Goof proof packaging

Product development

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Different tea packs at a prominent retail store in India

“Goof-up!” Say those two small words today and most people would probably instantly answer, “Organising Committee, CWG 2010.” But I daresay most of us in the packaging development fraternity also flinch at the mere mention of those two words.

A goof-up in packaging development could easily be termed as the equivalent of the Titanic hitting an iceberg. A goof-up has the most likelihood of striking just when the launch is underway and everything looks as though it’s going to be smooth sailing ahead. A goof-up can take months, if not years, worth of planning and hard work down the drain with it. It has the power to leave a permanent mark on individual memories as well as the history of companies. In simple terms a goof-up in packaging design and development is an innocuous error or omission on the development checklist. It has the power to incubate within the system and grow to monstrous proportions just below the visible layers of activity and strike massively at a moment which proves to be the most destructive. No wonder that the packaging industry today treats its existence with great reverence and attempts to do everything in its power to minimize its destructive potential.

Take a look at the spontaneous outpourings from some widely experienced Heads of Packaging Development of leading companies:

“This reminds me of the time we decided to package our popular brand of Pain Balm in redesigned glass bottles. The neck diameter of the old bottles was narrower than the body of the bottle. This resulted in a step inside the bottle which prevented the balm from being taken out completely. In the new bottle design the inside surface of the bottle was made smooth, resulting in the body diameter and the thread-screw OD being cylindrically the same. All pilot filling trials and transit tests with the new bottles were done studiously. The launch was ready. However, there was just one fatal flaw; No one had considered testing the bottle machine-ability at the full throttle speed of 140 bpm. At that speed, with the bottles jostling against each other, the screw threads got dam- aged and the subsequent capping was a complete failure.” C K Narayanan, ex Head of Packaging, of a leading Pharma and FMCG MNC.

“There was a sudden shortage of aluminum foil required for our about-to-be launched brand of Instant Tea powder. We made a shortcut decision to use metallised film as a substitute, under pressure from the Brand Managers, without going through the testing protocols. This proved fatal for the product. Commercial supplies had to be recalled. Metallised film just could not provide adequate moisture barrier and the powder in the pouches was found caked.” — Vijay Sood, leading Packaging Consultant and ex Head of Packaging, of a FMCG product MNC.

“We were launching a unique effervescent tablet in a PP tube for the first time. We decided to use a self-adhesive label printed on Chromo Art paper. At the last minute before commercial supply of the labels, we accepted a demand by the Marketing Group, to substitute the Chromo paper with Mirror Coat paper. No adhesion tests were conducted. We assumed the self-adhesive would be strong enough to hold the Mirror Coat paper. Imagine our horror therefore when we found all supplies of the packed product had labels falling off in the Warehouse, just before Launch. We had failed to consider the higher stiffness of the Mirror Coat paper in comparison to the Chromo Art paper.” Shahidi Ainan, ex Head of Packaging, of a leading Indian pharma MNC.

“Once, a wrong Bar Code found its way into the commercial print run of the laminate of our popular pet food. Another time we had an incident with a mis-printed protein percentage in the nutrition table. Luckily we do not have many design changes in our product range during a year. Our operations are also relatively less complex. In this way we can manage to prevent most such potentially costly errors in time, simply by a strict system of manually managed processes.” Amrish Chowdhary, Operations Manager Pack n’Flow, a processed food MNC.

“Due to a delay in the arrival of our imported packaging machinery, we decided to test pack our new chocolate confectionery by hand under the assumption that subsequent machine packaging would just make it better. The decision to bypass those machine- ability trials was a catastrophe. The seal strength of the laminate used was not good enough for the machine packing. The entire commercial lot was rejected. The product launch had to be rescheduled.” Vijay Sood, leading Packaging Consultant and ex Head of Packaging, of a FMCG product MNC.

“I cannot forget the time when we made a 30 tons supply of metallised laminate in 40 rolls of the material. We were outsourcing the metallised PE from a reliable partner vendor who had regularly supplied us the material. The strange part was that of the 40 rolls supplied, 37 were delaminating at the “green bond” stage itself while the remaining 3 were found OK. Careful backtracking of the problem revealed that the metallised PE for this particular supply had been sourced from two different vendors. While in one case the metallising had been done correctly on the treated side of the PE, in the other case the treated side had not been metallised. The problem arose from an incomplete specification, wherein the Unwind Direction of the film rolls had not been correctly specified. In the end a minor goof such as this ballooned into a costly and irreversible material rejection.” — Sombir Singh, ex Chief GM, of a leading flexible laminate unit.

“Secondary packaging industry in this country is largely unorganised. It is also often the last item to be considered on the packaging developer’s check-list. This makes it the most treacherous as a potential area for goof-ups. CFB suppliers are notorious for taking quality short-cuts. Poor paper quality, incorrect flute sizes, high moisture content or insufficient adhesive usage have been the common reasons for spoiling several product launches.” — Vijay Sood, leading packaging Consultant and ex Head of Packaging, of a FMCG product MNC.

Making packaging development incident free

Not too long ago there was a time when the packaging design and development process was entirely manual. Pack structure drawings were sketched by artists in 3D and technical detail drawings were made manually on drafting boards. Artworks were generated by pasting typeset and photo bromide prints into place on a card. The art- works were carried around to the various departments of the company to confirm ac- curacy and compliance. The entire workflow navigation from origination to launch was steered by the packaging development department. Understandably human error and sole responsibility of just one department made this process full of potential pitfalls. However, the markets were relatively small and unsophisticated. Tooling and origination costs were low. The risks of a goof-up were high but the damage could be contained.

Today with the geographical spread of multi-national companies across the globe packaging design and development has become a gigantic and complex blend of engineering, statutory, legal and marketing issues, involving large tooling and start-up costs in order to give products a distinctive and competitive edge in the market. For these reasons contemporary consumer product companies need to run their new product development management processes strictly on no surprises at the end basis. A determined attempt is constantly made to ensure that the entire packaging development process happens smoothly and in this way remains incident free. Regular reporting of quality incidents is in-built into the process and efforts are constantly made to get better and better at it. “We are governed by a quality incident target of less than 0.5%, in a full year,” says the head of a design centre providing outsourced packaging design services to a leading MNC from India.

Integrated process, no shortcuts

“Management pressure, overconfidence or temptation to jump into the market with- out adequate preparation,” says Vijay Sood, “often leads to shortcuts or bypassing of the due process by which new products must be developed safely.” One such shortcut that is often neglected is the full-scale shelf-life study. As most shelf-life or product-pack compatibility trials demand a six-month study using the actual packaging in which the product is to be marketed, this becomes a significant milestone in the development time-line of a product being hustled to market. In such instances decisions are taken to do a controlled launch while continuing to do a parallel shelf-life study. The bitter experiences of several developers bear testimony to the risks inherent in such decisions.

Just for such reasons modern consumer product companies have channeled their new product development management processes into strictly regimented programs variously termed: new product idea funnel; speed gate method; step-wise process and so on.

The terminology differs but nowadays most companies follow a 4 to 5 step process. It aims to integrate, channelize and prioritize product launches based on the profitability and do-ability of the idea. Broadly the gates which any new product development must cross are:

– idea
– conceptual design
– product development – pilot trials and testing – commercialization

Going further, the entire development cycle is controlled by a set of decision points. The feasibility and suitability of going forward with a new product is assessed on the basis of a re- quest from the Brand Marketing Group. It moves forward to the next stage only after a reconfirmation. Once a request has crossed the initial decision points it is easily processed for its operational and engineering requirements and finally delivered to any of the pre-approved packaging vendors of the principal company for manufacturing and supply. At this point it needs to be ensured that the development inputs being provided to the specific vendor take into account the machine signature of the production or printing machine on which the particular component is to be manufactured. This may be in terms of the dimensional or colour tolerances that need to be maintained. It ensures that dimensional and print accuracy is painlessly achieved.

Obviously there are several dozens of steps along the way where potential quality incidents could occur. The entire process needs to be managed efficiently, end-to-end, in order to ensure success. To overcome the potential pitfalls, and take the guess work out from such a complex process, involving several people and agencies spread across the globe, several pre-planned templates have been developed for use in cases of 2D or 3D design. These include key-line drawings for cartons, labels, tubes, sachets and blister cards. For bottles, caps and closures, similarly, norms and tolerances have been standardized and are applied keeping in view the requirements of the filling and packaging plant for which the packaging components are destined. This be- comes even more critical when one product is to be manufactured across several centres.

Mapping the I should have hazards

“The saddest words in the English language,” says Shiv Khera, the popular motivational expert, are: “I should have.” The intention of any integrated pack development process is to map all the spots where it would be prudent to be cautious. It may add up to be a long and cumbersome process but it is designed to avoid those sad little words: I should have.

The article was first published in the September October 2010 issue of Packaging South Asia.

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An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.

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