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Process heater/chiller combo systems can slash energy consumption

Delta T SystemsDelta T Systems (Richfield, WI) has developed a new concept in process temperature control with its introduction of a fully integrated dual-zone heater/chiller combination package. This new technology allows manufacturers to deploy energy-efficient control systems that include variable-speed compressors and fan motors to precisely control temperature in a variety of production processes.

Configurability, compactness and simplicity are just a few of the benefits of these new combo units, said Delta T Systems. The systems include industry-tested controls that can log data, predict future issues and provide adaptive measures to allow a process to continue to operate at a lower, controlled speed before a mandatory maintenance shutdown.

The integrated system saves space and money, since both circuits are contained in one cabinet and are managed by a single controller, said the company. Two processes may be controlled at different temperatures and pumping capacities using the standard single controller and program. It can also be used in any application where chiller and temperature control units (TCUs) are used in tandem. Chiller temperatures range from 0 to 80oF and TCU temperatures reach up to 180oF for water.

Variable-speed chillers can reduce electrical consumption by up to 50% compared with fixed speed units, according to Delta T Systems.

The Industry 4.0–ready control program comes with all standard features including adaptive controls, data logging, 4-inch touch screen, remote monitoring and single water tank/source, noted Delta T.

Quick-moving carousel fills bill for prescription pills

Rowa dose system

System design engineers are sometimes faced with big challenges, even when they are handling a tiny product. That was the dilemma facing Rowa Technologies (Kelberg, Germany), as it sought to build an automated system to safely and efficiently package prescription pills.

The project took three years, but Rowa Technologies, a division of global medical technology company Becton Dickinson, was successful in designing an automated system that can package up to 700 solid oral medicines in patient-specific blister pouches. Called the Rowa Dose system, the unit can be expanded with modular components and offers the ultimate in medication safety.

The design team from Rowa Technologies turned to igus, a Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics, for several key components of the Rowa Dose system. Igus runs its North American operations out of Providence, RI.

Rowa engineers needed a lubrication-free linear and curved-guidance system. They also wanted the linear carriages to have a small curve radius with little friction and to work quietly. The unit needed to work precisely and reliably, because improper dispensing could lead to deadly consequences. But the unit also needed to operate quietly in an environment that seeks to keep noise and distractions to a minimum.

“Packaging doses individually for patients is practical, easy to understand and safe,’’ said Minne Jorritsma, Global Leader of Pouch Packaging Solutions for BD. “With Rowa Dose, everyone benefits, from the pharmacists and nursing staff to the patient and his or her relatives.”

The heart of the system

A carousel that holds collecting bins for the medications is at the heart of the packaging system. The pills are dropped and sealed into a pouch and labeled for the order. The carousel continues to rotate, preparing the next order to be filled.

Designing the carousel was one of the most complex challenges facing the engineers. They required curved and linear guidance on one assembly. But they also wanted limited drive energy to keep friction as low as possible and minimize noise levels and vibration.

Igus guide system
The guide in the circulating system is a custom-made machined part.

“The main issue that they had in designing the system was the small radius that the linear carriages had to realize at both ends of the carousel,’’ said Stefan Niermann, head of igus’ drylin linear and drive technology. “There is no other system on the market that can realize a small radius and can also go in a straight line. The combination of having a long straight line and small radius was very difficult to solve. Also, all the stop-motion movements are not easy for recirculating ball-bearing systems.”

Engineers designed a custom solution with 180° curves with a radius of 80 millimeters. Sliding through tight curves also required the use of plastic sliders that maintain stability during movement into the tight curve, even at high speeds.

“One turn in the Rowa Dose system can implement eight to 10 rails that are connected to each other,’’ Niermann said. “The igus guiding systems are the only ones that can realize the small radius and the sliding elements in the carriages, and cope with all of the connections along the rail.”

The igus drylin W 10 liners used in this application are made with high-performance, maintenance materials from igus’ iglide J material. The material is extremely durable and resistant to wear on nearly all shafts, with low coefficients of friction. The material also dampens vibration and exhibits low wear against shaft materials. Vending machines, printers, beverage production and packaging, and aviation are also applications in which iglide J materials are frequently used.

Modularity satisfies growth, volume or workflow requirements

In the Rowa Dose system, orders are packaged into single dose or multi-dose packages. The modular system can be installed in up to five different configurations. Customers can choose from 140 canisters up to 700 canisters, depending on immediate need, growth, volume or workflow requirements.

There are 10 canisters per row, and each canister has a multi-colored light that indicates when it needs to be re-filled. Each canister is customized and calibrated for a specific oral medication. Canisters are designed specifically for each pill, and come in two heights. There are also specially designed canisters for UV-sensitive medications.

Information for each medication is stored on a radio frequency identification tag on the underside of the canister. Based on the patient order and software, the pills are released down a dispensing tube and into the bin on the carousel. The dispensing tube has a curved path to slow down the pill as it travels to avoid damage.

Rowa Igus system
Unsupported, high-speed, small-bend radii: The requirements placed on energy chains used in the Rowa system are also very high.

Igus products are also used in the dispensing tubes. The drylin W guides are made of hard-anodized aluminum, and have extra height and width to absorb greater tilting forces and ensure stable guidance of the downpipe.

The system produces sealed, labeled pouches containing pills for specific patient orders. They spool out of the machine and can be bundled in strips for delivery and contain single or multiple pills. The information on the pouches can be configured according to the needs of the pharmacy.

Helping control costs

Pharmacies, hospitals and other agencies that distribute medication are under increasing pressure to improve efficiency and contain costs, while also disseminating drugs accurately and reliably.

That objective is even more important as the use of prescription drugs increases. Nearly 49% of the U.S. population uses prescription drugs in a 30-day period, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription drug expenditures soared to $360.2 billion in 2018.

The Rowa Dose system helps reduce costs, providing a high-speed, multi-dose pouch packaging solution that features superior capacity, throughput and a minimal error rate for producing high-volume oral solid medications.

“Rowa [has demonstrated that] very fast handling and time savings can be accomplished with the right technology,’’ Niermann said.

Image of Rowa Dose system at top of page courtesy Becton Dickinson Rowa GmbH. All other images courtesy igus GmbH.

The author of this article, Matt Mowry, is drylin Product Manager for igus North America.

Kruger Plastics acquires California-based injection molder NCIM

Kruger Plastics Products (Bridgman, MI), a portfolio company of HC Private Investments (HCPI), announced on Feb. 25 that it has acquired Northern California Injection Molding and El Dorado Molds (NCIM), and changed the name of the new entity to Springboard Manufacturing. The announcement from HCPI noted that the acquisition creates a leading manufacturer of high-quality custom injection molding tooling and parts offering a solutions-oriented approach for customers nationwide.

Based in Rancho Cordova, CA, NCIM’s executive team, led by Glen Shrigley, will continue to manage the California operations. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“We are excited to be working with HCPI and Kruger to build long-term value,” commented Shrigley, Vice President of NCIM and El Dorado. “We believe that the experience and capabilities of HCPI, Doug Constable [CEO of Springboard] and the rest of the Kruger management team make them the right partner for NCIM and will enable us to capitalize on significant opportunities while maintaining our core values of quality and service.”

NCIM provides fully integrated plastics manufacturing and engineering services across a diversified set of end markets, including medical, industrial and heavy duty-diesel engines. NCIM operates in a 93,800-square-foot plant that it shares with El Dorado Molds, equipped with 37 injection molding presses ranging from 40 to 500 tons. The facility includes an 1,100-square-foot ISO Class 8 cleanroom with seven presses. The company has ISO 9001:2015 certification, and is certified by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG).

“This is a transformative transaction that provides Springboard with world-class toolmaking capabilities and injection molding operations and enhances our ability to service our blue-chip clients from coast to coast,” said Constable. “NCIM has played an integral role in its customers’ manufacturing process for nearly 30 years, and their customer-centric approach and culture of operational excellence make them an ideal fit for Kruger, and now Springboard. We are excited to partner with NCIM’s incredibly talented management teams to drive continued growth within our business.”

The NCIM acquisition fits with HCPI’s core strategy of combining strong executive resources with family-held businesses and patient capital to drive long-term growth. HCPI originally acquired Kruger Plastics Products, which had 47 injection molding presses ranging from 25 to 1,000 tons at the time, in partnership with management in December 2017.

HCPI is a private equity investment firm focused on making investments between $5 million and $30 million in lower middle-market manufacturing businesses within the consumer and industrial markets. HCPI invests capital from HC Technologies LLC, a Chicago-based trading firm led by Joe Niciforo with offices in New York and London.

HCPI will continue expanding the Springboard platform through a combination of organic growth and strategic complementary add-on acquisitions. The managing partners of HCPI, John P. Kelly and Matthew J. Moran, added, “We are thrilled to be supporting Springboard’s growth by expanding its manufacturing footprint and providing the business with enhanced capabilities to attract and service customers, including those in the medical device sector.”

Sustainable packaging remains hot during 2019’s winter

Sustainable packaging remains hot during 2019’s winter

What happens when you combine sustainable packaging with ecommerce challenges? You get an idea of what packaging professionals were especially concerned about the first month of the new year.

Based on page views, here are the top stories the Packaging Digest audience found most compelling in January 2019. We start from the bottom up with…


5. 3 challenges of ecommerce packaging (from an insider)

Emmy Corman, package design engineer at Dollar Shave Club, is facing at least three challenges when it comes to ecommerce packaging:

• To be less wasteful by using less materials or reusable packaging.

• To offer a new type of “shelf presence” with better graphics or branding; or to elevate the unboxing experience.

• To optimize returns via the small parcel shipping environment, which is a concern brick-and-mortar retailers don’t face.

The good news is she has ideas for all three that any ecommerce marketer can copy. Click the headline above to read about them.

NEXT: Healthcare packaging wows


4. 6 striking pharma and medical packaging developments in 2018

Arguably, the pharmaceutical and medical device markets aren’t the most active when it comes to packaging innovation. So when it happens, we celebrate! At the end of 2018, our review of the top pharmaceutical and medical device packaging news revealed these gems (in order from tippy top down):

(1) New Amcor: Assessing the impact of the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer packaging Whenever a significant merger or acquisition takes place in the packaging supplier community serving the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, it gets a lot of attention. Like Amcor’s Aug. 6, 2018, announcement that it was buying Bemis in an all-stock deal worth US$6.8 billion.

While healthcare represents only 12% of the mega-packaging-supplier’s sales, the impact is still staggering because it represents $1.56 billion of the combined company’s $13 billion annual sales. In this article, we consider the ramifications of the deal for customers.

(2) Medical packaging 101: Basics medical device companies need to know This primer from leading medical device packaging supplier Steriliant LLC discusses package design considerations, sterilization options, package testing requirements and validation processes.

(3) Medical device package integrity test methods: 2018 In this free 25-page report, veteran medical packaging journalist Daphne Allen outlines the available package integrity testing methods, along with exclusive research on the most-used tests. Learn about:

• Bubble Methods

• Visual Method

• Dye Penetration Methods

• Decay Measurement

• Tracer Gas

• Airborne Ultrasound

• Vaccum Deflection

• Mass Extraction

(4) What you need in anti-counterfeit packaging today and why The global drug trade suffers heavy annual losses from clever counterfeiters and manufacturers need to keep up with innovations in packaging to thwart counterfeiters. In this article, experts with anti-counterfeit research organization and global leader in advanced security holograms Optaglio explain how the anti-counterfeiting landscape is changing and give a summary of critical general guidelines.

(5) What’s the future of pharma shipping? Kevin Lawler, vp of sales for Pelican BioThermal, identifies four ways logistics for pharmaceuticals might change in the near future: With biologics…temperature-controlled requirements will evolve; direct-to-patient shipping will be both ways; sustainability of cold-chain distribution packaging will balance reusable and single-use options; from a life sciences perspective, nothing from the FDA or Europe’s Good Distribution Practices (GDP) suggests new regulations are on the short-term horizon.

(6) Corning prepares for demand for Valor Glass Corning began developing a new glass for pharma packaging after FDA’s 2011 advisory on glass delamination. For its new Valor Glass, the company created an aluminosilicate glass by eliminating boron from the composition. Kyle Hoff, applications engineering manager at Corning, explains, “Boron used in conventional glass volatizes during vial manufacturing creating different glass chemistry in the drug-contacting region of the container, which can lead to chemical attack and glass flake (lamellae) formation. The aluminosilicate glass does not have boron, so the volatilization mechanism does not occur, leading to a uniform and chemically durable glass chemistry on the entire inside of every Valor container.”

NEXT: Sustainable packaging developments x10

Sustainable surprises 2018

3. 10 sustainable packaging surprises in 2018

No surprise here that our review of the top articles about sustainable packaging last year was a gift that keeps giving.

Sustainability wonders in 2018 included (starting with the top article and moving down):

(1) Amazon incentivizes brands to create Frustration-Free Packaging

(2) L’Oréal’s paper bottle: Easy on the earth but tough in showers

(3) 4 sustainable truths impacting food packaging today

(4) P&G’s PureCycle cleans recycled PP to ‘near virgin’ quality

(5) How Conagra rewards packaging line workers for cutting waste

(6) How packaging recyclability can shift sustainability expectations for startup beauty brands

(7) Japan’s Kao Group makes sustainability look raku raku (‘so easy’)

(8) 5 factors affecting sustainable packaging moving forward

(9) 5 environmental advantages of corrugated packaging

(10) Sustainable packaging innovators earn kudos

NEXT: How do you know you’re cut out for a packaging career?

2. More ‘packaging engineer’ quips: gallery

This entertaining follow-up of user-generated answers to the statement “You know you’re a packaging engineer when…” gives us 18 more insights into what it means to be part of the packaging club.

My favorite from version 2: “You get a blank stare when you tell someone what you do for a living.” Been there, done that?

What’s the answer we’ve received the most? A number of variations on this theme: “You buy the package and throw the product away.”

Definitely been there, done that.

NEXT: The biggest news of the year!

1. Loop and big brands boldly reinvent waste-free packaging

Nestlé, Coca Cola, Unilever and Procter & Gamble are among nearly two dozen initial brand-owner partners in the ground-breaking circular shopping platform called Loop. The brainchild of TerraCycle CEO and founder Tom Szaky, Loop relies on premium and long-lasting packaging that is designed for multiple reuse before ultimately being recycled.

Our extensive coverage of this major reusable packaging initiative includes an exclusive 43-minute interview with Szaky, details on Nestlé’s development of its Haagen-Dazs double-wall stainless steel pint and photos of more than 20 packages designed for Loop.

Will on-the-go consumers in the new millennium embrace this concept of the “21st century milkman”? What do you think?


EastPack 2019 (June 11-13) is the region's premier packaging event connecting professionals from companies like PepsiCo, Pepperidge Farms and Mars with suppliers offering the latest packaging technologies, including a range of automation solutions, from semi-automatic equipment to sophisticated "smart" systems. Register to attend today!

Cobot adds flexibility to case erecting/sealing operation

Instead of minimizing changeover in your case erecting operation, how about eliminating it entirely? In a flexible setup that can accommodate up to 10 different size case magazines, a single collaborative robot is able to randomly pick and erect up to 8 cases per minute and present them to an operator for subsequent packing.

Recorded at WestPack 2019, the short video above shows how a Universal Robot cobot picks up a case flat from one of the magazines, opens and positions it so the bottom flaps are ready for sealing, and passes it across a Shurtape pressure-sensitive tape sealing head.

The Xpak Robox collaborative case erector can select different case sizes from the available magazines, randomly, as needed. The cobot can service up to 10 magazines. Speeds can be higher if the robot is run in regular mode instead of cobot mode, but then you’d need some physical barriers for employee protection because you would lose the inherent human safety aspects of the collaborative robot.

Floorspace is also less than a conventional case erector.


EastPack 2019 (June 11-13) is the region's premier packaging event connecting professionals from companies like PepsiCo, Pepperidge Farms and Mars with suppliers offering the latest packaging technologies, including a range of automation solutions, from semi-automatic equipment to sophisticated "smart" systems. Register to attend today!

Delivering sustainably optimized meal kit packaging

Delivering sustainably optimized meal kit packaging
Ecommerce brands like HelloFresh conveniently deliver fresh and easy-to-prepare meals to consumers’ homes, but how can they do that sustainability?

Meal kits can deliver fresh foods that look good, taste good and are sustainably and tastefully packaged and protected for home delivery.

It is possible for meal kits to deliver an exciting unboxing experience for ecommerce food shoppers and do so using sustainably optimized packaging, claims Carol Zweep, manager of packaging, NSF Canada. Zweep shared her insights and personal experiences with a packed and attentive audience at a conference session during PackEx Montreal last November, an event managed by Packaging Digest parent company Informa.

“Meal kits are convenient for consumers, but do they contribute to packaging waste?” she asked attendees before unpacking the topic in a presentation that included photos of her own meal kit experiences (shown) for a large crowd gathered at Center Stage.

While her remarks were tailored to a predominantly Canadian audience, Zweep provides freshly prepared input for Packaging Digest readers everywhere in this Q&A.

What are the drivers and trends in the meal kits market?

Zweep: Meal kits have become a popular on-line purchase for consumers. According to a report from Packaged Facts, Meal Kits Delivery Services in the U.S., 2nd Edition in 2017, the meal kits market was worth $5 billion.

With busy schedules, the meal kit is convenient. There is no meal planning required, no in-store ingredient shopping required and all ingredients are fresh, pre-measured and in some cases pre-cut.

Meal kits saves time but also saves money compared to eating out. New experiences are offered for these meals, where one can select exotic, ethnic meals. Meals can also be selected to fit your preference or lifestyle i.e. vegetarian. The meal kits come with pictures and preparation instructions that make it fun to cook. And they are fun!

How can ecommerce meal kits be developed and designed to be as sustainable as possible?

Zweep: Proper meal kit packaging is important to prevent food spoilage and to ensure food safety. This entails packaging ingredients in plastic bags and jars that are placed in an insulated corrugate box with ice packs. On one hand, packaged portions means there are no leftovers or extraneous fresh ingredient that results in a decrease in food waste. However, the packaging can lead to additional costs and a negative impact on the environment.

There’s strong interest in reducing food waste…doesn’t this run contrary to having meals like this shipped?

Zweep: Food waste is a global issue. A study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN suggests that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production down to household consumption. In the U.S., about 150,000 tons of food is thrown out by households each day. This accounts for 30% of daily calories available for consumption. (Plos One, 2018). The discarded food ends up in landfills and is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Packaging can play a large role in reducing food waste. For example, modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and new packaging technologies such as active packaging—including oxygen and ethylene scavengers—can extend shelf life and reduce food waste.

According to the study How Packaging Contributes to Food Waste Prevention, proper packaging results in less greenhouse gas emissions. Although more packaging is used, less food is wasted leading to a lower overall carbon footprint.

Can you cite exemplary branded sustainable meal kit packaging?

Zweep: Meal kit makers acknowledge that packaging is a problem and are making efforts to address this issue with sustainable solutions.

For example, HelloFresh uses corrugated boxes made with recycled fibers and the boxes can be recycled. Their paper bags can also be recycled or composted. The ice packs they use are nontoxic and contain a salt solution can be reused or returned or safely poured down a kitchen drain and the plastic bags they are packaged in a recyclable. Also other plastic bottles and bags that are in a kit may be recycled (municipality dependent).

Lastly, the laminated corrugated insert panels used for insulation during shipment are made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified sustainable corrugated material and pulper-safe metallized film and are fully recyclable. [Ed. Note: In fact, the laminate material is supplied by Cascades].

The brand also includes a brochure with details about its sustainable practices printed on sustainable materials. HelloFresh has a sustainability statement on its website that states it is committed to reducing food and packaging waste using:

  • Pre-portioned meals to reduce food waste by 47%;
  • Direct sourcing to reduce supply chain energy, water and labor waste by up to 14%;
  • Accelerated supply chains keep food fresher than local stores;
  • Outer packaging by 30%.

Sakara Life is delivering meal kits in reusable cooler bags.

A Canadian based company, SPUD/Be Fresh, is using renewable plant-based bags, packets and containers that are recyclable or compostable. This company is also using cooler packs, freezer jackets and bins that are reusable.

What advice do you have for brands that are developing packaging for the commerce meal kits market?

Zweep: The main consideration for meal kit companies when developing packaging is to protect the contents. Under packaging can lead to physical damage, food spoilage (particularly in hot weather) and poor quality of the contents. Eliminating extraneous packaging and selecting sustainable packaging options are also important considerations. Sustainable packaging options include use of reusable cooler bags and ice packs, recyclable materials, renewable sources and recycled content

And when brands do use those options, they should promote consumer education through opportunities such as the How2Recycle labeling program from GreenBlue that increases material recovery (see How2Recycle label is growing—here’s who, why and how, published February 2019).

Final thoughts?

Zweep: The packaging industry is undertaking many sustainable initiatives to increasing material diversion from landfills. Recycling capture rates can be increased by promoting consumer education through informative labelling. Material recovery can be increased through novel package marking and sorting techniques. Diversion of packaging waste from land fill involves finding end markets for difficult to recycle materials such as flexible packaging. Emerging technologies that create energy from waste also diverts waste from landfills. Research continues in the development of bio-based packaging materials that are compostable.

For more information, visit NSF Canada.


You’ll find a smorgasbord of packaging options at PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019, where you can search out fresh ideas in containers and design, evaluate the latest machinery and automation solutions and experience free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________

Can we patent our new package?

Can we patent our new package?

For a packaging development that uses existing components and principles, how does the patent office determine whether the improvement is entitled to a patent?  Here are two successful strategizes to counter to a patent examiner’s typical negative bias against easily understood improvements.

After engineers develop a new package or make improvements to an existing one, they often ask whether the new or improved package can be awarded a patent. The answer is often uncertain because many packaging-related inventions are a combination of existing components and principles in a mature industry that is already crowded with similar products.

However, there are standards for determining whether a packaging-related invention is inventive enough to get a patent, the special negative bias that many packaging inventions face in the patent office and how to counter the bias.

For brief background, a patent is a set of rights that are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a technical solution to a technical problem. (There is also a requirement that the invention not be “abstract.” But abstractness is rarely a problem when the invention is something tangible.)

To a patent examiner in the patent office, the product or invention is defined in carefully worded sentences called “claims,” and it is the words of these claims that the examination is based on. In other words, the inventor defines in words what the invention is, and it is these words the examiner assesses. 

The question of whether a new package is inventive enough to get a patent usually starts with the understanding by experienced people that the improved package, machine, material or method (the “product”) is truly new—that is, it does not already exist anywhere.

But being new is not enough to earn a patent. The invention, even if new, must also be inventive enough, in the judgment of the patent examiner, to be entitled to a patent. The test of “inventive enough” is formally referred to as non-obviousness in the U.S. and as the inventive step in most of the rest of the world.

Apt guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court about whether an invention is obvious—and therefore not inventive enough for a patent—is whether the invention is a combination of familiar parts that when put together do no more than yield predictable results. This already puts packaging-related inventions at a disadvantage because they often are a combination of familiar parts that are put together for a predictable purpose.

Hindsight bias is a special problem for packaging improvements

An examiner is supposed to determine the inventiveness of the defined invention by considering, without the benefit of hindsight, whether there is a motivation or commonsense explanation for combining the parts or modifying prior products like the inventor did and roughly when the inventor did. 

But patent examiner’s break the rule against using hindsight too often.  It is, after all, human nature. And packaging-related inventions (compared to an unpredictable discovery, as might come out of chemistry or biology) are in special danger of inappropriately receiving hindsight bias because the structure and function of packaging are often easy to understand after the invention is explained to a patent examiner.

It’s natural for an examiner to look at a product that is easily understood (at least on a superficial level) and jump to a conclusion that the product is not inventive. So, we should expect a patent examiner to have a negative, instinctive, knee-jerk negative reaction based on this hindsight bias from a patent examiner when the technology is easily understood. 

Successful strategizes to counter hindsight bias

One technique to counter examiner hindsight bias is to explain in the patent application that the invention has a new function or advantage that is the product of the inventor’s special insight into the problem or that the invention addresses a new problem altogether. And the application should clearly explain any technical hurdle that the invention overcomes.

For example, suppose the invention is putting a conventional bicycle bell on a power wheelchair—which seems so straightforward that it should not be entitled to a patent. The combination, after all, merely combines two familiar elements, a wheelchair and a bicycle bell, that yield a power wheelchair with a bell that a driver can ring—a well-known structure with predictable results.

But suppose the innovative aspect is that the tin plate of the bicycle bell is engineered to corrode at the same rate as sensitive electronic contacts of the power wheelchair so that the contacts should be inspected when the bell changes pitch. Defining the invention as a way to predict electrical corrosion in a power wheelchair flips the script and illustrates the importance of explaining and defining the structure and function of the invention as well as the problem that the structure addresses.

A patent application may also counter examiner hindsight bias by using the principle that discovering or being the first to identify the source of a problem counts toward inventiveness. In this regard, in an existing papermaking machine, William Eibel found that increasing the slope of the wire-mesh feed conveyor enabled papermaking machines to run faster. [See U.S. Patent No. 845,224 and Eibel Process Co. v. Minnesota & Ontario Paper Co., 261 U.S. 45 (1923).]

To put this in context, the invention was not inventing the papermaking machine shown in the patent figure below; rather, it was merely raising the height of the right side of the machine so that the wire-mesh conveyor ran downhill, where in previous machines it had been level or ran uphill.

Both the patent examiner and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that this improvement, which looks like a trivial change of slope at first blush, is entitled to a patent. The important part is that running the wire-mesh conveyor uphill solved a then-unsolved problem and resulted in a real-world improvement.          

As anyone who receives bills from patent lawyers can tell you, the examination process gets much deeper than described above. Drawbacks and risks exist, but the gist of many patent examinations in the packaging field comes down to convincing a patent examiner that something inventive happened.

In summary, even in a crowded field like packaging, a patent examiner can be convinced to grant a patent if:

1. The structure or method defined as the invention provides a meaningful, functional improvement (especially the improvement was unforeseen).

2. No one would have combined the known parts without the inventor’s insight into the nature of the problem solved. The persuasiveness of the explanation of the new or improved function and of the insight into the problem and solution will often be the difference in convincing the patent examiner to grant a patent. 


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of BakerHostetler or its clients. 

Harold Fullmer

Harold Fullmer is a partner practicing patent law at BakerHostetler in Philadelphia and is an adjunct professor of law at Temple University Beasley School of Law and at Drexel University Kline School of Law. Reach him at [email protected].


You’ll find a generous amount of packaging options at PackEx Toronto 2019, June 4-6, from robotics to semi-automatic equipment and fresh ideas in containers and design. Plus join in free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto.

How do packaging trends in snacks offer growth opportunities?

How do packaging trends in snacks offer growth opportunities?
How do companies solve their packaging challenges for snack foods?

Americans have become snack fanatics, munching more often than eating meals. Although sweet or salty snacks still satisfy, consumers are choosing healthy options a lot more these days. In fact, mindful snacking, along with portable packaging that is often portion controlled, are among the “10 key snack trends to watch,” according to

Packaging Digest would like to help food packagers capitalize on this snacking trend by identifying the best areas for growth. As part of our research, we’d like to know what you think about these packaging possibilities.

Please take our short survey now. We’ll share the results in the next several weeks.

Photo credits:
Popcorn: Background photo created by topntp26 -
Cookies: Background photo created by dashu83 -
Yogurt-fruit: Food photo created by freepik -
Cheese: Food photo created by freepik -
Nut mix: Background photo created by freestockcenter -
Beef jerky: Photo credit: Joshua Resnick -

Create your own user feedback survey ********************************************************************************

You’ll find a generous amount of packaging options at PackEx Toronto 2019, June 4-6, from robotics to semi-automatic equipment and fresh ideas in containers and design. Plus join in free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto.

3 automation trends transforming packaging operations

3 automation trends transforming packaging operations
Do you notice what's missing from these cobot suction-cup arms? Where are the air hoses?

New automation technologies that help simplify your packaging operation can save installation time, cut costs and minimize floorspace. Here are three automation trends we saw in action at the recent WestPack show.

1. Self-contained devices are easy to install and use.

Have you noticed electrical cabinets getting smaller? That’s because many devices that used to have centralized power or used to connect to other components are now more self-contained, with integrated features.

Here are three examples I saw at the show:

1: The Bosch Rexroth XDK sensor—called the Swiss Army Knife of sensors—is eight sensors in one box. The cabinet-free programmable device can be: (1) accelero-meter; (2) gyroscope; (3) magneto-meter; (4) humidity sensor; (5) pressure sensor; (6) temperature sensor; (7) acoustic sensor; and (8) digital light sensor. Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi enable communication for Internet of Things.

2: OnRobot’s VG10 vacuum gripper has a built-in pump so there are no hoses to work around. And, as part of the UR+ program, the plug-and-play end-of-arm-tool connects easily to cobots from Universal Robots. The interface is immediate and with no programming. The position of the suction-cup arms can be adjusted by hand yet stay securely in place during operation.

3: The concept of decentralized “power” extends to full packaging machines, too. For example, PDC Intl. is developing a steam tunnel for full-body shrink sleeve labels that has integrated boilers. So even if your facility doesn’t have a boiler, steam for shrinking labels onto containers is still an option you can consider.

2. Cobot peripherals lead the way.

Like the tail that wags the dog, peripherals for collaborative robots will move this user-friendly automation forward—especially grippers, which often are the most critical component in a packaging application.

Another new product from OnRobot, the Gecko Gripper was inspired by how gecko lizards can grip and climb smooth surfaces because of adhesive pads on their feet. Also connecting seamlessly with cobots from Universal Robots, the Gecko Gripper uses pressure and motion (adhesion by force) to pick up packages—without an air system.

3. Artificial intelligence (A-I) excels as an engineering aid…or does it?

Marvel fans know how helpful A-I Jarvis is to Iron Man Tony Stark during ideation and product development (at least it was before Jarvis evolved into Vision). Are real-world inventors and engineers as accepting of artificial intelligence in their work?

I had the opportunity to ask one inventive engineer: Lonnie Johnson, CEO of Johnson Battery Technologies. Johnson spoke about “The Power of Perseverance” on Tues., Feb. 5, at Center Stage during the WestPack 2019 event. [During the event, he also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2019 Golden Mousetrap Awards from Design News, a sister publication to Packaging Digest.]

While best known as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, Johnson is a bonafide rocket scientist. He has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, a master’s in Nuclear Engineering and an honorary doctorate in Science from Tuskegee University. Johnson served as a Space Nuclear Power Safety Officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he analyzed NASA space systems that used nuclear power sources. During active duty assignments in the Air Force and tours as an employee at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he helped develop some of the nation’s most advanced technological achievements including the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Observer Project, the Cassini Mission to Saturn and the Stealth Bomber (B-2).

Johnson is working to ensure the world has enough energy for a prosperous future. Current projects include ceramic solid-state batteries that can power the Internet of Things; lithium-air batteries that can push electric vehicles to 1,000 miles on a single charge; and the JTEC heat engine, an invention that an energy expert at the National Science Foundation called “possibly the greatest on Earth.”

In his presentation, Johnson talked about A-I’s growth and potential. But when I asked him if he is using or would consider using A-I during one of his projects, he said, “No.” If you’re an engineer, you probably already know why not…figuring out a solution to a problem is what an engineer enjoys doing.

Is this an argument that actual intelligence (also abbreviated A-I!) remains the advantage? I’m ready and willing to debate it!


You’ll find a generous amount of packaging options at PackEx Toronto 2019, June 4-6, from robotics to semi-automatic equipment and fresh ideas in containers and design. Plus join in free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto.

How Nestlé is innovating its way to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging

Walt Peterson, Nestlé USA’s manager of packaging innovation and sustainability, talks about the world’s largest food and beverage company’s ambitious goal of moving to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025. In this 28-minute presentation (given at WestPack 2019 on Feb. 5 in Anaheim, CA), you’ll hear how Nestlé is harnessing partnerships and cutting-edge technology to get there, including its participation in the ground-breaking Loop initiative (


You’ll find a generous amount of packaging options at PackEx Toronto 2019, June 4-6, from robotics to semi-automatic equipment and fresh ideas in containers and design. Plus join in free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto.