Packaging projects are complex and interdisciplinary, as they involve designing both three-dimensional and two-dimensional components to fulfill functions such as protection, communication, and utility in different settings.
This process typically results in a multi-component system that includes primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, the development process impacts all organizational functions, including research, sales, finance, legal, and general management. However, marketing, design, and manufacturing are particularly crucial, as they remain involved in the project from start to finish.
Initial Concept of Packaging Design
To ensure a well-rounded approach, it is recommended that the design team for packaging systems includes representatives from various related areas. While numerous design and development processes are available in the literature, many share common concepts that can be applied to packaging design.
Critical Stages of Packaging Design
Regardless of the specific packaging design, the project typically involves four key stages: research, design, development, and manufacturing. We must adopt a six-phase approach from Ulrich and Eppinger (PDF book link) to provide a comprehensive methodology for developing packaging systems.
Each phase of the process involves an evaluation of the design features to determine which will advance to the next stage.
Evaluations include testing (mechanical and chemical), user assessment, and/or internal assessment. The process is iterative and usually bidirectional, meaning that information gathered in later phases can be used to modify and feed early stages.
The process phases are defined regarding the state of the packaging design being developed. They are as follows: The evaluation process of a packaging system typically involves mechanical and chemical testing, user assessment, and internal assessment.
The process is iterative and bidirectional, where information gathered in later phases can be used to modify and improve the earlier stages. The different steps of the evaluation process are defined based on the current state of the packaging system being developed.
- Concept design
- System design
Planning, concept design, system design, specification refinements, and production are the key stages in developing any successful product.
Planning involves brainstorming ideas and identifying potential problems that may arise during the design and production processes.
Concept design is creating a rough product sketch to visualize its appearance and features.
System design is the stage where the product’s internal components and workings are determined, ensuring that the product operates as intended.
Specification refinements involve finalizing the product’s design and ensuring it meets all required specifications.
Finally, production consists in manufacturing the product on a large scale while maintaining quality. Each stage of the development process is crucial, and careful consideration must be given to ensure that the final product meets the needs and expectations of the intended audience.
Packaging Matrix Helps in Packaging Design
The Packaging Matrix is a valuable resource for designers as it helps them make informed decisions while considering multiple perspectives.
It recognizes packaging as a multidimensional discipline that serves three crucial functions: protection, utility, and communication. These functions must be performed in three distinct environments: physical, ecospheric, and human.
Protection, Utility, and Communication
Although these environments often interact, the Packaging Matrix segregates them for clarity and ease of understanding.
Packaging plays a crucial role in product protection and containment. Still, it also significantly impacts the decision-making process and experiences of those interacting with it throughout the supply chain.
Packaging Design Tools
The packaging matrix provides a visual tool for managing the intersections between packaging function and the environment. Designers must consider all nine matrix intersections from the perspectives of various supply chain members to make optimal decisions that maximize all intersections without compromising others.
When designing a package for prescription drugs, it’s essential to consider both human safety and ease of accessibility. While a child-resistant container may seem like the obvious choice to protect children, it may also prevent seniors from being able to access their medications.
This is an example of sub-optimization, where one aspect of the packaging design is prioritized over another, ultimately compromising the overall functionality of the package.
A well-designed packaging system considers human protection and utility, ensuring all users can access their medications safely and efficiently.
Packaging is a relatively new field of study, and as such, not all packaging areas have been equally explored scientifically. However, the ecospheric and physical environments have been extensively studied, resulting in established testing methods, predictive models, and innovative designs.
On the other hand, the human environment has received different scientific attention.
Packaging plays a vital role in protecting products from damage caused by exposure to air, water, light, temperature, and living organisms in the ecospheric environment. Over time, material and packaging innovations have significantly developed, ranging from basic to advanced techniques.
Society has benefited from these developments, including creating amber glass and canning. These polymers allow for lighter and less breakable packages than glass or metal, the integration of additives that extend shelf life by removing oxygen or killing microbes, and the introduction of nanocomposites, among others.
Innovation has been driven by science, both historically and in modern times.
One way science has contributed to creation is using Fickian models, which explain how molecules move through barriers. Additionally, sorption moisture isotherms can be used to characterize the delicacy of a product.
This information can be leveraged to predict and understand how long a product will stay fresh on the shelf, using multiple test standards such as Shelf life, Testing, Permeation, and Leakage.
Solubility parameters help predict the possibility of product/package interaction. Active packaging is a technique that modifies and responds to the internal and external environment to extend a product’s shelf life. Material scientists and chemical engineers have been studying material chemistries to identify the weak links that can be transformed to create biodegradable or compostable polymers. This is aimed at achieving the goal of a sustainable product that minimizes environmental impact.