For more than 40 years, 3M Scotchlok electrical connectors have been used for everything from audio equipment installations to model train wiring. While the 403 SKU product line's history offers 3M strong brand equity, it also came with outdated packaging—a paperboard carton that crushed easily, did not show the product inside and was imprinted with hard-to-read information that sometimes led shoppers to buy the wrong connectors.
3M embarked on a year-long update project that resulted in a fresh look and a new labeling system at the company's New Ulm, MN, plant. Jessica Clark, packaging engineer for 3M, credits the tenacity of Lisa Tuerff, marketing manager for the Scotchlok connector line, for recognizing that a new package would reinvigorate the product line's sales. "It was at her request that this package redesign happened," Clark remarks. "She was the catalyst to getting this off the ground and all the way through implementation."
Connecting with partners
To power the project, Clark and Tuerff brought in both internal and external partners.
"I solicited support from our sourcing team in St. Paul," Clark recalls. "The team sent out a request to a variety of our core suppliers—our strategic suppliers."
These suppliers came back with a range of package components ideas. "We had presented some other wide-mouthed jar options in addition to an oval canister," recalls John Jones, senior account executive at Berlin Packaging, one of 3M's strategic partners and supplier of the final package.
"After evaluating what was most important to us, we determined it was speed to market with a new design change," Clark explains. "Although we originally looked at a more custom design, we went the alternative route to look at stock containers."
The oval canister chosen was a 4-in. high transparent PP stock package that's commonly used to pack baby wipes. The decision to not use a container already in use in the electrical or hardware markets was deliberate.
"It was interesting to see how, even without labels, we were able to set the stock packages on a table and identify the product," Clark recalls. "The oval canister supplied by Berlin Packaging is used out in the marketplace but not for our electrical industry. Is it unique? No, it's not, but it's also not a ‘me-too' for our industry."
Not only was the package a differentiator for 3M in the electrical industry, it also had a large label panel area that enabled easy display of necessary technical information. Clark explains, "The other thing is we required a certain amount of area to print legal requirements on our primary selling unit package. We also wanted to minimize the amount of packaging components that were required to support the 403 products."
The transparent container is supplied by Berlin Packaging's Plastics Group, and is part of HTI Plastics' proprietary line of the Option Pak ovals, which can be made using a range of resins including HDPE, PP, clarified PP, LDPE and PCR. The specific clarified PP resin chosen for 3M Scotchlok's canister is Ineos RO1C-00 from Ineos Olefins & Polymers. This resin/mold combination, says Jones, can be run on various blow molding machines.
For the closure, Berlin and HTI Plastics took a different route. Instead of using a purely stock item, they chose to custom design a lid with a new orifice and logo insert. The lid, which also is made from PP, is molded on a 250-ton KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH machine. The custom closures are made from a PP resin with added colorants.
"The lid color is based on that product within the canister," Clark explains. "Red is an indicator for a particular wire gauge size, as is yellow and blue. So the red, blue and yellow lids coincide with an industry standard for wire gauge size."
One label, hundreds of SKUs
The common-overlaid-with-custom theme extends to product labeling for Scotchlok's new packaging.
"Our graphic design team at Proof Advertising in collaboration with 3M marketing came with the concept of the preprint label, with everything that's in color preprinted and most of the black text to be printed on demand," Clark remarks.
How to design and print wasn't the only challenge faced when decorating the oval canister. "WS Packaging worked with us to come up with a specific label structure that would adhere to such a sharp curve in the bottle and also worked with us to ensure that the print-on-demand information that we had to apply onto the label would be able to withstand just what these bottles might see out on a job site," Clark explains. "If you can imagine, these packages are going into large building installations, into closets, basements, attics and everywhere in-between. These may not be the cleanest locations, so we wanted to ensure that the print stays legible."
They chose to print on MACtac AC9002 60-lb platinum, high-bright white, semi-gloss paper facestock with an Acpo thermal-transfer polyester overlaminate that adds durability. The print areas contain all color and some black elements, with 98 percent of the black text printed on demand at the 3M packaging facility.
Data printed on-demand
"We have an internal IT system to 3M that does all the print-on-demand that controls all of the variable data," Clark remarks. "A colleague of mine, senior packaging engineer Ryann Roberts, is our labeling and equipment technical expert, and was in control of all of the design and tests for the development and implementation of the label.
"We worked with our 3M IT systems team to run many tests to ensure that the variable data was properly aligned, that it downloaded to our plant and that it was able to talk with the new printer that we purchased," she adds. "We ran many trials to ensure that all three of those things—the ribbon, the label material and the print-on-demand files—all work seamlessly. Ryann also controlled the machine selection, the labeling structural specifications and the ribbon specification."
With the help of Chris Sawicki and Rick Isbell, Ryann installed a wraparound label print-and-apply station supplied by TEAM Systems Inc. The labeling station houses a Label-Aire Inline 5100 labeling system, which is a stainless steel cabinet with a variable frequency drive conveyor and metering wheel. It can be outfitted with the range of Label-Aire new generation 3100/3000 series applicators for wipe-on, air-blow or tamp-blow label placement. 3M chose the Label-Aire Model 3138-N Merge Printer Applicator. The wipe-on label applicator has a label loop box for the storage of preprinted labels, automatic speed following to accommodate changes in product delivery speed, advanced user-configurable I/O connectivity and a digital display to allow remote operator control.
The system is used with a resin thermal-transfer ribbon, for abrasion resistance. Clark explains, "We went with resin because it basically burns the image into the label and that was important for our end user. We knew it was important for our end user whether they knew it or not."
Abrasion resistance often is cited as an important characteristic of electronic components labeling because of sometimes harsh environments and handling that these packages endure.
Customization offers branding, security
The robust construction of the packaging is one of Clark's favorite features, especially the embossed decoration on the closures. "It was such a small thing, but what a huge impact it has for 3M as a company and a brand," she exclaims. "After the product has been consumed, our brand is still out there—whether this canister gets refilled with more 3M Scotchlok terminals and connectors or buttons, screws, whatever.
"In working with Berlin Packaging, we were also able to modify the internal design punch-outs to be 100 percent coverage at point of purchase," Clark adds. "Therefore the customer would have to punch a minimum of one out to get to the product. Theft prevention was not initially on the list as a must-have feature, but I was able to persuade the business team that it was a value-add to the product design. And it has been well received in the market."
The redesigned package ensures that 3M Scotchlok customers get the full value of their purchases while 3M enjoys packaging operation efficiencies in addition to branding and marketing benefits.
Acpo Ltd, 800-793-8273. www.acpo.com
Berlin Packaging LLC, 800-723-7546. www.berlinpackaging.com
HTI Plastics, 800-824-0607. www.htiplastic.com
Ineos Olefins & Polymers USA, 281-535-6600. www.ineos-op.com
KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH, +49 898 8990. www.kraussmaffei.com
Label-Aire Inc., 714-449-5155. www.label-aire.com
MACtac, 866-262-2822. www.mactac.com
Proof Advertising, 512-345-6658. www.proof-advertising.com
TEAM (Technology, Equipment, Applications, Materials) Systems Inc., 651-450-0100. www.teamsysinc.com
WS Packaging Group Inc., 800-818-5481. www.wspackaging.com
Zebra Technologies Corp., 847-634-6700. www.zebra.com