In the world of consumer products, shelf appeal is becoming increasingly important and packaging has become a major product differentiator. But sometimes the marketing geeks come up with a packaging geometry that is not compatible with automated equipment, which sets up some interesting design challenges, says Michele Falsini, export sales manager for RONCHI Mario, a manufacturer of flexible packaging machinery in Gessate, Italy.
DN: How important is packaging to today's consumer product companies?
Falsini: As a huge element of brand awareness and promotion, packaging can literally be the key to the success or failure of a product. So companies are now focusing their efforts on redesigning the container, color, labeling, closure and shape in order to improve shelf appeal and convenience of use of the product. A clearly recognizable package profile is most important.
DN: What are some of the specific qualities of successful product packaging?
Falsini: Several attributes together create a successful packaging solution; shelf appeal, added convenience and a clearly recognizable package profile. These attributes require the development of more and more sophisticated container and closure shapes. Containers with profile lines that are traditionally regular and straight, for example, can become curved and round.
DN: Yikes! How do you cope with that when your automated machines have been happily handling containers with, say, a straight profile?
Falsini: Conflicts with existing packaging machine lines immediately emerge, triggering a sequence of new manufacturing problems to resolve, beginning with the analysis of the impact of the new container on any existing equipment. There's also the issue that the new package designs requested by marketing present features that cannot be handled on the current automated lines. The dilemma may be resolved by developing new machinery technology capable of producing the package or by proposing modifications to the container or closure that would enable the use of traditional lines.
DN: I suppose you can't just up and fire the marketing geek who came up with the new package design?
Falsini: No. Collaboration by both marketing and manufacturing is paramount in order to develop the most practical and cost-effective way to handle the new packaging design. At this stage our end users will provide us with conceptual drawings and samples if available. The OEM's expertise helps to determine the limits of the equipment and what improvements can be applied. In most cases, the most practical solution is to modify the challenging features of the new package to better suit the existing machine limits.
DN: Do you have any good war stories?
Falsini: A famous example is the inverted hair conditioner bottle that stands on the cap. This new, and at the time highly unusual, design required equipment capable of handling and filling bottles that could not stand on their own or be transported without some form of added support. This required the bottle be inserted into a transport "puck," which essentially is a carrier dedicated to the profile for each bottle format that travels with the bottle to the end of the line. After the cap is placed on the bottle, the bottle is removed from the puck and inverted to the cap-down attitude for downstream transport.
DN: Does marketing ever back down?
Falsini: We had a project involving a new spray-pump trigger with virtually no flat edges to guide and control its position while applying it to the container, making it impossible to run it on any of our customer's machines. This forced marketing to reconsider and redesign the pump to fit the equipment capabilities. But it's not about who wins or loses. The most successful projects involve a high degree of collaboration between marketing, manufacturing and engineering.