How Amazon developed a leak-free trigger sprayer

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

August 3, 2018

10 Min Read
How Amazon developed a leak-free trigger sprayer
The new closure mates with HDPE (left) and PET bottles for household cleaners and other homecare products sold through ecommerce and shipped direct to consumers or businesses via small parcel delivery.

Shipping liquids is especially tricky in the small-parcel delivery environment where packages could find themselves oriented in any direction. Ecommerce titan Amazon rose to the challenge, and worked with a key closure supplier to engineer a trigger sprayer and bottle finish for brands that passes its stringent performance criteria, while cutting rework time and costs.

The new Ultimate-E (ecommerce) trigger sprayer from Rieke Packaging, a Trimas Co., prevents leaks of liquids shipped in the small parcel environment—even for liquids with minimal product viscosity.

Amazon gave Rieke three criteria:

1. Eliminate leaks, rather than simply reduce or contain them.

2. Provide an equivalent or better than brick-and-mortar experience for the customer—that is, for convenience, have no inner seals to remove and a product that is ready to use.

3. Allow consumers to remove the closure—to refill the bottle, for example—which required a redesign of the closure’s ratchets.

The patented Ultimate-E hits on all points, and offers an omni-channel solution for brands looking to expand into ecommerce while preventing proliferation of stock-keeping units (SKUs).

It also helps cut down on merchandise damage during ecommerce shipping, which costs millions of dollars annually (think of window cleaner leaking on a $350 pair of Bose headphones when shipped in the same order and case).

And the new leak-proof trigger sprayer eliminates the need for packaging rework by Amazon to prepare products for shipping, such as:

• using a lot of bubble wrap;
• adding tape on closure and nozzle locking mechanisms;
• including custom-made trays to minimize item movement;
• sealing products in a zipper bag to contain any leaks;
• shipping trigger sprayers separately (that is, not applied to a bottle);
• attaching free gift items, such as sponges or a brush applicator, around dispensers to act as a cushion for drop impacts.

Available in two versions—one for Heath, Beauty, Home Care and the other for Industrial products—the closure comes standard in a 28/400 size with a 0.9-milliliter dose. Rieke worked with bottle manufacturers Alpha Packaging (for polyethylene terephthalate containers) and C.L. Smith Co. (for high-density polyethylene bottles) to adapt necks finishes for this closure on various materials (PET and HDPE).

Justine Mahler, Amazon’s manager of Customer Packaging Experience, and Kean Lee, technical director, Health, Beauty, Home Care (HBHC), at Rieke Packaging, tell us more about this much-needed development.


How did this project—to develop a leak-free package for liquids shipped via ecommerce—start?

Mahler: At Amazon, we seek to be earth’s most customer-centric company, and ensuring customers can consistently receive their household cleaners and other homecare items leak free is core to delivering against this mission.

It was evident after our first engagement with the Rieke team that delivering innovation in the ecommerce channel was of strategic importance and they were eager to work alongside us to solve these customer pain points. Amazon provided Rieke common failure modes of current trigger sprayer and the scale of the commercial impact of innovation in liquids packaging. This unlocked the Rieke team to drive an innovation plan around this mission.

Lee: We started the project after being introduced to Amazon by one of Rieke’s customers, a former employee of a multinational personal care company. We were invited to share Rieke ecommerce technology and the first project we started was a trigger sprayer as Amazon described triggers as being one of the most problematic dispensers on its ecommerce platform.

After visiting Amazon corporate office and labs, we were able to get valuable inputs from Amazon team from a technical and commercial’s perspective. Our Rieke team then began exploring opportunities to resolve each failure mode to pass ISTA 6 requirements.

Additionally, we heard from several of Rieke’s customers with regards to ecommerce packaging pain points, which drove our internal team to put a heavy emphasis on ecommerce technology.

What was the most challenging aspect of the sprayer development and how did you overcome it?

Lee: Because of uncertain and completely random drop impacts in the real shipping world, it was particularly challenging from a lab test perspective to simulate the drop impact. ISTA 6-Amazon was written to have significantly more stringent drop test requirements to cover the worst case scenario of the actual shipping process. We had tremendous help from Amazon in sharing their experience on trigger failure modes through the ecommerce channel.

Mahler: Random orientation in the parcel delivery environment causes more potential impact points than traditional top-load and side-load testing typically conducted for packaging on brick-and-mortar shelves. Further, given Amazon’s vast selection, liquids can be shipped with a variety of other items that will drive unique product-to-product interactions during delivery.

What was the easiest part of the development and why?

Lee: Again, at an early stage of the product development, the support from Amazon’s team—in sharing customer’s inputs, failure modes, test protocol and more ecommerce application—put us in a much more strategic position to start the design work.

Mahler: Top-to-top alignment between Amazon and Rieke leadership enabled the technical teams to design and iterate with a clear goal in mind.

How long did it take to develop the new Ultimate-E (ecommerce) sprayer?

Lee: Approximately 14 months from the initial Amazon request through ISTA validation to commercial readiness.

Why did Amazon work with Rieke on this development?

Mahler: Speed and technical expertise.

Lee: Rieke is a leader in ecommerce having the experience in launching the first ecommerce dispensing system with one of our multi-national fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) customers prior to meeting with Amazon. Amazon also recognized Rieke team’s fast response time and our prioritization/focus in addressing Amazon’s needs.

Why was it so important to provide an in-store-equivalent experience for consumers?

Lee: Frustration-Free Packaging is an important factor in acquiring or retaining customers as the customers (who bought the product from Amazon the first time) would choose to continue buying the product online once they see no difference in product quality/user experience in buying through the ecommerce channel.

Mahler: Our mission is to deliver high-quality products at minimum waste. If this delivers an “in store” equivalent experience and enables vendors to leverage this package as an omni-channel solution, that is a great win—because we understand the cost of carrying a separate SKU for ecommerce can be a challenge for vendors.

However, we continue to believe the ecommerce channel can drive improved customer experience and functionality. This is our ultimate mission.

Why did Amazon want to keep this improvement invisible to the consumer?

Mahler: Our goal is to drive the industry to innovate on behalf of customers. We want to acknowledge our strategic suppliers whose innovations help solve packaging form factors that are insufficient in parcel delivery environments. 


What is it about the design of this closure, specifically, that makes it leak proof?

Lee: One of the leak paths is through the closure when the closure backs off over time after being applied to the bottle. Rieke Ultimate-E uses an anti-backoff closure system to resolve this particular problem.

What tests did you conduct on the new packaging to verify it was leak proof?

Lee: We did a vacuum leak test before and after the ISTA 6-Amazon test [Over Boxing, e-Commerce Fulfillment for Parcel Delivery Shipment] for single pack and multiple packs.

Did you do any other tests?

Lee: Rieke also did vigorous internal testing: leak test, drop impact test and full application functional tests.

The closure is ISTA 6-Amazon certified for up to 32-ounces. What about larger volumes?

Lee: This was selected based on the common larger pack size in the marketplace today. This accommodates existing filling equipment for smoother transition to using the Rieke Ultimate-E ecommerce trigger sprayer.  

The closure passed single and multipack tests. How are those tests different? What is involved in the multipack test?

Lee: A single pack test would be a bottle of product with trigger sprayer applied and sealed inside a box with air pillows, then put through ISTA 6A tests. A multipack test would be a trigger-sprayer bottle with weight dummies (defined weights and dummy sizes to simulate other products) sealed in a box with air pillow then put through ISTA 6A test.

Except for the metal spring, are all the sprayer parts made of plastic? All polypropylene?

Lee: The sprayer parts are a combination of polypropylene and polyethylene.

Rieke is using high-impact polypropylene resin. Can you identify the manufacturer and the specific product?

Lee: This is confidential.

Is this resin different/stronger than the typical PP used for trigger sprayers to prevent breaks during shipment? If so, how is it different/stronger?

Lee: In terms of sharing the difference in resin performance, we would like to base it on ISTA 6A test result, where multiple failure modes were observed on the Rieke trigger prior to implementation of ecommerce features under the ISTA 6-Amazon test.  

Explain how and why the skew of the nozzle design was changed to help prevent leaks.

Lee: Throughout shipping, vibrations and drops on the trigger nozzle tend to rotate the nozzle from OFF position to ON position. The Ultimate-E trigger nozzle has been designed to be more resistant to such movement.

Is the ball valve inside the sprayer critical to eliminating leaks?

Lee: A ball valve regulates the flow of product as part of the pump mechanism. Ball valves technically do not have effects on the ecommerce aspect of the design.  

How did you create the ratchets with reduced interference so the closure could be removed from the container and yet still be leak proof?

Lee: Ratchet fitment was designed and determined through studies of filling line setups, as well as user interface standpoints.

How difficult is it to manufacture and assemble this sprayer?

Lee: No major changes were made on the assembly line except changes in assembly fixtures.

It is available in spray and stream options, correct? Any other styles? Could this design be replicated for pumps, for example?

Lee: Stream off-spray off; spray off-spray off are the two options available.

Rieke ecommerce pumps focus on different failure modes: unlocking of pump head, pop up of pump head and nozzle cracking.

This is the first in a series of ecommerce packaging to come from Rieke, correct?

Lee: Yes, there is family of Rieke E Commerce Dispensing Systems to be tested and certified under ISTA 6-Amazon.

The trigger sprayer works on PET and HDPE bottles. Does this represent the vast majority of containers for liquids sold through ecommerce?

Lee: Yes, the majority of household products with trigger sprayers as the dispensing system are with PET or HDPE containers.

Are brand owners’ options limited for bottle suppliers or can virtually any bottle manufacturer produce a compatible container?

Lee: Any bottle manufacturer could produce the required neck finish.  

The sprayers can be applied to containers with existing closure equipment, correct?

Lee: Correct. Modifications were made on the internal part of the trigger sprayer and on the material used.

What modifications are required to the closure equipment?

Lee: None.

The bottle/closure is designed so it can be easily opened by consumers. Why? Is this for refills?

Lee: Yes, for refills or being able to smell a fragrance before spraying, for example.

How many times can consumers remove the closure and reuse the bottle/sprayer?

Lee: Typically, consumers could refill the container three times or more.

How does this development demonstrate how Amazon wants to work with industry to solve tricky ecommerce packaging issues?

Lee: We had great support from the Amazon team—from sharing of test reports, test protocols, demonstration of testing, commercial data and more—which really put us in a great position to start the design.

Mahler: Our goal is to drive the industry to innovate on behalf of customers. We want to motivate the vendor and supplier community to drive innovation on packaging form factors that are insufficient in parcel delivery environments, as well as identify waste-reduction options for all packaging.


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About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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