Concept of frozen products: fruits, vegetables, fishs, meat, spices herbs, were frozen inside ice cubes

Cold Chain Trends for Food Brands

The tidal wave of media coverage around COVID-19 vaccines has thrust the cold-chain market into a global spotlight, but cold-chain technology isn’t just for brands in the life sciences space. Cold-chain packaging and shipment play a growing role for brands in the food industry as well. While most people typically think of the cold chain as a network of refrigerated warehouses and cargo vehicles that keep products at a controlled temperature, packaging is the common link that connects them all and ensures the product maintains its temperature as it moves throughout the supply chain. Understanding the trends and projections for cold chain will help food brands prepare more efficiently for their next steps.

Increased Demand

As consumer demand for high-end food products grows around the world, brands need to ship products across greater distances quickly, while maintaining high standards for quality. According to Statistics MRC, the global cold chain market is projected to grow 400% from 2018 to 2027, reaching a total value of more than $600 billion. While the CPG portion of the market is still dominated by dairy and frozen dessert items, bakery and confectionery products are forecast to generate increased demand for cold-chain services. A growing middle-class population in developing economies drives demand for fresh produce, which requires cold chain solutions to move from agricultural regions to population centers.

A Need for Investment in Sustainability

Keeping products at a controlled temperature requires refrigeration, both in storage facilities and transportation vehicles, and that refrigeration consumes a lot of energy. While cold-chain storage and shipping can be energy-intensive, the increase in demand for cold food products is fueling innovation in efficiency and sustainability.

Many providers are investing in sustainable cold-chain solutions, but there is no established leader in this space. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the most commonly used refrigerants and may contribute more to global greenhouse gasses than carbon dioxide. Penske Logistics is exploring compressed natural gas as an alternative to diesel-powered refrigeration systems for trailers.

Others companies look to electric vehicles as a more sustainable solution for keeping products at a controlled temperature in transit. Improved insulation and remotely controlled cooling systems also look to improve energy and fuel consumption from vehicles through involved in the cold chain. As adoption of reusable packaging continues to grow, reusables may also provide a sustainable solution for products in the cold chain.

Growing Role of Third-Party Logistics

Third-party logistics (3PL) play a growing role in processing and packaging cold chain food products. 3PLs provide a variety of services that may not be cost effective for frozen food brands  to handle themselves, including storing frozen product until it’s time to fill specific orders, transporting frozen foods to be packaged at retailers and preparing proteins for export outside the U.S. This role for 3PLs is particularly prominent in the ecommerce space, as few companies that specialize in ecommerce have the need to maintain temperature-controlled distribution centers of their own. As efficient ecommerce distribution becomes the norm in the B2C space, rising expectations for fast B2B shipping also provide an opportunity for temperature controlled 3PLs to step up and grow their presence in the food supply chain.

As cold-chain technology advances, it will create opportunities for many more brands in the food industry to distribute fresh products more efficiently and across greater distances. If your brand needs to add cold-chain distribution capabilities or improve existing capabilities, Adept can help. Our team includes highly experienced consultants in both cold chain packaging and logistics. Get in touch to discuss solutions to your cold-chain challenges.

Five Architects Sitting Around Table Having Meeting

Packaging Development Centers of Excellence

As sustainability and cost drivers pressure packaging departments to deliver more value, greater agility and faster speed to market, establishing a Packaging Development Center of Excellence provides a platform that enables your team to deliver successful, repeatable results. A well run PackDev CoE accelerates future competitiveness and enables faster growth and enhanced profits. It aligns the entire packaging department to execute its strategy and deliver against its goals.

With a PackDev CoE in place, a brand can expect its packaging department to not only be more efficient, but also more accurate. It also provides the packaging department with the tools to optimize costs and the flexibility to evolve to meet new challenges.

What Is a PackDev CoE?

A PackDev CoE is a model for managing a packaging department. The model focuses on strong and well aligned fundamental concepts that are common to many successful organizations:

  • People – enabling cognitive ability and promoting productive interpersonal interactions
  • Processes – Aligned to enable efficiency
  • Systems – Leveraging computer power to unburden teams

Implementing a well-run CoE enables an organization to drive consistent, forecastable value from its packaging operations. It makes the people, processes and systems in place fundamentally stronger and aligns them to execute against the packaging department’s goals.

We can break the Adept Group model for a PackDev CoE down into four key components:

  • Providing Solutions
  • Team Development
  • Knowledge Management
  • Systems & Governance

Providing Solutions

To put things in the simplest terms possible, Providing Solutions is the execution of packaging development initiatives. This is the part of the model that is easiest to observe because it involves the packaging department’s output – the work it does on a day-to-day basis.

This process addresses the basic ways in which the packaging department supports the organization as whole through a strategy strongly aligned with the brand’s overall strategy. It leads to the development of platforms that can be implemented at scale while maintaining high standards that can be followed throughout the department. These platforms are geared toward sourcing and implementing the best packaging components, technologies and practices. Once those platforms are in place, the CoE provides opportunities to continually improve upon packaging practices to establish and maintain competitive advantage. This base business support creates a stable packaging operation that delivers optimized value to the entire organization.

This same process can also be geared toward providing ad-hoc, need-based solutions. It helps to assess incoming needs based on their organizational impact and their priority among the department’s and the organization’s overall needs. As business conditions change, a packaging department organized under a CoE model can develop individual solutions to new challenges and drive agile implementation of those solutions. All of this is done in a way that manages risk to the organization.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management focuses on how the packaging department can make the best use of institutional knowledge and convert new learnings into lasting knowledge that can be implemented and shared throughout the department. A key component of Knowledge Management is, of course, the creation of knowledge. The process is based on developing knowledge that enhances the competitive advantage a CoE provides. The platforms and methodology that support Providing Solutions are continually honed and improved upon by the accumulation and implementation of knowledge that allows the department to work faster, more accurately and at a lower cost.

The other key component of Knowledge Management is the development of a repository through which that knowledge can be shared, managed and used in a standardized way across the packaging department. In practical terms, this repository is stored and shared through software platforms and training programs that form the backbone of Knowledge Management.

Team Development

Team Development is the care, support and development of a packaging department’s most valuable assets, its people. This is accomplished through three key elements, the first of which is team building. Team building allows a department to both hire and maintain top talent that drives its success. It also involves a strategy for resourcing and provides tools for workload management that keeps talent happy and provides personnel with opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the organization.

The second element is an efficient training program that elevates the department and contributes to a competitive advantage. The most efficient training programs take a modular approach that groups individual trainings into distinct curriculums for different groups, based on their primary functions. These trainings can focus broadly on the functions of the CoE that governs the department or on more specific topics such as emerging technology – think sustainability or advanced track & trace solutions – or ongoing compliance needs.

The third element of Knowledge Management is the development of subject matter experts (SMEs) within the department. Perhaps the highest value a CoE can produce, and certainly the end goal of Team Development, is a roster of true SMEs whose knowledge enhances the output of the packaging department. Recognizing and nurturing SMEs is a key component of retaining the talent a CoE creates.

Systems & Governance

Systems & Governance is the key component that organizes all other components of a CoE, which makes it crucial to that this component is executed correctly. Without a good system for managing the CoE, it is not practical to sustain the model over the long term. A key element of Systems & Governance is an organized system of leadership at all team levels, strong culture that drives job satisfaction within the department, and a defined set of career paths that guide achievement throughout the department.

Another key element is the administration of the CoE, including setting and adhering to well-planned budgets and setting aggressive, but achievable goals for the department and its team members.

The third element of Systems & Governance is the management of data and software that enhance the functionality of a packaging department. Examples of data include packaging specs and project management info and other details that need to be tracked and stored in an organized way for easy access. Examples of software systems include a specification management system, the training system and software tools that enable workload management.

Adept Group has more than a decade of experience in developing and implementing Centers of Excellence within our clients’ packaging departments. If you think a CoE will help optimize the function of your packaging operations, get in touch. We’re ready to deploy our knowledge and experience with CoE to help you maximize the value of your packaging.


New Package Development During COVID-19

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.

Meeting Remotely

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.

Automatic packing line of conveyor. Pharmaceutical and chemical industry. Manufacture on factory

A Planning Guide for New Packaging Machinery

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.

Anticipate Delays

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.

Analyze Utilities

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.

Automated line for manufacturing of cardboard boxes for sour cream

The Benefits of an Agnostic Approach to Packaging

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.


Single Parcel Distribution Test Design for E-Commerce

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

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

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
StepISTA 3A SeriesASTM D4169 DC 13 AL IIASTM D7386
1Precondition to ambient for 12 hoursCondition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 72 hoursCondition to adjusted settings from standard of 73.4 +/- 2°F (23 +/- 1°C) and 50% +/- 2% for 24 hours
2Condition to determined temperature and humidity “Controlled” conditions will use 73°F and 50% humidity for 72 hoursHandling – Six drops from 15”Handling – Four drops from 18” and two drops from 20”
3Shock – Eight drops from 18” plus one drop from 36”Vehicle Stacking – Apply and release 278lbsVibration under Compressive Load – Bottom face for 60 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
4Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms and with 105lbs topload for total of 120 minutesLoose Load Vibration – Fixed Displacement for 30 minutesHigh Altitude (optional)
5Vibration – Random with overall Grms level of .46Grms for total of 30 minutesLow pressure (optional)Handling – Two drops from 20” and four drops from 18”
6Shock – 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 1.05Vibration – Bottom face for 30 minutes and side face for 30 minutes
7n/aHandling – Five drops from 15” plus one drop from 30”Handling – Two drops from 14”, three from 20” and one from 32”
8n/an/aConcentrated 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.

For more information in single parcel testing, you can watch our recent Learning Share webinar on the topic or download our white paper, which focuses on single parcel testing for medical devices.

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.

Hasanna NEW

Announcing: Hasanna Birdsong, New Managing Director of Adept Group

We’re delighted to announce the appointment of Hasanna Birdsong to Managing Director for the Adept Group LLC with the responsibility to lead and manage the company.

With more than 20 years of business development experience, including over ten years of executive level leadership and strategic development, Hasanna is the perfect person for the job.  

As a natural leader, she excels at making connections and finding and empowering the natural talent in the people around her.  

Prior to Adept, Hasanna built and ran the sales and marketing practice for the Azzur Group, a professional services company focused on providing their life science clients solutions from Discovery to Delivery™.  In addition to her leadership experience at Azzur, Hasanna established a sales consulting company where she served companies in the professional development, healthcare and life sciences, and financial services industries.

Hasanna joined Adept a year ago as the VP of Sales and has proven her strengths as a growth-oriented leader, taking on increasing responsibilities, driving growth throughout each practice and setting the standard for excellence within the company.   

“We are primed to continue our positive momentum and growth,” said Prateek Lal, founder of Adept Group. “Hasanna has played an integral part in making key decisions throughout the organization since she came on board and she’s well positioned to succeed as managing director of the company.”

Hasanna’s values are aligned with Adept Group’s core values.  She is passionate about her own personal and professional growth and the growth of the team.  Her philosophy for success radiates in all she does: “Surround yourself with exceptional people, give them the tools and resources they need to be successful and then get out of the way.”  It’s that philosophy that will lead Adept Group to become the global leader of outsourced packaging solutions.

We’re excited to take this journey with Hasanna leading the way.


The Adept Group delivers best in class consulting, talent, digital and value optimization solutions for the packaging world. With specialized teams focused on each of those areas, Adept Group has assembled the top experts in the packaging industry to help companies reduce risk, increase speed to market, optimize cost, and transform the value of packaging. 


California Mandates Postconsumer Recycled Content

Bill AB 793, signed by the California Governor in September 2020, makes California the first US state to require beverage containers to use a set amount of recycled plastic.

This new mandate aims to take a critical step toward a circular economy while giving beverage companies benchmarks to hit until requiring 50% recycled content in 2030.

We’ve developed an infographic to answer the main questions regarding the new legislation.


Caucasian bearded graphic engineer in shirt and tie walking in printing shop and relocating heavy box. In background are printing machines.

Working As a Contract Packaging Engineer

The job market has changed significantly in recent years. Job seekers are choosing positions that provide flexibility and autonomy, and – according to a 2018 NPR/Marist poll – one in five jobs in the U.S. is now held by a contract worker. This relationship can be mutually beneficial for workers who prefer a contract relationship and employers who often need specific expertise or extra manpower for a defined-duration project. Working as a contractor comes with a lot of perks, especially in the packaging engineering field, and you may find this type of employment is a great fit, even if you’ve only worked under more traditional arrangements. In this blog, we outline some of the top benefits of working as a contractor.


In a traditional work environment, priorities may shift as the business’s needs change – even over the course of a single day. The result is engineers bouncing between tasks and sometimes being pulled from packaging engineering projects entirely. Contractors come on board to complete or advance a specific project, agreed upon in advance. This provides a balanced, focused workload where the engineer won’t be subjected to outside pressures that derail their priorities. This arrangement between employer and contractor often results in quality output and adherence to specific schedules and timelines.

Project Choice

Scope creep occurs when a company reorganizes and shifts engineers onto tasks and projects that fall outside of their experience and skillset. Because packaging engineering consultants are hired for a specific role on a specific project, they are not subject to scope creep in the way engineers in traditional employment arrangements are. It also allows contractors to accept projects they are passionate about or that advance their career goals without the possibility of being derailed by tasks that fall outside their area of interest.


In contrast to a traditional on-site, nine-to-five workday, contract packaging engineers enjoy options for a great deal of flexibility in both the types of projects they take on and their workload. Consultants are able to choose projects for which the workload matches their availability, taking on less time-intensive projects while they further their education or focus on family and other life activities. Additionally, consultants can often work from multiple locations or use a defined-duration project as a jumping off point when relocating to a new area.


Contract packaging engineers are able to diversify their experience by taking on roles in new industries or choosing project types that help to advance their career goals, allowing them to develop new skills and build expertise in new disciplines. By exposing themselves to a variety of projects and industries, consultants can find the types of opportunities that stoke their passion or provide new challenges that keep them engaged in their career.


By working for a consultancy, engineers have the opportunity to work for a variety of companies and get exposure to an equal variety of workplace cultures. Because organizational culture plays a key role in employee happiness, consultants have the privilege of sampling a variety of cultures and learning which situations best suit their personality, work style and professional goals.

Find Your Best Fit with Adept Packaging

Adept Packaging has both fulltime employees and a roster of consultants we can match with our clients’ needs, and because we are owned, operated and recruited by engineers, we understand your skillset and can seamlessly match you with a placement you desire, from location to project type. We work with a majority of the top CPG and Life Sciences companies in the world. If big names aren’t of interest, you’ll have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work with different clients to evaluate their culture.

In addition to working with multiple brand owners, our associates are exposed to a variety of project types, technologies and different departments within an organization allowing for skillset expansion. We host monthly Learning Share webinars and offer industry-specific trainings and technical skill builders. Adept associates are also allocated a budget for training. You will work with the packaging industry’s top subject matter experts to learn new skills, solve problem solve, and expand your global network.

Whether you’re interested in working in a specific location, on a specific project type, or for a defined duration, our recruiters will find a placement that fits those needs. Since many of our projects allow for remote work, our associates enjoy an unconventional amount of flexibility while driving results for our clients. If you’re looking to diversify your work experience and take a more active role in choosing your next project, reach out. We’re always looking for new talent.

Two factory workers looking up in drinks production plant

Increase the Flexibility and Scalability of your Workforce: Contract Packaging Engineers

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.

Risk Mitigation

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.

regulations marked on rubber stamp

Demystifying Hazmat Regulations

Hazardous materials regulations are complex, but it’s helpful to remember the goal: it’s all about safety – safety for workers, consumers, and for the environment. Most of the regulations are laid out in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Title 49 CFR, parts 100 – 185, which cover domestic shipment of hazardous materials. The regulations include package design and testing requirements, training requirements, and instructions on how to package and handle hazardous materials in bulk and non-bulk forms.

It is crucial to get things right the first time when it comes to packaging hazardous materials. In addition to the aforementioned safety risks, noncompliance with hazmat regulations can result in astronomical fines. Depending on the severity of the offense, these fines can range from $250 to $500,000 per violation.

All of these regulations and requirements are explained clearly in 49 CFR, but the real challenge comes in navigating this extensive, 700-plus page text. Knowing where to look for the information most relevant to packaging can remove a lot of the headache from planning for hazmat packaging.

Most Relevant Sections

Sorting through 49 CFR’s 700-plus pages can be a time-consuming task if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s packed with information for dealing with all aspects of hazardous materials, but there are a handful of specific sections that contain most of the relevant information about packaging and shipping. In most cases, a packaging professional can find the information they need in:

  • Subchapter C, Part 171: General Information, Regulations, and Definitions
  • Subchapter C, Part 173: Shippers – General Requirements for Shipments and Packagings
  • Subchapter C, Part 178: Specifications for Packaging

Definitions and Responsibilities

A hazardous material is a substance or material that the Secretary of Transportation has determined can pose an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce. “Hazardous material” is a blanket term that covers hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, elevated temperature materials, and other materials designated as hazardous in 49 CFR 172.101.

As a packaging professional, it is not your responsibility to determine if a material is hazardous. That responsibility falls on the manufacturer. If you suspect you’re dealing with a hazardous material, the first step is to reach out to the manufacturer to get the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Your responsibility, then, is to understand the information on the SDS and determine the packaging and testing requirements. For packaging professionals, the most relevant information is included in Section 14 of this form, which contains Transport Information:

  • The proper shipping name used by the DOT
  • Dangerous goods classification
  • U.N. identification number
  • Transportation information

Hazmat Classifications

49 CFR categorizes hazardous materials in a few ways that inform procedures for packaging and shipping them. Each material covered by these regulations is categorized by a Hazard Class, Division Number and Class Name. If the material doesn’t fit into those categories, it’s labeled as “other regulated material” by the letters “ORM-D”. A helpful guide to these categories is included below.

Class No.Division No.
(if any)
Name of Class or Division49 CFR
Reference for Definitions
NoneForbidden materials173.21
NoneForbidden explosives173.54
11.1Explosives (with a mass explosion hazard)173.50
11.2Explosives (with a projection hazard)173.50
11.3Explosives (with predominately a fire hazard)173.50
11.4Explosives (with no significant blast hazard)173.50
11.5Very insensitive explosives; blasting agents173.50
11.6Extremely Insensitive detonating substances173.50
22.1Flammable gas173.115
22.2Non-flammable compressed gas173.115
22.3Poisonous gas173.115
3Flammable and combustable liquid172.120
44.1Flammable solid173.124
44.2Spontaneously combustable material173.124
44.3Dangerous when wet material173.124
55.2Organic Peroxide173.128
66.1Poisonous materials173.132
66.2Infectious substance (Etiologic agent)173.134
7Radioactive material173.403
8Corrosive material173.136
9Miscellaneous hazardous material173.140
NoneOther regulated material: ORM-D173.144
  • Additional important information is found the Hazardous Materials Table in 49 CFR §172.101, which:
    • Designates the materials listed as hazardous for the purpose of transportation
    • Identifies the hazard class or specifies that the material is forbidden in transportation
    • Identifies the proper shipping name
    • Provides UN identification numbers that apply to international regulations
    • Specifies or references requirements pertaining to labeling, packaging, quantity limits aboard aircraft and stowage of hazardous materials aboard vessels

Design Requirements

49 CFR §173.24 includes general requirements for packaging design; ranging from the general, e.g. the packaging must prevent the release of hazardous materials into the environment, to the very specific, e.g. packaging used for frozen materials must also be capable of containing it in its liquid state if it melts. In fact, many of the testing requirements are centered on making sure packages won’t leak solids, liquids or gasses, and there are some very specific requirements, such as the conditions in which a package may vent to reduce internal pressure for packages containing dry ice (carbon dioxide, solid).

This section also includes information on closures, which must be leakproof and secured against loosening during transportation and storage. It outlines specific requirements for how closures on bottles containing hazardous liquids must be oriented, how labeling should indicate orientation in which the package should be handled and stored (e.g. “this end up”) and how cushioning within the package should react in the event of an internal leak. It includes details about hazmat packages transported by aircraft, including closure procedures, absorption requirements in the event of a leak and limits on quantities that can travel by air.

Testing Requirements

Package testing requirements are included in 49 CFR §178.601. Typically, all new packaging for hazardous materials must undergo a Design Qualification Test, which should be completed at a hazmat-certified lab. The test report must contain specifications for all of the packaging components, along with very detailed assembly instructions that cover each step of the packaging process, up to and including closure specifications and how much tape to use.

Drop heights for the design specification tests are higher than you’ll typically see in package testing, including drops from six feet and higher. Also, unlike traditional testing, the hazmat lab is only looking at containment of the materials within the package, not if the items inside the package remain functional. Some types of packages will need to be periodically retested, and those requirements are also spelled out in 49 CFR §178.601.

Marking Requirements

49 CFR §178.3 focuses on markings for packages containing hazardous materials. These regulations express clear preference for direct printing on a package, rather than applying labels, because printing directly on the package is less likely to wear off. Like many labeling requirements, 49 CFR stipulates that marking must be in an unobstructed area and be clearly legible. It also establishes minimum sizes for all marking.

Arrows that indicate packaging orientation must be printed on two opposite vertical sides. The UN registration number issued when the package passes design qualification testing must also be printed clearly on the package. The UN registration number contains the year of manufacture, requiring annual updates to package markings.

The package must also bear the marking that reflects the hazard class of the material inside. Examples of those markings are included in the graphic below.

Hazard Class Markings

Other Regulatory Bodies

While the U.S. DOT’s Title 49 CFR contains the regulations and guidelines most relevant to shipment of hazardous materials within the U.S., there are other organizations that regulate hazardous materials in territories outside the U.S. These are helpful to be aware of if you’re shipping things to or from non-U.S. territory.

LocationRegulatory BodyRegulations
International waterInternational Maritime Organization (IMO)International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, 38th Amendment
International AirInternational Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)2017 – 2018, Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air
InternationalUnited Nations Committee of Experts, Sub-Committee on the Transport of Dangerous GoodsUN Model Regulations, 19th Edition
CanadaTransport Canada• CAN/CGSB-43.150
• CAN/CGSB-43.146
• TDG TPI14850 (Small Containers for Transport of Dangerous Goods, Classes 3,4,5, 6.1.8 and 9)
MexicoMexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation• NOM-024
• NOM-029
Europe – GroundUnited Nations ECEInternational Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR)
Europe – RailRID Committee of ExpertsRegulations Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID)

By necessity, hazardous material regulation is complex and strenuous. The consequences of getting things wrong can pose a significant safety risk, depending on the material, and the regulatory penalties for getting it wrong reflect this. Even if you’re used to handling packaging testing internally, designing and testing packaging for hazardous materials may be a task best handled by an outside expert.

Adept Group’s diverse team includes specialists in more than 60 packaging disciplines, including hazmat. If you’re looking for help preparing to deal with hazardous materials, get in touch. We can help.

Designing Packaging for Distribution

3 Crucial Considerations for Designing a Packaging Strategy for Distribution

Determining what will happen to packages during distribution is a complex task requiring a variety of skills and experience. A trial-and-error approach is never optimal so it is important to evaluate all possible variables that may negatively impact a packaging strategy and develop a process-driven methodology to avoid rework and expensive mistakes.

This article offers an overview of three crucial factors often overlooked when designing a packaging strategy for distribution.

Understanding Your Distribution Environment

Mapping the logistics network from the manufacturer to the point of sales and all points of contact in between should be the first step of packaging design for distribution.

Three important factors are often analyzed too superficially:

Reconsider Product Design

Experience shows that distribution damages are drastically reduced if packaging engineers are involved early in the design of a product. If a product is damaged during either testing or a real shipment, packaging is the first thing engineers usually look to improve. A new material, improved dunnage, or a different container are all tempting options to try to solve the problem quickly. However, a distribution failure can also reveal a weakness in product design. For example, if a corner is too sharp or the selected material does not offer sufficient resistance to fatigue.

Offsetting such structural weaknesses by changing the packaging strategy may come at a high cost and it could be cheaper to start over and re-design the product, especially in the long term.

Product designers and packaging engineers should work together rather than in silos.

Do Not Underestimate Environmental Factors

Compression, vibration, and shock are the most observed factors in packaging distribution testing. While these are surely aspects to be taken into consideration, the environment is often a silent killer.

For example, the stacking strength of a corrugated box can be reduced by as much as 20% if the relative humidity goes from 0% (dry) to 50%. Similar results apply for fatigue and other structural properties. Heat can increase ductility in polymers or increase the viscosity of water-based inks, causing smearing of the artwork.

If transportation happens across different climate zones, taking environment into consideration is a must for a solid distribution strategy.

Think Ahead when Selecting Primary Packages

There is usually a bias toward primary packaging when allocating investments on a packaging strategy for a given product. The reason is simple: the primary package is seen as way to deliver a brand’s value proposition. In contrast, secondary/tertiary packaging are perceived as pure means of transportation with little value for consumers. This approach can lead to critical distribution failures.

A primary package designed to go into a specific RFC may not fit well into a different corrugated box or a shrink bundle. Structural integrity, dunnage and headspace are all variables that may play a role and are difficult or expensive to adapt on-the-go.

Thinking about all levels of the packaging hierarchy up front makes packaging design more efficient as well as cost-effective.

Scalability Considerations

In addition to selecting a package that is robust enough to protect the product throughout the distribution environment, one factor that often gets overlooked during package design is scalability.

Though an effective packaging strategy should work given the current outlook of a business (existing volumes, clients, distribution channels etc.), it is also important to take future scenarios into consideration.

Is the business projected to grow sharply in the next five years? Is it expanding to new geographic areas around the globe? Will other products or handling technologies be added to the current portfolio? These are all important questions to ask at the beginning of the design phase to avoid the pitfalls of a short-sighted packaging strategy.

Here are few examples:

  • An increase in volume of product shipped may lead to the necessity of stacking products with an additional layer in the warehouse. This may ultimately lead to static compression failures if not adequately planned for.
  • Shifting from LTL to FTL may require a different unitization strategy (e.g. stacking more boxes per pallet requires more robust shrink wrap).
  • Adding a new client from a tropical country can lead to distribution failures from humidity and heat, as described earlier.

If a business is planning to expand in the next five years, now is the most convenient time to take corrective actions and avoid costly packaging strategy changes along the way.

Involve Customers and Carriers Early

Testing is an effective way of predicting the performance of packaging in its distribution environment. Amazon, for example, has developed its own testing methodology and technology to drastically reduce damages due to transportation. Amazon suggests that its packaging selector reduced product damage rates by a staggering 24%.

While this technology is proprietary to Amazon, the methodology behind it is something other companies can learn from. Unless products are shipped through a heavily regulated channel, a solid testing strategy should be developed by the packaging design team. Even if your testing is based on standards developed by organizations like ISTA, it is important to involve customers and carriers early in the design process.

The key factor that businesses tend to miss is that testing is done in a lab, while products are shipped in the real world. How roughly will the product be handled by humans? What is the maximum temperature that will be reached inside a container? What is the vibration profile that most accurately mirrors the one of a specific distribution mode? While the packaging design team can surely answer these questions with estimated values, the feedback from customers and carriers is a crucial step that will help you avoid costly mistakes.

Moreover, retrieving real world information on distribution channels can be made automatic with supply chain visibility tools. This technology uses sensors to monitor packages during transportation by collecting real time data such as temperature, humidity, shock, light and location. This provides packaging engineers with accurate data on which they can build a successful distribution strategy.

To summarize, it is important that the packaging design team leaves the lab often to get a firsthand view of what happens to the packages at all touchpoints along the supply chain. They’re likely to discover surprises that lab testing won’t reveal.


It is always difficult to predict what will happen to packages as they move through the supply chain and experience increased hazards. Incorporating these three concepts early in the design of a distribution strategy is a simple but effective way to avoid unwanted and expensive blunders.

In order to ensure your package will arrive at its destination intact, leverage experts who have knowledge of regulatory standards, package validation and distribution qualification to avoid wasting critical time or experiencing expensive pitfalls.

If you need assistance with developing packaging for your distribution environment, our engineers have extensive experience and are ready to help. Contact Us.

If you need more in-depth information about developing packaging for distribution, check out our resource library, which includes a variety of infographics and white papers that offer valuable information on the topic.