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COVID-19 Brings Out American Ingenuity in Packaging
From fast turnaround on package printing and repurposing manufacturing to make face shields, American packaging manufacturers step up to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Brings Out American Ingenuity in Packaging

Any student of WWII knows that the US became a manufacturing juggernaut for itself and its allied partners. With all the emphasis on the global economy over the last few decades, it’s easy to forget how powerful US industry can become when it sets its eyes on a goal.

Nobody expected the impact of COVID-19. But here we are, in a different kind of war, and our manufacturing capabilities are seriously depleted. But despite the news we hear of shortages, I’m seeing that same wartime spirit of innovation and collaboration come together to defeat this new adversary.

90+ volunteers, 3 weeks, more than 17,000 units of PPE for frontline warriors.

I saw a post on social media from a colleague and friend of mine who was putting together a consortium of companies (and individuals) from a range of specialties, from 3D printer hobbyists to packaging design firms like mine to traditional printers.

Mask straps (ear savers) were created on FORCEpkg’s 3D printer.

Berk’s PPE Resource Network is a group of Pennsylvania-based companies and volunteers that are using a crowd-sourcing approach to manufacture face shields, mask frames, and mask straps (personal protective equipment or PPE). The products are being donated to healthcare workers and first responders. My company, FORCEpkg, had recently set-up a 3D printer, although we’d never really printed anything serious, only test models and a few Star Wars-related pieces. Through this amazing organization, and with the help of the other partners within the consortium, the group went go from producing 20 face shields per day to several hundred per day (see photo right at top of page).

People with diverse skill sets from a host of different industries and backgrounds were on our Build Team. We’ve gotten funding and material support from universities, school districts, printers, manufacturers, research centers, design firms — you name it.

Think about it. These people were strangers just a few weeks ago. They’ve come together as a cohesive, working team simply because they saw a vital need and a cause bigger than themselves. It’s no wonder the website quotes Coretta Scott King as their guide:

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Coincidentally, a similar effort is being made by Out Front Protect. I got a call from Ed Moeller, an old friend/colleague who is technically a competitor, but in today’s environment, who cares? His group is producing face shields by rallying traditional carton printers, label printers, and die cutters. Out Front Protect offers a pattern for a single-sheet, die cut PPE face shield — right on the website www.outfrontprotect.com. It’s a free download and available to suppliers everywhere.

To date, this effort has resulted in the distribution of free shields throughout the nation. And over the April 18 weekend, Ed hopped in the car and personally delivered a batch of face shields to a Brooklyn hospital. As you can tell by his actions, this is personal … “Out Front Protect is a result of the desperate plea for PPE echoed by his daughter, an ER nurse in Las Vegas.”

Answering the call for clean hands with just a three-week turnaround.

KO-SAFE was the brainchild of some socially minded business collaborators: KO-Industries and K2 Kinetics. For anyone who’s gone to the store looking for hand sanitizer, you are familiar with the phrase, “We’re out.”

On March 23, Ben McGlaughlin of K2 Kinetics emailed me with a Drug Facts panel and a request to design five different label sizes — and a new branding and graphics system (see photo left at the top of the page). Oh, and by the way, they needed it “last Friday.”

Says Kevin Keller, managing director of K2 Kinetics, “We deliver automated processing and packaging solutions to the food and beverage industry. We had the machines, sourced the bottles, caps, and spray atomizers and got the product from a chemical company that mixed the ingredients. All we needed was a brand and labeling, which we got from FORCE. In about three weeks, we were able to pull all this together, as well as FDA approval.” That included brand name generation, parent company, and brand logo creation — and FDA-compliant packaging design for five stock-keeping units (SKUs). And, keep in mind, this company did not even exist until mid/late March.

KO-Industries wanted to get samples out, so FORCE was printing labels and delivering them on weekends. The product comes in 2-, 4-, and 8-oz, half liter, and gallon sizes. As they’re signing on retailers, more and more are coming on board. We expect that health issues around COVID-19 will be long term, much like security was after 9/11.

Newly created company KO-SAFE packs hand sanitizer in various sizes. Branding and package design happened in about three weeks.

All of these efforts — all of this networking — it’s all about relationships. People we know, people we knew and haven’t talked to in years … people we didn’t know at all. They all came together to solve a problem. Professionals know who we can count on and who we can trust. We may be competitors in business, and we may not agree on everything politically, but it doesnt matter. We can get back to all that later. For now, let’s show what American innovators can do.

The American Spirit is alive and well. We may have differences, but together we can overcome any obstacle.

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