To get firsthand experience in the packaging industry, you can call local manufacturers to see how they handle and package their products. Often, factories will allow visitors to tour their manufacturing and packaging facilities.
Another way to learn about packaging is by observing the packaging that you encounter every day, such as containers for food, beverages, cosmetics, and household goods. Visit stores to see how products are packaged, stored, or displayed. Notice the shape and labeling on the container, its ease of use, durability for storage, convenience of opening and closing, disposability, and attractiveness.
You may also explore your aptitude and interest in a packaging career through graphic design courses, art classes that include construction activities, and computer-aided design classes. Participating in hobbies that include designing and constructing objects from different types of materials can also be beneficial.
Packaging engineers plan, design, and develop containers for all types of products. When developing a package, they must first determine the purpose of the packaging and the needs of the end users and their clients. Packaging for a product is needed for a variety of reasons: for shipping, storage, display, or protection. A package for display must be attractive as well as durable and easy to store; labeling and perishability are important considerations, especially for food, medicine, and cosmetics. If the packaging purpose is for storage and shipping, then ease of handling and durability must be considered. Safety factors are involved if the materials to be packaged are hazardous, such as toxic chemicals or explosives. Packaging engineers develop the most efficient way to package a product as well as comply with all government regulations. The environmental effect of packaging is an increasing consideration.
After determining the purpose of the packaging, the engineers study the physical properties and handling requirements of the product in order to develop the best kind of packaging. They study and create drawings and descriptions of new or existing products. They decide what kind of packaging material to use and with the help of designers, production workers, and marketing personnel, they make samples of the package. These samples, along with lists of materials and cost estimates, are submitted to management or directly to the customer. Computer design programs, such as Auto Cad and Autodesk Inventor, may be used in the packaging design and manufacturing process.
When finalizing plans for packaging a product, packaging engineers contribute additional expertise in other areas. They are concerned with efficient use of raw materials and production facilities as well as conservation of energy and reduction of costs. For instance, they may use materials that can be recycled, or they may try to cut down on weight and size. They must keep up with the latest developments in packaging methods and materials and often recommend innovative ways to package products. Once all the details for packaging are worked out, packaging engineers may be involved in supervising the filling and packing operations, operating production lines, or drawing up contracts with customers or sales representatives. They should be knowledgeable about production and manufacturing processes, as well as sales and customer service.
After a packaging sample is approved, packaging engineers may supervise the testing of the package. This may involve simulation of all the various conditions a packaged good may be subjected to, such as temperature, handling, and shipping.
This can be a complex operation involving several steps. For instance, perishable items such as food and beverages have to be packaged to avoid spoilage. Electronic components have to be packaged to prevent damage to parts. Whether the items to be packaged are food, chemicals, medicine, electronics, or factory parts, considerable knowledge of the properties of these products is often necessary to make suitable packaging.
Design and marketing factors also need to be considered when creating the actual package that will be seen by the consumer. Packaging engineers work with graphic designers and packaging designers to design effective packaging that will appeal to consumers. For this task, knowledge of marketing, design, and advertising are essential. Packaging designers consider color, shape, and convenience as well as labeling and other informative features when designing packages for display. Very often, the consumer is able to evaluate a product only from its package.
The many different kinds of packages require different kinds of machinery and skills. For example, the beverage industry produces billions of cans, bottles, and cardboard containers. Often packaging engineers are involved in selecting and designing packaging machinery along with other engineers and production personnel. Packaging can be manufactured either at the same facility where the goods are produced or at facilities that specialize in producing packaging materials.
The packaging engineer must also consider safety, health, and legal factors when designing and producing packaging. Various guidelines apply to the packaging process of certain products and the packaging engineer must be aware of these regulations. Labeling and packaging of products are regulated by various federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that safe packaging materials be used for food and cosmetics.