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January 29, 2014
4 Min Read
When a leading marketer of personal care products was planning to reintroduce a hair care product that had been very popular in the 1980s. It wanted the packaging for the product to be reminiscent of that earlier time, to reconnect with earlier users, but it also wanted the package to have a fresh, 21st century appeal, and to include the conveniences of today’s packaging.
To help it walk the tightrope between 1980s appeal and 2009 functionality, the marketer worked with the Creative Design Services Group at Silgan Plastics. In its Commercial Development Center in Norcross, Georgia the Silgan Plastics Creative Design Services Group employs the most advanced technical design tools to create bottles that meet both the appearance requirements of the customer’s marketing department and the performance expectations of production managers and––most important––consumers.
“Pencil and paper still plays a part, especially in early design stages,” says Stephen Kocis, manager of the group. “In a meeting, for instance, a designer can draw preliminary concepts that enable everyone to be on the same page about the direction of the project. But the technical design tools that we apply from there on enable us to shorten the design and approval process and get the package to market more quickly.”
Computer-aided design and eDrawings
Once Silgan designers and the customer have narrowed the preliminary concepts down to more refined designs, they use Unigraphics, a sophisticated three-dimensional engineering software program, to detail the package’s neck finish, final shape, oz capacity and label area. They then create photorealistic renderings for the customer’s review from this 3-D model.
As 3-D drawings are further refined, the drawings are exchanged with the customer for review by e-mail. The customer’s team members review the designs using eDrawings, a program that enables them to rotate the 3-D images to see every aspect of the package without needing to have the Unigraphics software on their computers. With this capability, the customer can suggest further refinements to the design or decide which design to take to the next step.
Equally important, these computer-generated Unigraphics files will be used downstream in the development of models as the design process proceeds, and in the creation of prototype tools and production tooling in the final stages of creation of the package.
Rapid prototyping with FDM
The Creative Design Services Group uses FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) extensively in the design process for all of its custom and stock bottles. It uses Dimension 3-D printers made by Stratasys Inc, which also supplies the plastic material used in modeling. Silgan’s printers can create about 900 models/year.
“Designs begin with 3-dimensional computer graphics,” says group manager Stephen Kocis, “but early on we make 3-dimensional FDM models for our own use as designers, to give us a better sense of the final bottle. As designs reach more finished states, the FDM models are used in our presentations to customers.”
“Designs typically progress through multiple iterations, and being able to make new FDM models quickly and cost-effectively is essential,” says Kocis.
From the dimensionally correct Unigraphics digital file created on the computer, Silgan can create a model within a matter of hours, using one of its three in-house FDM machines. Having three of the units gives Silgan designers great flexibility. Each unit can also make multiple models at once––as many as will fit within the FDM build area––and with three units working, the Creative Design Services Group can produce multiple models efficiently, shortening the design process.
Models can be created as solid shapes, hollow shapes with controllable wall thickness or hollow shapes with internal honeycomb structures for greater strength, which is the version Silgan uses for most of its models.
The result of modeling is that the customer not only sees a design for a new package on paper and the computer screen, but can actually hold it and evaluate what it feels like. A model can be decorated with a printed label to replicate silk screening, heat transfer, in-mold and pressure sensitive labels. That enables it to be used in presentations to focus groups and in sales presentations to retailers.
As the design process unfolds, Silgan engineers are also using the models to evaluate technical aspects of filling and handling feasibility, and communicate their conclusions with designers and the customer to optimize the functional design of the bottle.
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