Packaging development in manufacturing companies is a multifaceted process. The creation of a package that will be successful in the marketplace involves virtually every department in a company.
Using 3-D software, a packaging designer experiments with a prototype in order to eliminate, or at least reduce, potential problems. When a marketable product has been developed, the manufacturer assigns a packaging engineer to select or develop a packaging system that provides all the physical benefits required. Then a packaging graphic designer creates an appealing package. The designer may be faced with either an existing product that needs to be repackaged or a new product. In the first case, the designer works with the engineer to determine the suitability of new packaging materials for the product and to establish a graphic image that is up to date and intensifies its competitive position. For a new product entering the marketplace, the designer has somewhat more freedom but still has to consider the specific needs of the client, manufacturer, retailer, consumer, and economy.
A package is the last link in product communications, and on the crowded shelves of a store, it must serve as a "silent salesperson" that conveys the image of the product and the company that produces it. The contribution that packaging makes to the product, however, goes considerably beyond this billboard function. A package is expected to be functional, too. It must adequately protect the product up to the point of sale and beyond, and should provide consumers with easy opening and closing features. This is true not only of consumer-type packages but also of containers used in industrial and military situations as well.
The American consumer is particularly oriented toward self-service. The average U.S. supermarket carried about 33,055 items in 2018, the most recent data available according to the Food Marketing Institute. While the consumer wheels the shopping cart around, each product receives only a fraction of a second of the shopper's attention. It is therefore extremely important that the shape, color, and graphic image are unique enough to generate attention and encourage purchase.
Within this overall concept, the packaging graphic designer has to incorporate the various requirements specified under government regulations, such as net content statements. The package has to protect the product against spoilage, breakage, and tampering. It has to contain the exact weight or measure as stated and has to be easy for the retailer to stack and convenient for the consumer to use. Most important, the packaging has to be economical.
To this end, the designer has to investigate the adaptability of the new package to existing machinery, as well as space availability on the supermarket shelf. Out of this investigation, the packaging graphic designer often develops innovative uses of methods and materials.
The packaging graphic designer is also often involved in the development of shipping containers and point-of-purchase displays and other promotional material related to the presentation of the product to the consumer. Many packaging graphic design firms cover all these functions through in-house personnel; others hire outside consultant services. In either case, the packaging graphic designer must bridge the gap between manufacturer and consumer.
New package graphics are made possible by computer-generated designs that provide three-dimensional views and a variety of type styles and other graphic elements, including logos. Many designers, however, continue to favor three-dimensional physical models so prototypes are often made.
Once a package has been designed, it is up to the packaging engineer to determine how to produce the package in mass quantities. The engineer must be an expert in industrial, mechanical, or electrical engineering and apply classical principles to the packaging solution. The engineer selects existing machinery that can be adapted or creates new equipment that efficiently produces the packaging without changing the marketing objectives set forth by the company. Since engineering is a precise form of technology that does not normally include subjective considerations such as marketing, its application in the packaging field requires engineers with creativity and intuition.
The introduction of plastic packaging materials and the creation of new packaging forms such as plastic soft drink containers and flexible food pouches have posed difficult problems in the manufacturing and handling of these packages on production lines. As machine speeds increased, simple mechanical methods for controlling action gave way to electronic controls. Thus, mechanical engineers in packaging companies are being joined by electrical and electronics engineers. The leading professional group for these latter specialists, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has studied the special problems existing in packaging equipment. The organization for machinery builders, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, is also concerned with the recognition of packaging as a legitimate and separate branch of engineering.
Because the functions of machines and materials are interlocked in the creation of a packaging form, some machinery companies and even engineering groups in large packaging organizations now station chemical engineers in the same department with mechanical engineers to give them authoritative answers on materials' properties. Chemical engineers are, of course, indispensable in the production of many packaging materials and containers, particularly those incorporating plastics, paper, and paperboard.
As packaging machines have become more automated and packaging operations more complex, there has been a need for closer study of the relationships between workers and machines and of the best methods to achieve efficiency in these production operations. This has led to increasing use of industrial engineers trained specifically in packaging operations. To solve complex problems in packaging design, most companies have turned to computers, making the computer specialist and data processing staffs a vital part of the packaging function.
Packaging engineers are assisted by packaging machinery technicians, who build, maintain, and repair machinery. There is a growing need for skilled technicians who fill the gap between design engineers and production workers who assemble machinery and monitor its operation.
Some companies still use committees made up of representatives from all departments involved in the packaging function to work out packaging problems. In a packaging department, on the other hand, a relatively small group of workers devotes its whole time to working out what has become a continuing series of interconnected problems. Some companies have given the packaging function great status and head the packaging group with a vice president.
The executive in charge of packaging must not only know, or have access to, technical knowledge of the materials and methods for constructing packages but also must determine whether they can be produced economically by outside suppliers or by in-plant facilities. There is increasing demand for packaging specialists to act as staff advisers on such technical matters and to coordinate packaging development.
To sell packaging materials or machines successfully in today's competitive market, a salesperson must have knowledge of how the product will be used by packagers and often must supply creative ideas on new package designs or production techniques. Many packaging supply firms employ specialists who can assist the salespeople, including experts in printing and the graphic arts and structural packaging design and mechanical engineers. This is especially true of those companies that convert basic raw materials into finished cartons, cans, and bottles. Basic manufacturers of raw materials, such as plastic resins and metal sheet and foil, also employ packaging technologists to assist their customers.