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Articles from 2016 In December

A universal approach to successful implant packaging

A universal approach to successful implant packaging
Image provided by Barger, a division of Placon

Universal packaging is a continuing trend in orthopedic implant packaging—and a recent design for a new total hip replacement system is an award-winning example. Barger, a division of Placon, designed and manufactured a double-sterile barrier system recognized this fall with a Gold award during the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) annual thermoforming parts competition.

Barger was asked to develop a single packaging system that could accommodate as many different components as possible, explains Pete Bushnell, Regional Medical Manager for Barger. “We were asked for a system that would look high-end to surgeons, but be cost effective,” he says. “It had to fit four different implant components, each in a range of sizes.”

Protection was also in order, as one component was highly polished, with a mirror-like finish, he explains. And another component featured a rough surface that could damage a sterile barrier.  

All packaging components had to be compatible with EtO and gamma radiation.

Barger’s solution consisted of inner and outer thin-gauge PETG trays for a double sterile barrier along with interchangeable protective inserts made of Barger’s signature BargerGard thermoformed polyurethane (TPU). “BargerGard protects both the polished components as well as the abrasive ones,” reports Mike Nielsen, National Sales Manager.

All components are each placed into a BargerGard insert and then fit into one universal inner tray. A PETG retainer was developed to lock one specific component in place in the inner tray, and each inner tray fits into a universal outer tray.

“Our team sat down with 40 different components and figured out how to develop a universal system with two sterile barriers,” explains Nielsen. “We feel the design was impressive. We’ve seen every implant out there, and that helps drive us toward the right design.

“And our experience with TPU over the years allows us to process it successfully,” he adds. 

Barger thermoforms the trays and BargerGard inserts in Class 8 cleanrooms. The company also produces Tyvek lids and sources high-end-looking shelf cartons from Colbert Packaging. “Our customer told us, ‘We want it to look high end—go!” says Bushnell.

Barger also managed the project, which in addition to Barger involved the surgeon who invented a new system for total hip replacement that differed from predicate products; the surgeon’s regulatory consultant, who initially approached Barger with the project; Colbert; and Millstone Medical Outsourcing, the chosen contract packager.

Nielsen says that much of the orthopedic implants market is going toward universal packaging. “There are some thermoformers doing universal packaging like we are, but some are still driving toward custom pieces,” he says.

While universal packaging can help speed large product families to market, there are several additional benefits, says Nielsen. “There’s less capital required in terms of tooling and sealing equipment, fewer validations, customers have the same experience with every package, products occupy the same shelf space, and overall cost can be lower because buyers source 1000 of one component, rather than 100 of 10 different components,” he says.

Visit Barger at Booth #2175 at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West 2017 in Anaheim February 7-9. 

What in the world of food waste and packaging is it?

What in the world of food waste and packaging is it?
Do you know your food packaging? Take our quick quiz related to packaging efficiency and food waste.

A new product-focused promotion from AMERIPEN presents some interesting facts about the efficiency of packaging to help reduce food waste. Can you guess what the product is?

This packaging quiz is courtesy of a new campaign from AMERIPEN, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, to highlight the invaluable role packaging plays to reduce food waste. Along the way the document provides interesting facts along about the carbon footprint—via a life cycle assessment (LCA)—of a common packaged product.

We thought we’d turn it into a quiz to see if our savvy packaging professionals readers can deduce what it is. We start by noting that as with many food and beverages, it originates on a farm.

Sadly, Americans throw away more than 20% of this product after they bring it home. What a waste at the far end of the value chain, right?  

Two-thirds of that is due to spoilage while the remaining one-third is due to preparation and serving issues.

It turns out that the product’s packaging—about 2oz in weight—is a mere 3.5% of the product’s total carbon footprint as determined by a LCA. Here are some other life-cycle assessment figures from this American staple:

Slightly more than half of the product’s carbon footprint is made in production; and

More than twice as much of its carbon footprint is in its transportation than in its packaging.

Think you know what it is? Turn the page for the reveal.

Photo credit: Designed by Freepik


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


Hey, it’s milk, who knew? Perhaps a number of you.


Just two ounces of packaging—primarily high-density polyethylene—protects 8.5lb/1-gal of milk (Source: That’s pretty efficient.

 The graphic is pulled from a new promotional piece from AMERIPEN entitled “Why Is This Cow So Angry?" 

Next time you buy milk, do a favor for yourself, for the environment and for all those cows out there: Simply buy as much as you’ll use by selecting the proper packaging format and use all that you buy.

You can learn more about food waste at this AMERIPEN page:


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


Patented bag design zips ahead with prototypes and more

Patented bag design zips ahead with prototypes and more
One of five variations of the easy-pour Zipspout bag that have been produced as handmade prototypes.

Prototypes are made of the Zipspout bag, the new name for the Easy Pour bag from inventor Alan Olan that optimizes pouring by locating the pour-spout on the side of the bag rather than the top.

We first met inventor Alan Olin of Olin Design Group in an article published last June, A 90-degree twist on reclosable packaging, his optimized, patented design for reclosable packaging that places the reclosure on the side of the package rather than the top. Olin recently informed us that he had prototypes of five Zipspout design variations created along with other updates on his path to commercialization. He sent along the pictures of the prototypes and responds to our questions in this Q&A:

First of all, why the name change?

Olin: The main reason I made the name change from the "Easy Pour" bag to the "Zipspout" is because several other companies also use Easy Pour for their branding and I thought it was too confusing. And, I used Zipspout 1, Zipspout 2, etc to help differentiate the assorted bag designs.

What can you tell us about these prototypes?

Olin: Virtual Packaging, an M.A. Patterson Co., provided me with great prototype mock-up samples of 5 different variations from my U.S. Patent 8,992,085. Their work was timely, affordable and very professional. 

I presented these mock-ups for the first time at the Global Pouch West Show on December 7th and received several compliments on how great they looked. Also, Olin Design Group has recently changed the business plan and we've decided to assign this technology, rather than license it.

Zipspout 1 (shown above) is standup pouch with a tear strip and press-to-close zipper along the upper side of the bag. This is probably the most affordable and most straight forward of the 5 prototype samples.

Zipspout 2 is also a standup pouch with a slider zipper along the upper side and a sloped top. This variation is more unique, has better functionality and provides greater product differentiation.


Zipspout 3 is a gusseted pouch/bag with a flat bottom and a slider zipper on the side gusset fold. This design allows for more product content, more display area and a truly distinctive look.

Zipspout 4 is another gusseted pouch/bag with a flat bottom, a press to close zipper on the gusset fold and a sloped top. This concept also allows for more product, more display area, is extremely easy to use and one-of-a kind.


Zipspout 5 is standup pouch with a slider zipper along the upper side and a built-in handle along the opposite side. This is a special top-of-the-line version that includes the best functionality and greatest product differentiation.

Are there other options?

Olin: These five different bag designs do not cover all of the possibilities included in the patent. For example, one could put a slider zipper on Zipspout 1 or a press-to-close zipper on Zipspout 5. There are many options to choose from; any self-supporting type of bag/pouch with a zipper along the upper side is covered by the patent.

For what products is the design especially optimized?

Olin:  I believe they would be great for a line of upscale pet food, among other things. Each product could be packaged in one of the variations, while the upper side zipper would provide the common element/feature for the foremost functionality and optimal product differentiation.

Olin can be contacted at [email protected]; the website is

For a machinability evaluation of this invention by several experts posted in July, see Form-fill-seal machinery experts assess the Easy Pour Bag


Explore novel food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


Digital printing capability expands to plastic jars

Digital printing capability expands to plastic jars
Digital print permits gap-free 360-degree graphics coverage on jars and can eliminate the need for labels.

Omega Packaging takes the next step beyond digitally printed caps to bring the production and graphics flexibility of digital printing to round plastic containers.

Omega Packaging, La Mirada, CA, has expanded its digital-printing beyond closures to now include full-color CMYK digitally printed round containers in sizes from 0.25oz to 32oz. The technique eliminates labels and gives customers exceptional creative license on packaging graphics and copy.

Company president Jack Oh reveals the colorful, customizable details in this Q&A.

What’s the background to this?

Oh: Our customers are increasingly asking us to print on the plastic jars and caps that we make, to provide a turnkey package. While exploring traditional processes like silk-screening, offset, and pad printing, we realized that digital printing was the future, and decided to focus most of our investment in that area. Earlier in 2016, we installed equipment to do full color digital printing on our plastic caps (see Digital printing creates colorful custom closures published in August) and the natural extension of that project was to start digital printing on our jars.

What’s the benefit for customers?

Oh: Smaller batch sizes, mass customization, frequent artwork changes, better graphics and product differentiation are some of the market forces that are driving this technology. The lack of tooling like screens or plates allows us to change artwork easily. How else can you take a photo of yourself and immediately print it on a jar? Or print 1,000 jars all with different images?

What can you say about the printing equipment?

Oh: Due to the proprietary technology, I'm not able to share too many of the technical details. The process is similar to the digital printing we've been doing on our caps, but instead of printing on a flat surface, we're now printing on the side wall of the container. This requires more sophisticated machinery.

Closeup from an early test run in August shows the level of detail possible with 360 dots-per-inch resolution.

What are the print specifications?

Oh: Full-color CMYK printing at 360 dpi with UV-curable inks developed for food and pharma packaging. We can achieve full 360 degree coverage around the container, which is not possible with most other methods. And we're able to print on more of the jar than traditional processes like silk-screening, offset printing or even by labeling.

How do costs compare?

Oh: The cost is similar to a 2-color silk screen. And the number of colors doesn't affect the price, so we encourage our customers to get more creative with their artwork.

What jars and options are available?

Oh: We're currently offering this service on all of the jars and caps that we make. The smallest container we make is a 1/4oz or 33mm jar; the largest is a 32oz or 120mm container. Due to frequent requests from customers, we're also starting to explore the option of offering this service even for containers not made by us.

The impact and flexibility of personalization using digital printing is apparent in this custom note and graphics printed on jars.

What’s been done to date?

Oh: The projects we've been working on have mainly been to replace labels, or as a substitute for multi-pass silk-screening or offset applications. The ability to print all the way around the jar without any gaps has been appealing to some customers. And being able to print on more of the jar has allowed us to use larger text for customers struggling to fit all of their ingredients or other information.

What graphic file formats are required?

Oh: We accept AI or PDF files. Most customers provide final artwork sized exactly the way they want it, but we've also had situations where a customer sends us bits and pieces and we stitch it together. With the ability to print on more of the container than before, we often end up enlarging artwork, especially the tiny text on some of the smaller jars.

When did you launch this service?

Oh: We first started shipping digitally printed jars in October. Currently lead-times for printing are about 3 to 4 weeks. We're adding more equipment to handle growing future demand and to keep turnaround times short. Since we always keep a large quantity of (unprinted) jars in stock, our goal is to provide a complete package to customers within a few weeks of ordering.

For more information, visit or the company’s digital printing website page or email [email protected].


Digital printing, 3D printing and other printing and packaging decoration techniques can be found at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


The 2017 shopping list of pharmaceutical and medical packaging professionals

The 2017 shopping list of pharmaceutical and medical packaging professionals
Image source: Shutterstock; Copyright: Copyright: Serg64

What packaging technologies will pharmaceutical and medical packaging professionals be sourcing in 2017? We recently surveyed professionals involved in the pharmaceutical and medical packaging community about their technology needs over the next 12 months and how they stay educated. The survey findings, based on the responses of 210 professionals, indicate a focus on product identification, package usability, and cost savings.

Several coding and labeling technologies are slated for increased spending over the next 12 months. For instance, 45% of respondents expect their companies’ expenditures to increase when it comes to labels, digital printing, product identification, and decorating technologies. Forty-one percent expect spending for cartons to increase.

Such findings appear to reflect industry efforts to comply with mandates for Unique Device Identification and item-level serialization under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act.

The most popular type of package coding and printing technology is pressure-sensitive labels (44% of respondents), followed by preprinted direct-package printing (43%). Only 15% use shrink-sleeve labeling.

In terms of packaging formats, flexible packaging should see a bump over the next 12 months. For example, 34% of respondents expect to see increased spending for such formats as bags and pouches.

Contract support will be in demand next year, too: 30% of respondents report increased spending on contract packaging and manufacturing services. Such expenditures are not surprising, given ongoing utilization of contract fillers, packagers, and assemblers. And these contract companies have been scaling up their capital investments to help pharmaceutical companies serialize their products.

We also asked respondents to share the importance of specific packaging features, ranking them on a scale where 5 equals very important and 1 not at all important. Seventy percent of respondents ranked “usability” with either a 4 or a 5, followed by 69% ranking “cost reduction” with either a 4 or a 5. Adherence/compliance promotion features were ranked a 4 or a 5 by 61%.

Interestingly, performance issues were ranked lower than cost concerns. Fifty-nine percent ranked “barrier performance: moisture, oxygen, light protection” with either a 4 or a 5; 50% ranked “barrier performance: sterile” with either a 4 or 5. Such mid-level rankings shouldn’t be seen as an indicator of a drop in package performance, though, because not all products require a moisture or sterile barrier, for instance.

Additional survey responses, though, reveal the heightened importance of managing cost. When asked to indicate their biggest packaging challenges, 54% of respondents ranked managing costs with either a 4 or a 5, followed by 48% selecting complying with regulatory requirements and 45% selecting implementing innovation.

We also asked respondents how they typically learn about new packaging technologies. The top three resources respondents typically turn to for learning about new packaging include vendor/supplier Web sites (selected by 49%), industry conferences/trade shows (48%), and digital trade publications (ads and editorial; 40%).

When it comes to using social media for professional reasons, 66% of respondents use LinkedIn, 53% use YouTube, and 38% use Google+.

Click below to download more data from this year’s survey, such as additional responses to the above-mentioned questions as well as survey methodology and demographics on the respondents.

Packaging machinery attuned to the functional use of RFID

Packaging machinery attuned to the functional use of RFID
Applications for RFID on packaging machines include security log-on (above) and proper changepart verification.

The use of radio-frequency identification turned up on two diverse packaging machine introductions this fall, one on a 3-robot cartoning machine and the other on an inspection system.

I’d reported on news and applications  in radio-frequency identification for years as one of my beats in packaging in the 2000s. During those RFID-enabled years the developments almost exclusively involved item- and parent-level track-and-trace technology. So it was all the more unexpected and exciting to see two completely different applications of RFID technology on packaging machines at Pack Expo last month.

One of those was the new configurable, upgradeable VISIONtec container inspection system for food, beverage and consumer goods from FILTEC. It inspects filled rigid containers at rates up to 1,200 containers per minute. The modular system may be equipped with one to 12 cameras to inspect a range of details including overfill/underfill, missing cap/crown, improper tamper band, date code presence and much more.

“A big benefit to our system is that there are no mirrors used for the inspection so there’s a direct focal point for the camera,” says Patrick Uyemura, sr. sales administrator, USA, adding that “label inspection is a ‘hot’ ticket item these days.”

Notably there is a RFID reader (seen above) on the front panel for access via an RFID tag-embedded badge. Besides the obvious security needed for log-in, the tagging also provides traceability as to employee and time; it also permits various layers of user access such as supervisor and more. It is a method used in the past for entry to buildings and offices including the one where this editor works.

“Using RFID eliminates passwords from getting passed along,” notes Uyemura.

VisionTec represents the company’s first use of RFID technology.

For more information, visit Filtec

Photos of two sides of the IF318 cartoning system that also depict a different look at the iTRAK handling system that's integral to the machine operation.

RFID for changepart confirmation

Cama Group’s fully robotized IF318 monoblock carton forming/loading/closing system is impressive in several ways. It uses an optimized design with three Cama-built robots and well-thought out features in handling paperboard, chipboard or E-flute corrugated substrates. Three key aspects:

  1. A pitchless indexing system in which the forming, loading and closing functions are independent from one another for the ultimate in flexibility;
  2. An innovative variable box handling device for automatic changeover; and
  3. Fool-proof, tool-less size changeovers for robot heads and machine components.

The pitchless indexing system as the integration of an Intelligent Track (iTRAK) from Rockwell Automation. In short, the track-based packaging material and container handling system that relies on liner and rotary motion is a thing to behold in operation.

Combined, the above means higher speeds, greater flexibility and faster changeover in a sanitary design that uses slopes and curved corners. It’s also eye candy in motion for those who like fully-enabled, high-level automation.

“The engineering specifically addresses reducing changeover and center-lining,” says Scott Bogdal, engineering manager. “What may have required 30 minutes’ time before can be done in half that time.”

The RFID aspect comes into play for proper changepart recognition and confirmation. RFID is used on the glue head assembly mounted to the forming mandrels (seen above) to confirm proper part registration and alignment, according to Bogdal.  "The changepart has an RFID tag and the static equipment portion has an RFID reader," he says. "The machine is programmed to only run when all changeparts match the selected configuration on the HMI."

As to its popularity, Bogdal says that "there is tremendous interest in the IF318 from companies of all sizes in all sectors. This exact system is not yet been installed, though combinations of the design and modules have been installed across the globe."

You can view a video of the IF318 in operation at Rockwell’s iTRAK overview page.

For more information, visit the IF318 page at the Cama Group website.


Automation technologies, tech tours and topics such as IoT, smart plants and more can be found at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA. PS: There’s an hourly drone giveaway, too.


Top 7 trends in healthcare packaging

Top 7 trends in healthcare packaging
Image source: Shutterstock; Copyright: ChristianChan

Much more is required of packaging for pharmaceuticals and medical devices these days. In 2016, healthcare packaging professionals managed several emerging regulatory requirements and market demands. We count down to the top trends impacting packaging decisions, as evident in seven of 2016's most popular articles on pharmaceutical and medical device packaging issues.

7. We start with Unique Device Identification (UDI). This year, medical device manufacturers had to ensure that their Class III devices were permanently marked with UDI on the devices themselves if they are intended to be used more than once and are intended to be reprocessed before use. In addition, all Class II devices all had to carry UDI on their labels and packages, and the dates on these labels must meet formatting rules (implantable, life-saving, and life-sustaining Class I and II devices have had to carry UDI labeling since September 2015). 

Kasey Tipping of Cognex authored an article addressing some of the readability issues medical device manufacturers are encountering with UDI codes and how sophisticated vision technology could help address them. Her article, "8 potential UDI code readability issues and the critical role of vision," was the 7th most popular trend article in terms of total page views for the year. The image above shows one solution for overcoming warped 2-D DataMatrix codes or codes with missing perimeter features, Cognex's 2DMax with PowerGrid algorithm. Please see Tipping's article for more details and the 8 potential challenges.

NEXT: Drug Master File Changes 

6. Drug Master File Changes 

FDA is switching its current paper system for accepting Drug Master File (DMF) information to an electronic one. This means that packaging material suppliers that hold Type III DMFs will need to use FDA's electronic Common Technical Document (eCTD) system as of May 2017 for new DMFs, annual reports, and amendments, Frank Bieganousky, managing director and cofounder of Montesino Associates, told us earlier this year. Our article on a Feb. 4 webinar held by FDA’s CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance (CDER SBIA), “New Requirement for Electronic Submission of Drug Master Files (DMFs): What You Need to Know,” was our 6th most popular trend article. 

We've published a few additional articles on the topic: "Do you know where your suppliers are when it comes to eDMFs?" and "The latest on Drug Master Files for packaging materials in the United States--and a little history."

NEXT: Usability

5. Usability

HealthPack is known for its lively Voice of the Customer panel during which nurses and other medical technicians provide live feedback on packages as they are opened. This year's event provided valuable feedback, and one of the concerns emphasized was opening packages quickly. “The faster you can open a product, the better,” one professional told the audience this year. Our article, "HealthPack 2016: Users prefer time-saving packages," was our 5th top trend article. 

NEXT: Sustainability

4. Sustainability

For years the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council has been exploring the opportunities—as well as the challenges—for healthcare plastics recycling. This year the group announced a project in Chicago to demonstrate the economic viability of healthcare plastics recycling called the “100 Tons Project.” Our 4th top trends article, "Examining the value of healthcare plastics recycling," announced the project as well as the impact of Europe's emerging Circular Economy Package.

Interest in sustainability was also seen in a series of other articles we published this year on Bella the Bride, a wedding gown commissioned by Beacon Converters that was made of discarded Tyvek. The dress, made by sustainable fashion artist Nancy Judd (known for the Recycle Runway Collection), was showcased at this year's Medical Design & Manufacturing East. Bella the Bride encourages the industry to “look at waste as resources, not garbage,” Terri Shank, Beacon’s sustainability officer/director of IT & marketing projects, told PMP News earlier this year. To learn more about Bella the Bride’s story, please read "Healthcare packaging waste issues discussed at MD&M East thanks to Bella the Bride,"  "MD&M East welcomes Bella the Bride to showcase sustainability," and “Say I Do to Material Recovery.”

NEXT: Patient-centric packaging

3. Patient-centric packaging

Pharmaceutical and medical device packaging will need to serve these patients/consumers differently than it has ever done before. Such was the message from Peter Schmitt, managing director of Montesino Associates, who spoke at Pharmapack Europe 2016 during the presentation, "Boomers, millennials, and the future of packaging materials." In our 3rd most popular trends article, "Change is coming to pharma packaging, predicts PharmaPack Europe speaker. Are you ready?" Schmitt points out that significant societal changes brought about by disrupters Apple, Google, Amazon, and others may also change healthcare, and therefore change packaging. 

Schmitt will be speaking on another topic at Pharmapack Europe 2017 on February 1: Brazil's latest regulatory serialization guidelines and implications. He'll look at prior regulations and new ones and the timeline for implementation as well as offer a comparison with requirements in United States and Europe. 

NEXT: USP packaging chapter changes

2. USP packaging chapter changes

Several U.S. Pharmacopeia packaging chapters saw significant changes or expansions over the last year or so. For instance, USP Chapter <661> Containers-Plastics includes new responsibilities that may apply to new packages. Our article, "Are you ready for changes to the USP packaging chapters?" was our 2nd top trends article. Another popular article this year on the changes was "USP: It's your product and you know the risk—you determine the testing," which shared insights from the 2016 EastPack presentation by Desmond Hunt, PhD, USP’s Senior Scientific Liaison, in which he spoke about the history and intent behind Chapter <661> and its two subchapters, <661.1> Plastic Materials of Construction and <661.2> Plastic Packaging Systems for Pharmaceuticals. After his presentation, he joined the panel discussion “Putting the Changing USP Packaging Chapters to Work” moderated by Dwain L. Sparks, Strategic Advisor & Expert Consultant, YourEncore (Eli Lilly & Co. Retiree). The panel also featured Dan Malinowski, Senior Director of Package Technology & Innovation, Pfizer; and Brandon Zurawlow, Associate Director of Container Qualification & CCIT, Whitehouse Laboratories, a division of AMRI.

NEXT: Supply-chain data


1. Supply-chain data

Given serialization, Unique Device Identification, anticounterfeiting/antidiversion, temperature control, and efforts to streamline supplier bases, it probably comes as no surprise that our article on supply-chain data, "Turning supply chain data into intelligence," was our No.1 trends article. The article explored an approach from DHL Supply Chain for utilizing supply chain data for better visibility, better intelligence, and better planning. 

As the article pointed out, technology is available to help gather supply chain data. “Ever since the advent of RFID and GPS, it is possible to track product throughout the life cycle,” Gary Keatings, Vice President Global Solutions Design Center of Excellence and Product Development, DHL Supply Chain, told us earlier this year. This is of particular importance to the pharmaceutical supply chain, because “as pharma becomes more business-to-consumer, we need to have control over where drugs are,” he said. The key is to put that data to use.

In the coming year, pharmaceutical and medical device packaging professionals will see even more tools evolve to help them identify and track products as well as streamline their own supply chains and those to healthcare practitioners and patients. The needs are critical—the healthcare market is an increasingly global one, made up of varying regulations, standards, and customer needs. For today's pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to be competitive, they must seek supply chain efficiency and data accuracy, along with cost efficiency. 

Stay tuned for our 2017 coverage of supply chain solutions along with updates on USP packaging chapters, patient-centric packaging, usability, sustainability, eDMFs, UDI, and more. It will be a busy year!


Start the New Year off right by planning to attend WestPack and Medical Design & Manufacturing West February 7-9 in Anaheim. More than 2200 solution providers will be on hand to address your needs for packaging, advanced manufacturing, testing, regulatory support, and more—all in one location!

Package shipping and changing dim weights: Why you may want to hedge your bets

Package shipping and changing dim weights: Why you may want to hedge your bets
With the dim weight factor on the move again, packagers' shipping challenges will become more complicated.

Now that FedEx’s dimensional weight factor is on the move again, it may take a combination of tactics to balance out the cost impact of packaged shipments.

Is this déjà vu? Did I just wake up from a long winter’s slumber way too early? I could swear I just read that FedEx is changing their dimensional weight pricing structure again.  

But just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free shipping and FedEx is making the push to get the air out of its trailers:

Back in 2014, FedEx introduced a new mechanism that determined charges by the cube of the packaging, not just the weight: dimensional weight pricing.

At the time, most of our clients chose to take one of the following approaches:

1. Negotiate their dim weight factor;

2. Redesign their packaging to minimize dim weight charges;

3. Pass on the price increase to their customers; or

4. Accept the price increase and eat it, thus lowering profit margins.

Many of our clients were able to renegotiate, so there wasn’t as much of a need to redesign their packaging. But now that the dim weight factor is on the move again, it may take a combination of all four of the components above to help balance out the cost impact.

But first, let’s review the basics.

A refresher: What is dimensional weight pricing?

Usually applied to small packages that travel via FedEx Express or FedEx Ground, dimensional weight (“dim weight”) is the volume of your package (L x W x D) divided by a nominal value to get your dim weight value. As a shipper, you then pay the greater of the two (dim weight vs. actual weight).

In other words, if the dimensional weight is greater than the actual weight of your package, you get charged for the dimensional weight. 

For example, a box size of 15in. x 12in. x 9in. would now have a dimensional weight of 11.7lb; (15 x 12 x 9in. = 1620; 1620 divided by 139  = 11.655 rounded = 11.7 lb).

Back in 2014, the nominal value used to calculate dim weight was 166; but the new dim weight factor will be moving to 139. This new 139 divisor results in a 12lb/cubic foot density, which essentially maxes out a 53ft trailer by both cube and maximum weight of 45,000 lbs.

The bottom line here is that FedEx will get paid for the maximum load the trailer can haul one way or the other.

That means that a 12 x 12 x 12in. package would be charged as a 13-lb package. Stop and think about that; that’s a pretty dense, heavy box.

As you can imagine, from a high-level perspective, this is bound to impact packaged product shipments, as most small parcel packages are just not that dense. Therefore, if your packaged product shipping densities are currently less than 12lb/cubic foot, you may be at risk for an increase in your small-parcel shipping costs.

How do morphing dim weight factors impact my shipping costs?

The change in dimensional weight factors is a 19.5% increase.

Please let me repeat that factoid, since it bears repeating:  The change in dimensional weight factors is 19.5%! And we have not even begun to delve into the ramifications on supply-chain costs.

That percentage increase may vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on your current packaging configuration, and how much air you ship in your shipper boxes, and shipping distance (zone). The chart above shows a sampling of the top items purchased online, and how the new dim weight factor will increase their shipping costs.

As before and as it is in 2017, the game is still the same: Ship your products to your customers in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible, but know that the rules are changing, at least for FedEx. It’s up to you to choose your own adventure as we navigate through this amorphous new dim weight pricing structure. As an added bonus, FedEx will also be increasing its rates: 3.9% for FedEx Express and 4.9% for Ground deliveries.

Rob Kaszubowski is the Engineering Manager at Chainalytics, where he is focused on improving sustainability metrics and implementing packaging cost savings while leading a team of packaging consultants. Rob also contributes to the Packaging Matters blog.


Connect with Rob on LinkedIn and on Twitter @KazPack1

Main image credit: Designed by Freepik

Chart image credits: Toaster: Home vector designed by Rosapuchalt -; Shoes: Camera vector designed by Smithytomy -; Diapers: Baby vector designed by Freepik.


Fine-tune and optimize your packaging with new ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


Hidden gems in food packaging 2016

Hidden gems in food packaging 2016
Open up our chest of hidden packaging treasures. Photo credit: Designed by Kristian Stokholm,

We take a look back at the food packages that did not crack our lists of the year’s top-performing packaging stories, yet impressed our editors. We think you’ll find these six overlooked gems to be of top-notch quality.

The Packaging Digest staff took a look at the top articles posted in 2016 that may not have received the lofty PageViews of others in our year-end best-read lists, but that we felt were worth a second look.

Why? Because sometimes it’s not just about the numbers.

What measures did we use? Some 60 years’ combined know-how covering packaging editorial for the biggest publications in the business. Our picks are presented in no particular order as selected by Executive Editor Lisa Pierce and me, Rick Lingle, Technical Editor.

We lead things off with this unique perspective selected by Ms. Pierce that looks at how container and material selections are driven by processing. Consumers increasingly demand a safe food supply without sacrificing nutritional content, quality or shelf life of foods they buy. Luckily, many food processing methods are adjusting their operations accordingly. But how do these processing improvements change the product’s packaging requirements?

The man with the answers is Murat Balaban, who has more than 40 years’ research and teaching experience in food processing.

Next: This big cup spreads an ancient snack further than ever.


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


This one was a unanimous choice because Lisa and I both had it on our food packaging shortlist: Shelf-stable hummus in a cup set to stir up the category contains a fresh new take on an ancient product.

Hummustir’s innovative kit-style packaging offers a new wrinkle in the category for on-the-go anywhere convenience: Shelf stable, flexible pouches of hummus packed inside a large paper cup that are opened and mixed at the time of use.

As a bonus, this editor examined a sample and taste-tasted the deliciously smooth results, all in the name of thorough reporting.

See what’s literally in store with an impressive snacks pouch.


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


The Packaging Digest staff has been invited yearly to help judge the best in private-label packaging for Store Brands magazine. We continue to be impressed by the ongoing increase in the effort and quality put into the packaging in this market.

Exemplary in 2016’s competition were these beautifully printed packs from Tangled Tree brands that pushed generically-printed pouches into a remarkable level of appeal and attention to detail. Prominent and subtle aspects were masterfully combined in artistically pleasing way.

As a bonus, you can check out the other nine packs that were highlighted in Top 10 ‘right-on’ packaging designs for store brands.

Believe it or not, our next selection involves Amish farmers and track-and-trace technology.


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


This recent post tells of the trial of a sophisticated, but simple-to use track-and-trace technology in a NFC-enabled Smart Label the size of a business card. Notably, the data is collected through a smartphone application to help the brand owner assess distribution conditions in order to optimize the packaging accordingly.

But that’s not even the wildest part: This case study involves direct-to-consumer ecommerce, camels and Amish farmers. This new school twist on an old school product, camels’ milk, is worth a second look.

Next: An update on a food issue that refuses to go away.


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA


Beginning May 11, 2016, companies were required to warn consumers about potential exposure to the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) under California’s Proposition 65 law. Because of several complicating factors that could have an adverse effect on the food supply, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) put in place an emergency regulation to allow the temporary use of a standard point-of-sale warning message for BPA exposures from canned and bottled foods and beverages. The California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved the emergency regulation on Apr. 18, 2016.

Sorting through this quagmire is our legal columnist, George Misko, in California to allow temporary point-of-sale, Prop 65 warnings for BPA exposure.

The grand finale: A design served with a side of nostalgia


Explore fresh food packaging ideas at WestPack, February 7-9, 2017, in Anaheim, CA



I think it was my interest in reading the copy and enjoying the graphics on cereal boxes over breakfast as a kid that piqued my initial interest in packaging…and in chemistry; I mean, what exactly did butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) do and why was it added to the packaging to preserve freshness?

As an avid reader over these many years, I have also enjoyed good storytelling, a tack that, when used properly in packaging design, can engage consumers in a meaningful way.

I felt that this story-centered packaging redesign for Kashi is an ideal example of that, with a grassroots folksy approach that connects consumers with the people and stories behind the brand and in a completely natural way.

We tell the story in Natural storytelling helps redefine Kashi packaging.

To find it on boxes of healthy cereal brings me back full circle with or without BHT added to preserve freshness.

The undeniable influence of kids

The undeniable influence of kids
Undeniable influence of kids

Undeniable influence of kids

Imagine a world in which kids make all the decisions. Imagine a time that these decisions include nearly every purchase in the child's household...

Perhaps this seems hypothetical, a potential future unrealized. Yet kids have that power—today. Kids influence up to 80 percent of all household purchases. And as a market segment, they are impossible to ignore. In fact, ignoring them may mark the beginning of the end for your brand.

Why consider kids?

Their numbers alone should raise your interest. Consider that Gen Z is comprised of 61.2 million toddlers to teens ages 14 and under.

Kids BandAid The fact that they have money with their parents' approval to spend it, and are encouraged to express opinions and influence in their family, should further raise your interest. Today's kids are EMPOWERED! Children's spending had roughly doubled every ten years for over three decades, and had tripled in the 1990's. Kids 4-12 spent $2.2 billion in 1968, and $4.2 billion in 1984. But by 1994 the figure climbed to $17.1 billion, and by 2002 their spending exceeded $40 billion.1 These figures are direct spending by kids. Taking into account spending influence results in staggering numbers. For example, in 2012, kids buying power and influence had reached $1.2 trillion, with a "T"!

General social, family and kid trends have added to kids' power. Consider the dramatic increase in purchase influence. In the 1960's, children influenced about $5 billion of their parents' purchases, affecting decisions by such means as "The Nag Factor." These were the days when children were to be "Seen & Not Heard." By 1984 that figure increased ten-fold to $50 billion as times changed, and parents began to involve their children more in purchase decisions.2 This trend has continued. Today's parents ask for children's preferences. The modern family is an inclusive environment, in which nearly everything is shared, and parents encourage and empower their kids. Moms choose the category, kids choose the brand.

Kids BazookaHow do kids relate to brands?

Kids' relationships with brands begin at a very early age. At six months of age, babies begin to recognize brands by forming mental images of corporate logos and mascots.3 Brand loyalty may begin as early as age two. By age 3, one out of five American children make specific requests for brand-name products. By age 5, children are ready to make their own (parent-financed) purchases. And by age 7, they are totally in control. With this control comes power—a power to make their own decisions. Add the complexities in a seven-and-older child's life (including elusive tweens and teens) and prepare yourself for potentially turbulent brand relationships.4 Yet many of these relationships last a lifetime. In fact, in many categories over 25% of brand preferences persist from childhood to adulthood. Adult brand allegiance is powerfully influenced by nostalgia and childhood associations.5

Not everyone is comfortable with these trends, or their implications. At the root of these concerns is Trust. We suggest that marketers adopt an open, honest and transparent approach. Today's kids and adults see brands transparently, and are aware of everything. And more, kids and caregivers are connected by technology and share everything as well. They are what we call prosumers, in that you can't con a prosumer. Extremely marketing savvy, their acceptance requires a genuine interest in meeting THEIR needs. Remember and apply the Golden Rule, and do unto others...

Like all of us, kids also live in a world of infinite choices. A growing list of products, services and activities vie for kids' attention, and compete to be a part of their increasingly over-scheduled lives. In 2010, the average grocery store carried nearly 40,000 SKUs, up from 8,000 in the 1970's. The average American receives more than 3,000 media messages per day, and sees as many as 10,000 brands per day. Kids today have adjusted to this reality by filtering information and options at warp speed. As a result marketing to this group is terribly challenging. Creating a valued relationship in which kids choose, share, seek, and short list your brand is the dream state. Making that list hinges on the first crucial step, being chosen.

Kids Dial The goal is certainly, at the very least, to make the list. The brass ring is much more. It's about creating valued relationships between kids and THEIR brands. To secure a spot in this circle, you must be real and relevant. Adopt a kid lifestyle. And of course, everything matters.

The desired perception is, "That brand is for ME!" The fact that kids and adults are totally different in many, many ways is fundamental and obvious. The challenge is in engaging kids and adults (parents, gatekeepers and gift-givers) simultaneously. Kids' brands must effectively apply balanced, bimodal messaging to speak to kids and caregivers. Differences in tastes (literally and figuratively), communication skills, perceptions, comprehension and drivers require a deliberate, calculated approach. Appeal to and engage one target or the other, or risk losing both. Then package your brand to emote embody, entice, enhance and endure.

Effective, proven approaches to meeting these challenge abound. Leading brands (particularly tomorrow's leading brands) are involving specialists—including kids—in their marketing, advertising and product development. As children grow, their relationships with brands grow. The best way to ensure an enduring, valued relationship is to keep your brand relevant.

What tools should be considered?

Helmut Krone, noted advertising icon and Hall of Fame member for his work with such brands as Volkswagen, once stated that "every company, every product, needs its own package." The package, by our definition, includes every aspect of the brand experience. This "package" is the face of your business strategy. The device which facilitates your customer/brand relationship.

A valued relationship places kids and the adults in their lives at the heart of brand activities. A child's needs, desires or interests are expressed to Mom in the form of a request. Mom approves the request and the child tries the product. Provided a positive experience, the product is now endorsed by Mom. A multi-level, emotional connection is formed. Revitalization is the last, on-going step to keeping the product relevant and preferred over alternatives—unless deposed by a challenger. The result is an enduring relationship and allegiance which provides benefits to everyone involved.

The tools have not changed completely, rather they have evolved. In effect they are the same "4 Ps" of old; Product, Packaging, Promotion and Positioning. As evidenced every day, these tools have increased in scale at the expense of efficiently reaching the audiences they pursue. In turn, target audiences have come to expect personalization from THEIR brands.

Effective kids' marketing applies all of these tools, appropriately and masterfully. Take for example packaging, in the literal sense. Today's products and packages reflect the changing expectations of their audience, and the trends which affect them.

Nearly two decades ago, we wrote a White Paper suggesting that packaging in all categories would benefit from the communication style of toy packaging, and that in time this would be realized. If you walk through mass retailers today, this point has in fact proven true. Dynamic graphics, visual treatments, exciting and emotive colors appear on nearly every package in every category. In recent years, simple, clean graphics and the use of white have become the latest trend. In part this is a reflection of consumers desires for simple solutions, and in part it is intended to stand out among the cluttered chaos on shelf.

The cleaning products category is a favorite example. Everything is now either visually exciting and dynamic, or pure and simple. Modern day realities, and the trends that have created them, have transformed expectations. Successful brands have transformed as well.

Why is transformation required?

As we have previously stated, the key to success lies in relevance. Kids, as no other customers, demand transformation. Their worlds are filled with products which transform literally and functionally. Toys that transform. Candy that's a toy. Food that changes color. Pop idols that change their persona. And on and on. Technology alone has changed their expectations. This is a generation that has grown up with multiple screens in every size and configuration, upgrades and updates in the form of 2.0, 2.1, 3.0 and so on. They are the household experts on such matters.

Kids seek out and embrace "new" in their lives. They need the next, new thing. And they want what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

The key to your success is in their hands, hearts and minds.

Bill Goodwin

Bill Goodwin, founder of Goodwin Design Group, has refused to grow up. As a result, he and his group have become a leading authority on brand strategy, insights, innovation and design—particularly for kids and families. Goodwin's clients include many of the world's leading marketers as well as others who aim to be, including Campbell Soup Co., Colgate-Palmolive, Crayola, Disney, General Mills, Hasbro, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Mattel, Nickelodeon, Procter & Gamble and Toys R Us among others. The company's approach is as much a product of Goodwin's experience as they are a part of his group's mission. Do great work with great people. Have fun. Deliver results. Profit fairly. — And stay young.

1. James McNeal, The Kids' Market: Myths and Realities, Ithaca: Paramount Market Publishing, Inc., 1999, and The U.S. Kids Market, a 2002 report from Packaged Facts available at
2. James McNeal, "Tapping the Three Kids' Markets," American Demographics, April 1998.
3. James McNeal and Chyon-Hwa Yeh. "Born to Shop," American Demographics, June 1993, pp 34-39.
4. "Brand Aware," Children's Business, June 2000.
5. Brandchild, by Martin Lindstrom.