evaluating the product and its shipping needs, the current need for distancing makes this approach unwise or, in some states, not allowed. There is, however, another approach that works just as well for most brands.
As we’ve all grown accustomed to meetings conducted via Zoom and collaborating on a document virtually, it should be no surprise to learn that all of the preliminary steps of a packaging project can be handled remotely. Defining the packaging requirements, including goals for sustainability and specs to ensure it works with your current packaging, can be discussed via a web meeting and compiled in a shared document. This includes listing all the unknowns and other important needs such as pallet stability requirements and the tolerances and procedures to be used during the testing phase.
An Unconventional Approach for Unconventional Times
Where this approach really differs from traditional package development is when the designer fleshes out their concepts. Instead of a designer or engineer coming to your facility to evaluate and develop packaging concepts, you can ship your products to the designers location, where they can do the same job without having to add unnecessary personnel to your facility. Working remotely, the engineer can evaluate the product, leverage the list of pre-defined requirements and think through the needs of the products distribution environment to develop packaging concepts and specifications for your review.
Remote Project Management
Once all stakeholders agree on a design concept, the engineer can coordinate prototype development remotely and ship the prototype to your facility for review and approval. All steps of the testing process can be handled the same way, with the packaging shipped to the testing facility of your choice. Once the design is finalized, sourcing a supplier that best fits your goals and is optimized for cost and quality can also be handled remotely all the way through to commercialization.
Experts in Packaging and Remote Work
Since its inception, Adept Packaging was built to meet our clients’ needs, whenever and wherever they need us. Our team has experience working remotely and from home offices while maintaining the productivity and efficiency you’d expect from an on-site consultant. While this global pandemic has forced many companies to adapt their processes for social distancing, it’s allowed us to showcase our mature, fully functioning processes for working from a distance, and we’re ready to help you tackle your new package development products no matter how long the pandemic continues.
Recent trends in reshoring, accelerated by supply chain issues brought on by COVID-19, are prompting many brands to bring all or part of their packaging operations in house by installing their own machinery. Even if your brand hasn’t made a plan to purchase new packaging machinery, your company is likely considering alternatives to mitigate the disruption.
A recent survey indicates packaging is one of the services North American brands are most likely to reshore in light of recent supply chain issues. While handling packaging in house can accelerate the product delivery timeline and reduce supply chain problems, it comes with its own set of challenges. We created this guide to help you anticipate and solve those challenges.
Collaborate Internally and with Vendors
To develop a comprehensive set of user requirement specifications, it’s important for representatives of many departments in your business, including packaging, engineering, procurement, HSE, IT and maintenance, to collaborate and thoroughly discuss their individual needs. Another key topic to discuss internally is how new equipment may impact the packaging machinery and software already in place. It’s important to find out what conditions new machinery will need to satisfy to be integrated with your current setup.
Teams also need to communicate and collaborate with the machine supplier to develop an installation timeline that suits the needs of as many departments as possible to minimize disruption to the business. This is also the time to communicate any safety training the vendor’s technicians will need to complete before arriving at your facility. While technicians likely participate in significant safety training of their own, you can’t assume their training covers all the topics necessary for working within your facility.
Evaluate Business Impact
Adding a significant amount of new machinery is no small endeavor. Installing a new packaging line or building on an existing one can have unforeseen impacts on departments throughout your facility. It’s important to understand how it can affect those departments during the early planning stages so those risks can be mitigated. When integrating new machinery into an existing packaging line or other production line, installation will likely require that equipment to be shut down, and managers who oversee that line will need to plan their department’s schedule around that shutdown.
Planning ahead thoroughly for the ways installation will impact your business will provide time to prepare and ensure the installation goes smoothly and doesn’t disrupt other departments more than absolutely necessary. This includes allowing time for testing and having a sufficient amount of product available to conduct tests on the new packaging and labeling equipment.
Despite even the most thorough planning and preparation, installing new packaging machinery will take longer than you expect. Turnaround time between ordering your equipment and delivery by the vendor will likely be the longest part of the process. Delivery times can increase considerably if your needs require customization and added functionality to the machinery.
Plan a 30% buffer time for the total project, no matter what a vendor tells you. You need to prepare for a variety of delays and issues that may pop up throughout the process and have a plan to mitigate unforeseen issues that impact timing. It’s almost a guarantee that a few such problems will affect installation at your facility.
Heavy equipment like packaging machinery draws a lot of power and may also require other utilities, such as compressed air. Those who know your facility best should review details about the machinery’s requirements and evaluate all supply lines, hookups and building connections to ensure they are available and located in the places the new machines will need them.
Measure Twice, Install Once
Measuring the space available for your packaging machinery is an important part of the planning process, but it’s not the last time you’ll need those measurements. The process from deciding on new machinery to its installation can span many months, and equipment vendors may make upgrades or small revisions to the machinery they sell over the course of that time. While vendors should communicate changes and updates to the machinery, you can’t assume they’ll be aware of how those changes affect installation at your facility.
Invest in Solutions
When you decide on a vendor to provide your new machinery, work with them to ensure all the functionality you need it included. Push for the vendor to work with any third-party providers for custom functions and don’t allow them to pass contracting with those providers onto your company. Your company is not just buying a machine, it is working with the vendor to provide a solution that meets your brand’s packaging needs.
Let the Experts Lead
The entire process of acquiring and installing new packaging machinery, from finding equipment that best suits the needs of your brand to testing the line to make sure it functions properly, is intricate and involves many details that are easy to overlook without experienced help. If your team doesn’t have the experience, expertise and resource availability to tackle each phase of the project, including implementation, get external help. Our team has experience helping iconic brands across a variety of industries add packaging lines to their operation, and we’re ready to be your partner through each phase of the project. Reach out to learn more about how we can help.
With all of the supplier and material options available to brands, it’s important to consider all options when looking for a packaging solution that optimizes costs, product protection and sustainability. Many packaging solution providers are directly tied to suppliers and promise deep discounts on materials based on that relationship, but without exploring all options, brands may miss opportunities to find the best packaging solution for their product. Taking an approach that is agnostic to both suppliers and materials opens more possibilities to identify a solution that meets all their needs.
What Is an Agnostic Approach?
An agnostic approach to suppliers and materials means designing a packaging solution that is centered on the product and its distribution environment, rather than limitations of specific materials. Suppliers, and consultants who are tied to them, frequently design packaging around the limitations of their own equipment or the material they produce. The ability to move between suppliers and work with different materials provides opportunities to create a solution that works for the brand and its product.
Being vendor-agnostic allows packaging consultants to prioritize their clients’ best interests in terms of costs and product protection, rather than being beholden to the solutions offered by specific vendors. Being material-agnostic means they can think outside the box to find the packaging solutions that best fit a product’s needs instead of limiting the possibilities to a short list of materials. It places the focus on the needs of the brand and, ultimately, its customers.
Cost Benefits of an Agnostic Approach
Because supplier and material-agnostic packaging consultants are not tied to the interests of a specific supplier, they’re able to prioritize a brand and its products’ needs, acting as an extension of the brand. They’re incentivized to find the best total landed cost, meaning the total the packaging and shipping/freight costs. Packaging engineers who work with a wide variety materials and suppliers are also likely to have experience working in diverse industries. This diverse experience drives outside-the-box thinking as, for example, lessons learned in the food & beverage industry might benefit a brand in the automotive or pharmaceutical industry.
Product Protection Benefits of an Agnostic Approach
Similar to the cost benefits, keeping all options on the table also benefits the primary function of packaging – to protect the product. Exploring all available solutions, rather than simply choosing the best option from a short, pre-selected list, allows for solutions customized to best serve the brand and its consumers. This approach allows for solutions that include a combination of materials that meet all requirements of a project, from product protection to sustainability.
The Right Approach
Relying too heavily on a short list of materials leads to choices that work well for a supplier and their margins, but leave a brand with packaging that doesn’t meet all its needs. An agnostic approach that weighs all the options provides brands with a packaging solution that keeps costs down while optimizing quality. If you’re looking for help designing packaging that goes beyond the limits of a specific supplier, reach out. Our team has experience in more than 60 specialized packaging disciplines and can help find the solution that works best for your brand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a major boost to e-commerce, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting a 45% year-over-year increase from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020. For brands experiencing a significant increase in e-commerce sales or embracing e-commerce for the first time, designing packaging to hold up under the conditions a single parcel may face in shipping can be a challenge. Products that are damaged during shipping are costly to your brand’s reputation and can ruin your relationship with customers.
Testing your packaging to ensure it can protect the product at all points along its journey from your packaging line to its final destination is integral to the process and to your brand. While the process can be daunting, there are two main things you need to understand before you get started: the distribution environment your product and its packaging will encounter during shipping and the available testing standards that simulate how your package will perform in that environment.
Know Your Distribution Environment
Distribution environments can be complicated. Depending on the product, a package may encounter a wide variety of conditions between packaging and arrival at its final destination. These conditions can be broken down into two main categories, ambient conditions and handling conditions.
Ambient conditions can vary wildly depending on the distance your package will travel and the geographic location(s) it will travel through. Factors to consider include the humidity it will experience, the range in temperatures it will face and how much exposure it will have to elements such as sun light and, potentially, precipitation. Some products may even need to remain refrigerated or frozen during shipping to preserve quality.
Handling conditions have a similarly broad range and depend on whether your packaging will ship via rail, truck, air or some combination of the three. While we’re primarily focusing on products that will ship as single parcels, there may be portions of their journey where they travel as part of a unitized load. Packaging decisions can also vary depending on whether a package is primarily hand-carried or if it will be lifted with a crane or forklift. At times, other packages may be stacked on top of it, meaning the package will need to support additional weight without being crushed.
Insights from Technology
While an expert can make a fairly accurate projection about the conditions a package will face in the distribution environment, there are ways to take some of the guesswork out of the process. Several companies make small, disposable sensors that can be placed in test packages and shipped through the normal distribution channels to capture a variety of information about shock, temperature and sunlight, along with location and time, to provide an opportunity for real-time data analysis.
Know Your Testing Standards
There are two main bodies that issue widely accepted single parcel test standards. ASTM is one of the world’s largest international organizations that develops standards. It is comprised of a large group of experts who develop and democratically approve those standards. The other organization, ISTA is a private industry association with standards generated by its board of directors. While the standards developed by both organizations are valuable, ASTM standards are more widely accepted than ISTA standards. For food and beverage brands, for example, the FDA recognizes more than 400 ASTM standards, but recognizes only the ISTA 3A, 3B and 3E series.
These organizations have developed hundreds of standards that cover the wide variety of options for packaging sizes, shapes and materials. It would be impossible to summarize all of them here, but an example that compares a few of the available standards is helpful in illustrating the relationship between knowing your distribution environment and knowing what options are available for testing. The table below lays out the steps in three testing standards that can be applied to double-walled carton that is 1.8 cubic feet in size and weighs 5 lbs.
Testing Standards Example
ISTA 3A Series
ASTM D4169 DC 13 AL II
Precondition to ambient for 12 hours
Condition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 72 hours
Condition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 24 hours
Condition to determined temperature and humidity “Controlled” conditions will use 73°F and 50% humidity for 72 hours
Handling – Six drops from 15”
Handling – Four drops from 18” and two drops from 20”
Shock – Eight drops from 18” plus one drop from 36”
Vehicle Stacking – Apply and release 278lbs
Vibration under Compressive Load – Bottom face for 60 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms and with 105lbs topload for total of 120 minutes
Loose Load Vibration – Fixed Displacement for 30 minutes
High Altitude (optional)
Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms for total of 30 minutes
Low pressure (optional)
Handling – Two drops from 20” and four drops from 18”
Shock – Seven drops from 18” plus one drop from 36”
Vehicle Vibration – Random60min with overall Grms level of 0.54120 min with overall Grms level of 1.05
Vibration – Bottom face for 30 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
Handling – Five drops from 15” plus one drop from 30”
Handling – Two drops from 14”, three from 20” and one from 32”
Concentrated Impact – Drop height 36”
The details included for each step are instructive in deciding which standard best applies to your package and its distribution environment. Differences include the temperatures the packages are exposed to during testing, drop heights, the amount of compression force applied to the package, and other factors. ISTA 3A requires dropping the package from a height of 18 inches
seven times and a height of 36 inches once, while ASTM D4169 DC 13 AL II calls for five drops from 15 inches and one from 30 inches. A thorough understand of your package’s shipping environment will help you decide which of those standards best simulates the conditions your package is likely to encounter.
Get Help from the Experts
The wide variety of conditions a package may encounter in its distribution environment and the long list of available testing standards from ASTM and ISTA can make designing distribution tests for single parcels a daunting task, but a knowledgeable packaging engineer with experience designing and testing packages for e-commerce distribution can help you guide you through the process.
If you need help developing new packaging or updating your existing packaging to better withstand the e-commerce distribution environment, get in touch. Our team has led this process for some of the most iconic brands in the food, beverage, CPG and life sciences industries.
Many packaging departments face a set of familiar challenges when beginning a new project: insufficient resources, a lack of specific expertise and finding the right fit when hiring to add that expertise. For lots of companies, this problem has been exacerbated by the business and economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many packaging departments are behind on initiatives planned for earlier in the year and won’t be able to catch up without putting their team through a stressful crunch period, but those challenges are easy to overcome with contract packaging engineers — temporary, flexible resources that can help carry the load for a defined duration.
Expertise for Your Unique Needs
Many brands are choosing to leverage contract packaging experts to build a variable workforce that has experience tackling specific projects. By adding such resources, a brand can temporarily enhance expertise for projects such as reducing packaging costs, increasing packaging sustainability or optimizing packaging for the e-commerce distribution environment.
As COVID-19 drove a significant uptick in online purchases, many brands uncovered quality issues or inefficiencies with their e-commerce distribution process. Remedying these issues requires quality remediation, specification management and a packaging audit, but those time-intensive tasks can strain already-busy packaging departments. These brands often hire contract packaging engineers to mitigate the newly uncovered issues without derailing the projects their internal teams are tackling.
Packaging Resources that Allow you to Hit the Ground Running
Since most contract engineers are brought on board to lend a specific set of skills, they typically require little-to-no training in order to hit the ground running. While a traditional hire may need weeks or months of training and orientation before they’re fully integrated and productive, a skilled contractor can begin to contribute immediately and often benefits the brand by sharing their expertise with the internal team.
Subject Matter Experts
Different projects require different levels, areas and depths of expertise. Bringing contract engineers on board for projects allows a brand to build a repository of subject matter experts with different specialties and experience. As different challenges arise or new projects become a priority, the brand can hire those contractors from their repository to supplement the expertise of their internal team.
Rightsize Your Workforce
Because there is no obligation to renew once a contract is completed, brands can staff up to handle a backlog of work from COVID-related closures or to meet a tight deadline a labor-intensive project and then return to lean staffing levels once the project or projects are complete. Using contractors for a defined duration also frees brands from obligations to provide sick time, holiday pay, PTO and other benefits.
In addition to getting the right expertise for a defined-duration project, working with a company that specializes in placing contractors also reduces the brand’s risk. Such companies mitigate risks associated with a placement not meeting the expectations with strong managerial oversight, performance management and training and technical support. Companies who place contractors are also structured to avoid issues with co-employment laws.
Leverage Leading Packaging Talent at Adept
Adept Talent has a deep bench of highly qualified contract packaging engineers and project managers with expertise in more than 60 specialized disciplines. If your company needs to staff up to tackle a backlog of work that’s built up since the pandemic hit or to provide specific knowledge and skills to tackle a project that falls outside the typical function of its internal packaging team, get in touch. We’re ready to match you up with the expert or experts that can help meet your goals.
For additional resources on finding packaging the packaging talent you need, visit our resource library.