Is the need for a smarter supply chain a constraint on packaging design?This side upModern packaging – as the term implies – has many sides. Traditionally the marketing side (function) played the most significant role and governed the process of creative design, on-pack communication and appearance of the package that would go to the market. Gradually, due to statutory issues, materials and technology progress and the appearance of organized retailers, many more sides have been added to the packaging design decision-making process. The Legal side governs the information and declarations that must perforce appear on the packaging. The Manufacturing side determines the selection of materials and equipment on which the packaging is made. The Retailing side decides how the packaging will be displayed and how the customer will experience it at the point-of-sale. In this process the challenges for the packaging designer have become tremendous.The designer must accommodate not only the often conflicting demands on the packaging being designed but also retain freshness and creativity to make it stand out uniquely enough to attract the attention of the consumerThe designer must not only accommodate the (often conflicting) demands on the packaging being designed but also retain freshness and creativity to make it stand out uniquely enough to attract the attention of the consumer. “Not only must it look great,” demands the brand owner, “but also it must have minimum possible cost implications on the supply chain logistics.”
‘Integration’ is the new buzz word in packaging design. The packaging and logistics functions are merging. As Alex Stark, VP marketing, www.kaneisable.com, writes, “Packaging decisions that don’t consider the downstream supply chain logistics costs – can drain profits.” Consumer product companies have started involving specialist Third Party Logistics (3PL) companies in the packaging decision making process to influence packaging decisions and even take over the entire secondary packaging operations. Welcome to the new Integrated Supply Chain. Packaging is no longer the discreet function and domain of the marketing function that it used to be.
“A package may look great,” the 3PL companies are asking, “but what is it going to cost to produce and distribute competitively?” Sriman Banerjee, head of packaging development. Glaxo Smith Kline, Parsippanny, NJ quoted in Packworld puts it succinctly. “Packaging supply chain efficiency (today),” he says, “must be a judicious mix of engineering, material science, standardization and logistics.” Notice here how the conventional understanding of ‘design’ in terms of 3D form, graphic art, communication, print and consumer convenience is missing from the wish-list.
So, what exactly are these new paradigms that the pack designer must aim to satisfy? Taken broadly from the prescriptions set-out by the 3PL specialists like Kane or leading packaging developers like Banerjee in GSK, it has become mandatory for packaging decision makers to consider the following current trends:
Packaging reduction: To use the least possible amount of material needed to effectively store, transport, display and sell a product. A typical example is to compare packaging of RTD beverages in stand-up spout pouches instead of rigid cartons or bottles. It saves transport volume and weight and adds the least to land fills. In the words of Kane, “it is a clear example of where interests of marketing, supply chain and sustainability intersect.” It is often referred to as ‘optimization’ and down-gauging, light-weighting, re-sizing and value analysis are its objectives – without losing out on ‘size impression’ or ‘customer perception.’As Banerjee correctly points out, “Computer simulation and Finite Element Analysis are the tools that will be increasingly called for going forward.”
More automation: End-of-line packaging operations need to be managed with the least amount of labour and an ability to ‘crank out millions of cases’ based on demand volatility. As Banerjee points out, “Your upstream operations may be capable of being speeded up but what use would that be if the downstream, end-of-line is bottle-necked and limits your output capacity.” Automation options to overcome such constraints include machines such as case-erectors, case packers, tapers and stretch wrappers.
Flexibility to configure case pack requirements customized to end-user needs (or even individual customer needs as required by eTailers) is in demand. Technology solutions are needed to substitute labour in order to ensure flexibility and reliability. All this necessarily imposes the need for more standardization in packaging choices.