Packaging development and implementation

The process for developing and implementing a new pack will include:

  • Identify/select packaging supplier
  • Draft packaging specifications
  • Get prototypes
  • Lab testing
  • On-line trials & Quality checks
  • Qualification
  • Launch

Identify / source suppliers
Factors to take into account when considering suppliers are:

Technical capability – are they able to produce the design you have chosen? Is the design practical and can the supplier help in guiding the design to a realistic production-scale design?

Capacity – does the supplier have the capacity to produce the volumes of your packaging that you require?

Business profile – does your requirement fit their business profile i.e. if they commonly produce large volumes of simple products and you require small volumes of an intricate product will they have the systems and structure to manage your requirements?

Quality / reliability – Do they have demonstrable quality systems and a track record of providing the quality you need consistently?

Risk management/contingency planning – do they have systems in place to deal with equipment failures, fire and flood or workforce issues?

Cost – can they produce the product at an appropriate price?

Geographic location – what are the costs and logistic issues associated with their location?

Draft packaging specification
In conjunction with your designer and your supplier you will need to create a draft specification that covers dimensions, materials and colours, together with specific features such as permeability for barrier materials or dosing volume for valves or pumps. This specification will be refined by prototyping and trials to ensure it is practical, fit for purpose and can be reproduced at production scale.

You will also need to consider the pack’s performance within the supply chain:
How will it be delivered to the packaging line?
How will it be filled?
What are the requirements of the filling/ packaging line to handle the pack? 
Is it stable or will it require special holders on the packaging line in order to fill it?
How will the filled unit be packed and what are the handling requirements?
How will it be displayed if retail?
How will it be used?

Having established a draft specification you will have prototypes prepared. This will give you a real sense of how the finished pack will look and feel. It is also an opportunity to refer the design back to marketing for feedback, and gain an understanding of its handling requirements and performance through initial/lab testing.

Prototyping can be relatively low cost for paper / board products such and labels, cartons and corrugated but expensive for moulded items such as rigid plastics, glass and drawn metal containers.

Prototypes will usually be produced on sample cutting machines or small-scale equipment so production scale tolling will be required before larger volumes can be produced.

Lab testing

Lab testing can cover:
Basic form and functionality of the pack
Dispensing / opening and closing
Leak testing
Drop testing
Simulated transit testing

More involved tests involve areas such as stability and migration studies to prove or verify shelf life. These may be simulations of climate for specific markets and or accelerated ageing testing protocols using small batches of the actual product in the actual packs at elevated temperature and humidity. There may also be testing for photo stability and light fastness to see how exposure to sunlight affects the pack and the product. These tests could lead to a revision of the specification and further testing.

On-line trials & quality checks
Line trials are essential to prove the capability of producing a finished pack reliably, in suitable quality and in the volumes required. Any new packaging machinery will require its own validation. 

Packaging line trials can identify issues in:
Unpacking and feeding components
Filling the pack
Closing the pack (sealing or applying closure)
Other pack assembly e.g. labelling, cartoning, adding leaflets etc.
Batch / expiry coding
Collating packs
Wrapping or casing packs
Delivering shipping unit (e.g. multi units in a case) at end of line

Qualification / validation
Validation is intended to check that a production system meets the initial requirements, specifications, and regulations.

Where a new packaging line is required to pack the product it must be validated. This will include Design Qualification (DQ), Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ) and Performance Qualification (PQ). These are intended to establish that the design is fit for purpose and the line has been installed and operates correctly, and to check the performance characteristics such as speed capability, quality and consistency of operation.

Qualification of a new pack may include validation of the supplier’s equipment, process, and product as well as qualification of packaging lines. Where parts of the pack are off-the-shelf items such as standard bottles data should already be available.

Qualification should also include the supply chain to establish actual hazards and practicalities. An example of this could be shipping packs with temperature monitoring equipment embedded in the pack to establish actual conditions and pack performance for products which require temperature-controlled distribution. While this may have been done earlier in the process for qualification purposes it should be repeated with multiple packs to achieve statistically valid results.

The stages outlined above could take from a few months to a few years but typically the timing of the launch will have been established and linked to external factors such as a specific event or season. It is important to ensure that all of the above stages have been completed and the pack and the packaging process are fit for purpose in time to produce sufficient product for the launch date. 

It is very common for final production to be very close to launch deadlines and the packaging specialist may need to give final approval or guidance to suppliers across all components and on packaging lines during the immediate pre-launch period. 

It is recommended that packaging specialists use project management tools such as critical path analysis, and Gantt charts (available as computer software), together with risk analysis and contingency planning to manage the processes involved.

Timescales and costs

If using an off the shelf bottle and closure with a label and a carton, prototypes could be prepared within a week or two at virtually no cost. Samples for lab testing and line trials could be sourced in a few weeks. But with bespoke plastic, metal or glass containers it can take many weeks to create tooling costing tens of thousands of pounds to produce samples.

Given enough complexity, costs can almost be as high as you want to make them, but as a general guide:

Activity Timescale Cost
Identify suppliers 0-4 weeks  
Evaluate suppliers 4 - 12 weeks  
Draft specifications 2-4 weeks  
Prototyping 1- 12 weeks £0 - £'000's
Lab testing 4 - 26 weeks £'00's - £'000's
Line trials 4 - 8 weeks £'000's - £'0,000's
Qualification 4 - 8 weeks £'000's - £'0,000's

Suppliers may provide prototypes and line trial samples at minimal cost on the basis of securing a contract, but lab testing and line trials do carry costs for equipment, consumables and manpower.

As a further guide:
Die cutting tooling for labels £’00’s – low £’000’s
Die cutting tooling for cartons £’00’s - low 000’s
Injection moulding tooling £’000s – £’0,000’s
Blow moulding tooling £’000’s - £’0,000’s
Glass moulding tooling £’000’s - £0’000s
Metal forming tooling £0’000’s