7 Tips on How to Creatively 'Design for Manufacture'

September 23, 2005

7 Tips on How to Creatively 'Design for Manufacture'


Published in Food & Drug Packaging
Special Report | Sept 2005

by Lisa McTigue Pierce, Editor-in-Chief 
 

Manufacturing capabilities needn’t limit creativity in packaging design, but they do need to be considered. 

In this new era of interdepartmental cooperation, the age-old battle between marketing’s cool package designs and manufacturing’s limited resources may finally be won—by both parties!

Packages have to run efficiently on a production line, but that doesn’t mean you are limited in creating an innovative design. You can do both. You have to do both because consumers demand innovation today, and manufacturing is the vehicle that delivers millions of that design to the public.

“At some point, you need to meet the needs of manufacturing,” says Peter Clarke, president of Product Ventures Ltd., an industrial design and engineering firm that also and coordinates manufacturing.

Jeff George, director of packaging technology for Quaker Foods, a PepsiCo Co., has worked with Clarke to develop a system of creative package design by expanding what he calls the “sweet spot,” the balance between innovation and existing production capability.

“In working in packaging design, I’ve had experiences where we’ve done brainstorming. In general, you get ideas that are creative and sometimes ‘out there’. When you start to narrow and see what makes sense, sometimes 100% of those designs get dismissed,” George says. “But if you start with what you have, it overly constrains the design process. You’re locked in and get a ‘me-too’ package.”

The solution, George says, is to allow for more free-form thinking, yet do it within guard rails of what’s capable from a manufacturing and financial standpoint.

A creative package meets or exceeds specific consumer needs and provides brand differentiation. As more companies realize that innovation is key to moving their brands forward, they’re devoting a significant portion of their revenue to packaging design, says John Miziolek, marketing director at Logosbrands, a leading Canadian branding and package design firm.

“Any company, every company, should be pushing the envelope. The objective is to leapfrog the competition and still keep within production cost controls, but not be hampered by them,” says Miziolek. “It’s a balance between innovation and cost control.”
 

The cost/benefit factor

To harmonize consumer needs with manufacturing needs, a package design must be provocative yet pragmatic, says Craig Sawicki, executive vice president at TricorBraun, a container distributor that also offers design and engineering services. The package that reaches both goals wins favor all around, with consumers, marketers and engineers. 

Among the benefits of designing packages with production in mind are:

  • Speed to market. The sooner you start, the quicker packages can get on the shelf. It helps somewhat if you narrow the scope of your design work early on in the process, says Dave Schuller, design manager, Pet Health & Nutrition, Procter & Gamble. “If you had no boundaries, you would explore many choices. This makes the choosing process more efficient.”
     
  • •Lower costs. It’s estimated that about 80% of costs of a project are locked in during the first 20% of the product development phase. Good decisions upfront save money down the line (literally), especially in the highly regulated drug and medical markets, where making changes after the fact can be too costly and time-consuming.

“A design needs to be cost- effective, as well as good,” says Clarke. “A good design is clever about how it uses manufacturing to reduce costs while providing value-added to the end user.”

For example, when a package design is efficient in distribution (fitting just so on a pallet or cubing out on a truck, for example), the savings there can help pay for innovation.

Clarke cautions that if you don’t consider manufacturing and distribution efficiencies, the design will get altered eventually to fit these needs. This ‘optimization’ process often causes a cool design to get compromised into something no one wants, says TricorBraun’s Sawicki.
 

How to do it

So how can you create innovative packaging designs if you’re limited by your production capabilities?

P&G’s Schuller says that you’re not limited in your creativity, only in the scope of the creative exercise. He also argues that you’re actually more creative because you’re working within boundaries. “Anybody can design something that has no boundaries set upon it, but when you factor in the realities of real-world manufacturing and investment, that’s when you have to really be creative.”

Here are seven tips on how to creatively design for manufacture:
 

#1 ESTABLISH YOUR ROI STRATEGY UPFRONT.

“Any new thing is always going to cost more. It’s not going to be as efficient as a packaging platform that’s been optimized for a hundred years,” says Clarke. “It needs to be optimized over time to return on that investment.

But when a new package provides such value that consumers are willing to pay more or allows you to gain market share, that’s part of the equation, too. Volume helps pay for innovation. “When something is designed that is so innovative that it will generate sales—incremental sales—it pays to push that envelope a little or a lot further,” Sawicki says.

Clarke points out another financial impact: “Investors say, ‘Wow, this company really invests in innovation. I’m going to invest in their stock because I see this company is going places.’ Your stock prices go up and pay for everything.”

That’s not a go-ahead to write a blank check, though. “Our goal is to make sure that we’re not designing in any unnecessary costs,” says Clarke.

Schuller’s advice is, “Be honest with yourself early. Before you put pen to paper, have a pretty good understanding from a business standpoint of the type of investment that the project can handle.”

For example, Schuller talks about the Old Spice Red Zone deodorant redesign project that he worked on when he was design manager for P&G’s Beauty Care division. They made the strategic decision to use the existing packaging line and pucks. So they spent the investment dollars on injection molds instead. A bi-injection design allowed them to create a unique package that appealed to the new, younger age group for this mature brand.
 

#2 CONSIDER THE SUPPLIER’S MANUFACTURING COSTS.

Efficiency is important at all stages of production, including how the package will be made before it reaches your filling line.

Realize that a supplier’s manufacturing costs might go up between development and commercialization, when your volume goes from low to high, cautions Tom McLean, executive director of engineering at The Tech Group, A West Pharmaceuticals Services Co. The Tech Group is an injection molding and contract manufacturing company that specializes in the medical market. McLean explains that sometimes issues arise as projects go from single-cavity tools and manual assembly to a more automated process.

If the problems can be caught early in the development cycle, he says, the design might be altered to be more manufacturable. But if it’s late in the project, it can be too late. “Once a design is locked in, all the inherent costs associated with that are locked in with it,” says McLean. “Now you have a product that costs more, and typically has higher quality issues.”

But quality might not be something that can be compromised, especially for life-critical pharmaceutical or medical products. Recently a major pharmaceutical company asked The Tech Group to guarantee world-class quality when their product is commercialized, which is still several years away.

Although there are no guarantees in life, McLean says, “What we did say was, if we have the ability now early on during the design to look at a variety of things—the design aspect and the end function of the product, as well as from the manufacturing side—we have a much better shot at achieving their goals.
 

#3 ‘ENGAGE’ A CROSS- FUNCTIONAL TEAM.

It’s not enough to simply assemble people from various departments in a project early on. You have to emotionally engage all the stakeholders so they take ownership in the idea.

Tap the creativity of all team members within their area of expertise, including but not limited to marketing, manufacturing, R&D and supply chain, as well as involved suppliers.

George says it’s important to get the right people, too. For example, include the line workers who know the equipment inside and out, not just the manufacturing managers present the project to manufacturing as a problem instead of asking them for pie-in-the-sky ideas during a brainstorming session. “Manufacturing people are very creative, but what they’re creative at is problem solving because they creatively solve problems every day running a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation,” says George.

“If you put something in front of them and say, ‘Here’s a package that we want to run,’ and treat it as a problem, they can come up with some very creative solutions,” George continues. “‘What would it take to run this thing?’ ‘Well, if we adjusted this guide rail and lowered this center line and if you just narrowed the diameter a little bit on this design, I think we could run it more efficiently.’ If you can engage them in that.... When I say engage, I mean really make them part of the team and help them solve problems with you.”

George also explains the value in engaging the packaging research and development department early in this problem-solving stage because they’re well versed in new technologies that manufacturing might not know about yet. Perhaps the problem could be solved by a new technology. “It’s a way of expanding capability in manufacturing to allow you to do more in design,” George says.

Brainstorming and the give-and-take between team members takes time. But George says it’s worth it. “It takes a heck of a lot less time up front than it does after the idea has been refined and you run into issues,” he says. “A lot of times, we don’t have time to run out to the plant for a two-day meeting because we’re on a fast timeline. Yet, by not doing that, you cost yourself six months because you’re doing all kinds of additional machine design or analysis later on. If you can get the right people involved, it can make a huge difference.”
 

#4 KNOW YOUR EXISTING MANUFACTURING CAPABILITIES.

More marketing people today know what their company’s production capabilities are. Even still, it’s recommended to tour the plant where the product will be packaged and look for constraints and opportunities.

Clarke recommends that you learn where your touchpoints need to be so the package moves efficiently on the line and doesn’t topple or wedge.
 

#5 STAY OPEN TO MANUFACTURING OPTIONS.

When the package doesn’t fit the packaging line exactly, the tendency is to change the package design, rather than the line. “[Companies] are not encouraged to create a new factory every day,” says Clarke. He contends that, in planning for the future, you should be open to that option. “Think of your strategy and design the factory around your idea.”

Learning about new equipment and new applications can actually be a stimulus and a source of package design ideas. “Why reinvent the wheel? So many solutions are already out there,” says Clarke. “Find examples of clever use of manufacturing and bring those examples, where viable, to the table.”

Contract packagers are another option that can help you expand manufacturing capabilities. “You lose a little bit of margin but gain all that flexibility,” Clarke says. “It lets you test to see if this innovation is worth investing in, and then you can optimize.”
 

#6 USE AVAILABLE TOOLS.

A number of tools are available to help you develop a creative package that is cost effective to make and runs efficiently in production.

Finding the right package design partner might be one catalyst. Being one himself, Clarke extols the value of an industrial designer who specializes in package design. "Industrial designers are trained in the art of manufacturing across all categories," he says. "They are trained as artisans in the

something desirable— aesthetically, as well as functionally?—and ergonomically superior and cleverly manufactured."

Before jumping into production, it's important to test an idea, both with consumers and to see how it will run on a packaging line.

Photo rendering tools, package mock-ups and prototypes can be used in focus groups or for one-on-one consumer research. Clarke cautions against using online screening tools to test a structural design, though, because functionality is integral to the design and that can't be tested virtually.

Three-dimensional (3D) modeling tools, like ProEngineer or SolidWorks software, allow designers to create dimensionally accurate packages that seamlessly translate into manufacturing.

Simulation software lets you to see how a package will perform on the line without making a single package or firing up a machine.

Pucks can be a clever way of running many packages on the same line, even if the packages vary widely in shape and size.
 

#7 PUSH THE ENVELOPE.

“Pragmatism is a wonderful thing,” says Sawicki. “But you don’t want to put blinders on designers. You want them to be thinking about how to push the envelope slightly. But pushing it too much only creates a situation that untenable for everyone.”

George says that consumers can provide a lot of guidance, but they should not have the final say in the package design. “Use your experience. Take a leap and do something different,” he says.

Clarke urges: “Challenge perceived constraints.” Perhaps what you think is a constraint really isn’t, and that can open up a whole new avenue of innovative design solutions. F&DP 

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