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Articles from 2018 In June

Packaging online buying shows small but significant shifts

Packaging online buying shows small but significant shifts

The past four years, Fontys University of Applied Sciences has studied the online buying behavior of qualified packaging buyers around the world. During this time, we conducted three surveys in partnership with Packaging Digest. The latest study results showed that “Challenges remain in online packaging procurement experience”.

To understand why, we looked back at the historical data to see how buyers’ behavior changed between 2015 and 2017 based on three focus areas:

1. Demographics and characteristics of the buyers;

2. The actual online packaging buying process;

3. The use of online tools and channels.

What we found were some notable shifts, including:

• An increase in using the internet at the early stages of identifying and defining the buyer’s need.

• A plummet in using social media to facilitate a purchase.

• A spike in using technology primers and how-to papers or video clips for research prior to buying.

• A stronger reliance on email communication, and supplier websites—which still disappoint.

Here are highlights of the analysis of the historical data collected in our three studies. For a thorough look at the data, download the PDF at the end of the article. Grad student and co-author of this article Christina Djambazca wrote her thesis on the full results.

1. Demographics and buyer characteristics

Buyers in these surveys were qualified on the basis that they used the internet to help purchase something packaging-related the past 12 months, and their expenditures were $25,000 or more during the past year.

We collected useful data on 153, 157 and 145 buyers respectively in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. In total, 1,229 people started the surveys over the three year period, but many of them were disqualified or did not finish the survey. We checked the duplicity of respondents to help explain our results, and found that only 7% (86 people who started the survey out of the 1,229) of the surveys were taken by people with the same IP address as years before. A majority, 84%, of the responses came from the North America.

The most common items bought were either packaging supplies or machinery and automation equipment, as shown in Figure 1. Over these years, most buying teams consisted of two to five people, which was reported 55% to 62% of the time. Each year, we defined six same buyer team roles and asked buyers which role they assumed for the purchase.

In Figure 2, we see that Influencers and Deciders make up the biggest groups at about 36% and 20% respectively. There is little change in this demographic over the years. When asked how far the buyer searched for a solutions, International and Global searches were consistent over the three years, varying between 20% to 22% and 11% to 15% respectively. Regional and Local searches varied a little more, ranging between 43% to 50% and 14% to 24% respectively. Just more than 50% of the budgets during these years for the purchases was less than $125,000—while 8% to 15% of the buyers reported having budgets between $1.25M and $6M, or greater than $6M.

Figure 1: Most Common Types of Packaging Solutions or Materials Bought Using the Internet.

Figure 2: Division of Buyer Roles Over the Years.

2. How has the online buying process changed?

For our studies, we defined four buying stages for which the internet could be used to aid buyers. As shown in Figure 3, these start at defining or recognizing a need to finally selecting a vendor or supplier. Buyers indicate in which stage they used the internet for their purchase, with more than one answer possible.

It appears that in 2017, compared to previous years, buyers used the internet more during the first two stages—increasing usage by about 10% for identifying and defining the need, and increasing usage by about 7% to 10% for identifying appropriate vendors or suppliers. The latter two buying stages shown in Figure 3 are stable and almost the same for all three years.

Figure 3: Internet Usage vs. Different Buying Stages.

The length of the purchase process has not really changed over the years. Figure 4 shows that 58% to 64% of the cycles last between one and five months for all years. While there are some differences for less than one month and six months to a year between the three studies, when analyzing the other demographic and process data, we could not identify any glowing factors that may explain the differences.

Each year, we ask buyers to rate the entire purchasing process on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not smooth or difficult, and 10 being smooth or easy. Figure 5 shows that smoothness remains the same, with a small range between 6.5 and 6.8. While this score can be deemed as “ok,” there is room for improvement.

We reviewed these findings with packaging solutions suppliers/vendors. All of them indicated that they put significant effort into making the buyer online journey easier each year, or at least have strived to optimize it. Several of these vendors told us there is little more that they can do to further make their online content, process friendlier. They mentioned that, for some of their customers, the smoothness issue is internal to the customer’s corporate operations.

Figure 4: Lengths of Purchase Processes Reported By Buyer in Each Year.


Figure 5: Average Smoothness of Entire Purchasing Process.


3. The use of online tools and channels

Every year, we present 14 different online sources of information or help that buyers can use during the four different buying stages defined above in Figure 3. We also present one choice for off-line information, such as trade shows or events. Here we present three of the most-used channels that remain quite consistent over the years and five channels that show decreasing usage in each of the three years.

First, we consider the three most commonly used online channels or tools for gathering information. Figure 6 shows that internet searches increased from 67% to 97% the past three years. We did not find a specific reason for this change. Email usage increased from 79% in 2015 to 86% in 2017. Lastly, between 95.9% to 98.3% of the buyers report using the supplier’s website to facilitate their purchase.

Figure 6: Top Three Most Commonly Used Online Channels the Past Three Years.

Now we present the data for the five channels or tools that are used the least.

Figure 7 shows that blogs are still useful for sometimes learning about special needs, new offerings or technology, and they lead to potential suppliers. However, the past two years, 75% of the buyers say they don’t read blogs to help their purchase.

Facebook is used even less with 80% of the buyers not using it the past two years. In the year 2015, it appears that many more people were using Facebook in their purchase cycles, but we did not investigate exactly what they were doing on Facebook to help their purchasing needs. Google+ still has some utility with 40% of the buyers using it in some way to aid their purchase. However, recent research reports claim that up to 91% of all Google+ accounts are empty. In addition we have doubts if Google+ is used a lot outside of the USA, as other researchers report that 55% of the users are from the USA.

For offline events, we see that usage decreased from 62% in 2015 to 39% in 2017. However, the 2015 numbers may have been somewhat influenced by our campaigns to recruit respondents at the Interpack trade show the year earlier.

Lastly, Twitter usage also declined from 57% to just 14% the past two years.

Figure 7: Five Least Used Online Channels or Tools the Past Three Years.

Each year, we present nine specific types of information that could be searched for online, ranging from product or service information to interviews with industry opinion leaders. The past two years, we saw an increase in people looking for product or service information and pricing. We see this in Figure 8, which also shows the average percentages for the three years combined. All other specific types of information are searched for the same amount except technology primers and how-to papers or video clips, which increased from 14% to 32% the past three years.

Figure 8: Types of Information Sought Online Line (more than one answer was possible).



In general, trends in the purchasing process show that, the buyer’s characteristics and their journey has not changed much in the last three years. To explain, packaging buyers still use the same amount of online information in each stage of the process and the total duration is consistently the same. In addition, the overall smoothness of the process has remained unchanged as well, steadily pointing at an average level of smoothness.

However, we do see shifts in the online tools and channels that packaging buyers use to aid their purchasing process. These trends do not show massive changes in the main tools and channels that are being used but rather show an increase in the intensity with which they are being used. The most favored channels and types of information increase even further in relevance and the least used ones diminish even further in significance for the buyers’ online buying process.

Overall, the findings indicate that small changes have occurred in the online buying behavior of packaging buyers in the last three years. The reason for that may be due to the low level of flexibility that is generally associated with business-to-business (B2B) purchasing decisions at large, multinational companies.

In addition, the complexity of the process alongside the size of the buying team may be linked to the reason why the purchasing process has not improved in terms of smoothness in the last three years.

And the efforts of suppliers to improve the quality and efficiency of the online buying process for their customers has not achieved its goal—or at least has not been noted by the buyers.

Co-author George Szanto is a tenured senior lecturer specialized in business-to-business (B2B) emarketing at Fontys University in the Netherlands. His research activities focus on the online behavior of packaging professionals. Prior to this, he held various international executive management positions in tech industries for more than 20 years.

Co-author Christina Djambazca is a recent graduate of Fontys University of Applied Sciences’ International Business and Management Studies Degree program. Her next career step is to pursue a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Finance at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Award-winning packages combine craft with creativity
Pretium Packaging won the Best of Show Award for its SureHandle PET container in the 2018 AmeriStar Package Awards competition.

Award-winning packages combine craft with creativity

The top three winners in the 2018 Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP) AmeriStar Package Awards competition use package-design ingenuity, engineering skill and materials savvy to address consumer needs, product protection and environmental issues.

Pretium Packaging won the Best of Show Award for its SureHandle PET container; Amway took home the Design Excellence Award for its Artistry Signature Select Personalized Serum system packaging; and The Coca-Cola Co. won the Sustainable Packaging Award for its 89-oz Simply beverage bottle.

Sixteen packaging-industry judges evaluated the 70 entrees in this year’s competition based on package innovation, economics, product protection, package performance, marketing and environmental impact. Visit the IoPP website to see all the 2018 winners.

Best of Show: Pretium Packaging’s SureHandle PET Container (see photo above)

Winning the Best of Show Award, for its large-format SureHandle container with integrated handle, was Pretium Packaging. The one-piece container is 100% PET and comes in 64-oz and 2-liter sizes.

Because the handle is part of the container, the package is easier for younger, older and physically challenged consumers to carry and pour from than pinch-grip and straight-wall alternatives.

“The integrated ergonomic handle/bottle technology is really the driving force behind the design of the SureHandle container line,” says Paul Kayser, president/CEO of Pretium Packaging.

The SureHandle container may be used for products with a fill temperature of up to 120-deg F, as well as for foods and beverages pasteurized via high-pressure processing (HPP). Potential applications include cold-pressed juices, sports drinks, dressings, marinades, honey and edible oils. The container can also be used for household and industrial chemicals, such as detergents.

Designed for mechanical strength, the containers can withstand stacking in multiple layers. Thus, they can be packed and shipped in shrink-wrapped trays rather than corrugated cases. By reducing secondary packaging materials, this format offers both an environmental benefit and financial savings.

And because the containers are made from a single polymer, they are easier to recycle than handled containers made from multiple plastics. “The handleware solution provides brand owners shelf differentiation and sustainable packaging attributes with its mono-material composition that seamlessly enters the recycling stream,” Kayser says. “The PET-only structure facilitates mainstream recycling.”

Unlike conventional injection-molded preforms, the SureHandle preform comes out of the mold with a solid handle integrated to its side wall. “We created proprietary enhancements to standard blow cavities to accommodate the preform,” Kayser explains. “We also addressed unique challenges, such as preform/handle positioning and blow-mold cavity design.”

Pretium licenses intellectual property from Practically Impossible Labs to manufacture the preforms and containers.

Next: Amway’s Design Excellence Award, with Coca-Cola’s Sustainability Award on deck


Design Excellence: Amway’s Artistry Signature Select Personalized Serum package

Packaging for Amway’s Artistry Signature Select Personalized Serum system won the Design Excellence Award, which recognizes outstanding structural and graphic design integration. The packaging enables consumers to create customized skin-care products by mixing a base serum with concentrated amplifiers that address issues such as hydration and wrinkles. Consumers choose up to three of the five amplifiers to mix with the base serum.

The amplifiers and base serum are packaged separately. Consumers mix them at the initial time of use by twisting the amplifier cap onto the base serum bottle and then gently twisting the cap off the bottle. The second twist, which drives the contents of the nitrogen-pressurized amplifier cap from Vessl Inc. into the base serum, creates an audible effect and dramatic visual display (as seen in the photos). To use the mixed product, the consumer screws a supplied pump closure onto the base serum bottle.

“This package is unique in the industry, as it allows people the ability to customize their serum to meet their personal skin-care needs. One of the most innovative features of this package is the audible ‘whoosh’ as the product is dispensed from the amplifier cap into the base serum. This provides a signal to the customer that the product is fresh and special just for them,” says Kristi Pelc, director of beauty product development at Amway.

For product protection, the amplifier cap is airtight; the nitrogen inside the cap protects the amplifier formulas from oxygen and keeps ingredients fresh. The same nitrogen-pressurized technology has been used in the past for tea and for a nutraceutical, but not for beauty products—until now.

Amway’s cosmetics plant required new manufacturing equipment to assure correct orientation of the two closure subassemblies used in the serum packaging. The new line also includes stations for gassing the amplifier caps and snapping components together.

“Due to the complex nature of this new program, every aspect offered unique challenges,” notes Stephanie Swint, principal packaging engineer at Amway. The challenges included “integrating the pressurized technology from our external partners, balancing pressure and fill parameters for optimal performance and shelf life, installing a new manufacturing line, as well as navigating complex regulatory environment for global execution of a personalized skin-care system.”

Finally: Coca-Cola’s Sustainable Packaging Award


Sustainable Packaging: Coca-Cola’s 89-oz Simply Beverages Bottle

The Coca-Cola Co. won this year’s Sustainable Packaging Award for its 89-oz Simply brand package, which is an extrusion blow-molded bottle with integrated handle. The new package uses significantly less plastic than the bottle it replaces and is also easier for recyclers to process.

These environmental benefits were achieved by switching the bottle material from extrudable polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), which is resin identification code #7 (“other” plastics), to an extrusion blow-molding polyethylene terephthalate (EBM PET) that complies with code #1 (PETE).

According to Jordan Mattison, senior engineer at Coca-Cola, “This is the first commercial application” of the new grade of EBM PET. “This innovation allowed the Simply brand to convert its 89-oz package from a resin code #7 extrudable PETG material to a code #1 material that is compatible with the PET recycling stream.”

Converting to code #1-compliant EBM PET for the package removes more than 14 million pounds of code #7 PETG from commercial use, and replaces it with code #1. “Additionally, process and design optimization enabled container light-weighting, reducing plastic use by 1.4 million pounds annually,” Mattison adds. The new bottle uses 9% less plastic than the old one.

In the past, consumers often mistook the PETG package for PET, with the bottles subsequently ending up in the code #1 recycling stream. And that challenged recyclers, because the presence of PETG in a code #1 processing operation hinders throughput and efficiency.

The new package solved that problem. In addition, Coca-Cola had previously converted to an easily removable pressure-sensitive label for Simply bottles. Recyclers just wash the label off during processing.

Regarding the resin change-up, Mattison says that “successful execution was only made possible through close collaboration and a shared commitment to sustainability with our resin supplier Indorama Ventures, our converter CKS Packaging and our equipment OEM Bekum.”

Coca-Cola’s Simply Orange package also won the 2018 SPC Innovators Award in the Packaging Innovation category.

Medical packaging 101: Basics medical device companies need to know
Pouch or tray for your medical device? That will depend on the product, the sterilization method and your budget.

Medical packaging 101: Basics medical device companies need to know

In the medical device industry, the product is the main thing. It has to be safe. It has to be efficacious. It has to be…packaged?

Packaging often gets short shrift, but it’s so important. Its design affects storage efficiency. Its appearance can make a company’s product stand out from competitive products. It keeps the product sterile. With so many required validations for a device, package testing and lead times are usually overlooked. If not properly planned for upfront, packaging can significantly delay timelines. Here is a breakdown of the design, sterilization, testing requirements, and validation processes medical device companies need to consider when tackling a packaging project.

Package design considerations

Most medical devices are packaged either in a pouch or a tray. Pouches have two- to four-week manufacturing lead times and they cost less than a dollar per pouch. Trays can be more aesthetically pleasing and provide more protection. If a company wants to minimize lead times and drive down material and equipment costs, pouches are the clear choice. On the other hand, if the budget and the timeline can accommodate tray design, then trays are usually the better option.

Pouch and tray lid materials mainly consist of Tyvek, foil and a few clear polymer variations. Tray materials consist of polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polycarbonate (PC), polypropylene (PP) and high impact polystyrene (HIPS). PETG tends to be the most commonly used material; it is transparent, has good mechanical properties and is compatible with the most common types of sterilization methods.

Material selection is largely dependent on sterilization method. Moreover, if a medical device has sharp features, thicker materials may be needed or additional protective packaging materials may be required (such as protective sleeves or retaining lids).

Sterilization options

The most common sterilization methods for medical devices are gamma, electron beam (E-beam), ethylene oxide (ETO) and autoclave. For all sterilization methods, it is important to select a material that will allow the sterilant to penetrate the product. Also, selecting a material that will not break down during the sterilization process or cause a change in color to the packaging and device material is key.

For sterilization methods that include steam or gas, selecting a material that is porous enough for the vapor to penetrate is necessary. It is always advised to do a trial run with the materials and sterilization method chosen so there are no surprises during the validation phase. Generally, gamma sterilization is a fast and effective method that is recommended (if the device can handle it).

Package testing requirements

For medical devices, package validation testing is outlined in ISO 11607 and consists of seal integrity (seal strength), material integrity (bubble leak), distribution testing, and package aging. Package aging has the longest lead time. Aging tests can range from one month to six months depending on the desired shelf life, so it is important that this is factored into the timeline during the planning stage. The final packaging assembly must be conditioned as it would be in real life before executing any testing (that is, the product should be sterilized before it undergoes packaging testing).

Validation processes

The validation process for sterile packaging consists of package integrity, shelf life and establishing sterility assurance level. Package integrity and shelf life are covered by the ISO 11607 standard, but with sterilization, there are different standards based on the method chosen.

Gamma and E-beam sterilization, for instance, follow the ISO 11137 standard. In this standard, sterilization dosage is set by the product’s bioburden and the desired sterility assurance level (SAL). Bioburden is the amount of bacteria on the product introduced by the manufacturing process. SAL is the probability that a unit subjected to sterilization remains non-sterile. The most common SAL is 10-6 (that is, a one in a million chance of a non-sterile unit). A SAL of 10-6 is typically what all hospitals require of most medical devices. However, there are exceptions for certain types of biological implants.

Along with sterilization validations, quarterly sterilization audits ensure that the manufacturing process is producing sterile devices.


Oftentimes, especially with companies working on their flagship product, the product is the star that gets top billing. Think of packaging as the supporting actor who steals a scene or two. Because packaging involves many design and testing aspects, it is best to start its development as soon as possible in the product’s development. Also, to avoid costly mistakes, make sure to work with experienced packaging professionals who know the appropriate testing procedures that meet requirements of the governing agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Neil Thompson is business development manager of Steriliant LLC, a one-stop shop for medical device companies’ packaging needs. Started by experienced medical device engineers and project managers, Steriliant provides packaging design, material and equipment procurement, protocol and report writing, and contract manufacturing sourcing.

How to assemble a Franken-line, without the monster headaches
Follow this five-step plan to ease your next packaging line installation project.

How to assemble a Franken-line, without the monster headaches

Most manufacturing operations have a graveyard of unused equipment. Those machines come in handy, though, when a plant has to cobble together a packaging line either in a hurry or on a budget, or both. Here are five tips to remember when faced with a challenging packaging line assembly project, from veteran engineer John R. Henry.

Known as the Changeover Wizard, Henry is the owner of, a consulting firm that helps companies find and fix the causes of inefficiencies in their packaging operations. He has, literally, written the book on packaging machinery and is the face and personality behind packaging detective KC Boxbottom, the main character in popular articles on

On June 12, Henry spoke about assembling packaging lines with available machines at the new Packaging Education Hub at EastPack 2018. First, he reminded us that nimbleness in production is all-important for strategic success, which gives us two great reasons to consider using idle packaging equipment:

You do not have time to wait for new machinery.

You do not have the money to risk for capital expenditures. After all, 75% of new products fail.

“Franken-lines are not only something you’re going to have to do, but you need to embrace them because it gives you the opportunity for strategic success,” Henry says.

To help track your existing packaging machines, he recommends you develop a database of all equipment in the company that identifies:

• The type of equipment (such as filler, case packer or palletizer);

• The make, model, serial number and year built;

• The condition—you’ll need to know how much work, if any, will be needed before the machine can operate efficiently and if that work can be done in-house, by the manufacturer (if it is still in business) or by a refurbishing/engineering firm;

• The capacity, such as what products it can handle (liquid, powder and such), the expected operating speed, and what packages and sizes it can accommodate;

• The location—you’ll need to know where the machine is stored, especially if you have an extensive warehouse or more than one plant;

• Its availability—note if the system is currently in use, reserved or available/idle.

With this information collected, you’re in much better shape to start your packaging line assembly process.

Here are Henry’s five tips on how to put together a packaging line from your company’s unused but available equipment:

1. Determine requirements

“The best surprise on a packaging line is no surprise,” Henry says. “The way you avoid surprises is by asking questions. But if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answers.”

Henry suggests asking questions and getting answers about what is needed from three angles: product, facility and regulatory.

• On the product side, you’ll need to know how many products you need to make—your capacity requirements—and then work towards from there to determine how fast the packaging line needs to operate to produce that capacity.

Remember to ask when you’ll need the capacity, too. “If you’re making ice cream, you probably need a lot of capacity from May through September,” Henry says. “Not so much October through April.”

Put together a complete Bill of Materials (BOM) for the product and a complete BOM for all package components. And get actual samples as early as possible. You need actual samples because there are no “standard” products that are “just like…” something else.

Or if you can’t get samples, get prototypes. 3D printing technology for additive manufacturing can help and is always advancing. “You can buy a 3D printer from Amazon for $200,” Henry says. “There’s no excuse for not having an additive printer in every department in the plant. They are very easy to use; they are no harder to use than any other printer.”

• From a facility point of view, once you know where the line will be placed in your plant, get all the pertinent measurements, including the length, width and the floor-to-ceiling dimension—which Henry emphasizes is not the same as the ceiling height. “We got fooled one time because we knew the ceiling height, but the floor turned out to be elevated a foot and we had a real problem with the height of a machine,” Henry remembers.

Make a note of any interferences—such as doors and columns—as well as floor loading necessities, that could limit access to the packaging line or impair its operation.

Check the utilities. Do you have the right setups for electric, pneumatic air, cooling water or washdown water? Are there any special construction considerations because of the industry, such as foods, chemicals or pharmaceuticals?

• Regarding regulatory requirements, you’ll need to find out what the requirements are for internal and external customers. Some will be governmental, from governing agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and whoever manages building codes in the specific country.

Some will be non-governmental standards. For example: “The sprinkler system…is not regulated by any government agency. It’s regulated by the National Fire Protection Assn. (NFPA), which is a private, non-profit conglomerate of insurance companies,” Henry says.

Other needs will be from industry standards bodies, such as 3-A Sanitary Standards for dairy, Intl. Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM Intl.

Your company may have policies and practices you need to adhere to, such as Zero Access for machine safety. Plus, your customers might require you adhere to their policies and practices.

Lastly, find out if there are any other industry practices that might apply.

NEXT: Develop a plan

2. Develop a plan

Before you can develop your plan, identify all steps in the packaging process. A simple block layout is fine to indicate the machines you will need. “This is not necessarily how the line will be laid out,” Henry says. “There is no scale or anything. All we’re trying to do here is show the major pieces of equipment that we’re going to need for this project.”

Source: Packaging Machinery Handbook

Once you’ve itemized the equipment, you can guesstimate a cost range. If this is outside the cost that Marketing estimated for the product, “you may just have saved yourself a whole lot of work,” Henry says, “in developing a line that is economically outside of consideration.”

Selecting the machine types is an iterative process. “There are 20 different types of fillers, for example,” Henry says. “Gear, piston, gravity, overflow and so on. What type do you need for your product?”

Fine tune what kind of machines you need, how fast they needs to go, how big they’re going to be and what level of automation you need—from some manual operations to semi-automatic to fully automatic. This may be determined by the available existing machines, or it may be determined by the skill level and pool of operators and mechanics.

You should still write specifications and expectations for the line’s output. This includes the integration strategy: How will you tie all the machines together into a smooth-running line?

Finish the budget and do a timeline.

Then STOP. “Take a deep breath,” Henry recommends. “Get everyone to agree to the plan. Get it in writing. And get people to actually sign a document that says this is what the plan is.

“Now, the plan is going to change…but at least you’ve got agreement on where you’re starting from.”

NEXT: Select the machines

3. Select the machinery

You’ll need to personally and visibly inspect the machinery to determine if it is a fit. Find out when the system was last in operation, and what product it was running to make sure there are no compatibility or contamination issues.

Machines can vary in their suitability. “It can be ‘just right’—you can bring it into the room, plug it in and it will run your product with no problem. It can be ‘just right’ but needs new changeparts. It can be ‘almost right’ but needs some modifications or refurbishing,” Henry says. If it needs to be modified—perhaps to update or standardize on the controls—get that work going right away.

Arrange for the machine(s) to be moved to the new location. This may be as easy as rolling it from storage or wherever it is to the line. Or it could require careful crating, shipping and, possibly, reassembly. “Use qualified riggers,” Henry advises, to prevent damaging the system.

NEXT: Installation and commissioning

4. Install and commission the line

Will you be doing your own installation and commissioning? Even if you have the talent in-house, do you have the time? If you opt to use an outside contractor, qualify and select them as early as possible so they are included in the various stages of the process.

You might even be able to tap into another expert for the startup. “[The original] machine builders can be a useful resource,” Henry reminds us.

Remember training! “I’ve seen companies spend a billion dollars on a new line and then training consists of a couple hours of ‘Push this green button and the machine should run,’” Henry explains. “You need to train your people. They are running a million-dollar machine, and you want them to know what they are doing.”

Train workers on the line’s operation, changeover, setup and cleaning. Train your maintenance technicians on preventive and repair tasks.

NEXT: Turn it on, turn it up

5. Begin production

Henry recommends you plan on starting to run slowly at first and build up to production rate. “You’re going to do this anyway, whether you want to or not,” Henry says. “I’ve been involved in probably a thousand startups and, no matter how carefully we planned it—I always go into it optimistically…‘This time, I’m going to press a button and it’s going to run perfectly’—it’s always like Lucy with the football. It never, ever does.”

You might think you’re done now, but there’s one more important task. “Monitor your productivity and your efficiency,” Henry concludes. A 2% drop in efficiency equals 40 hours of lost productivity.

“Most people think 2% is not enough to worry about. It really, really is.”

Henry suggests installing monitoring features that allow you to do that in real time. “It doesn’t matter what the efficiency was last week. It’s too late to do anything about it. You need to know what your efficiency is right now at this moment. If it’s low, you can do something about it.”

He’s got an easy metric to remember: 10W40. Ten minutes of wasted time or downtime is 40 hours a year—or a full week—of lost production.

So when you’re putting together a Franken-line—or any packaging line, for that matter—look for efficiency. “Look for minimizing downtime,” says the changeover wizard. “It may cost you extra money. Spend it!”

Because it’s the cheaper alternative in the long run.

Strongest barrier yet for pharmaceutical blister pack film
New blister film boosts moisture and oxygen protection for a range of oral pharmaceuticals.

Strongest barrier yet for pharmaceutical blister pack film

When it comes to protecting the efficacy of ultra-sensitive pharmaceuticals, the packaging must step up and provide the necessary oxygen and moisture barriers. But with import tariffs now on aluminum in the U.S., a non-foil solution might be the better option from a cost and availability standpoint. Here’s a new product to consider.

Tekni-Films has introduced a new super-barrier coated (SBC) film, the heaviest to date, in its line of SBC blister-pack films. SBC 240 joins Tekni-Films’ SBC 120, 150 and 180 blister films. (The numbers refer to the weight of the films, in grams per square meter.)

The SBC line is an alternative to 4- and 6-mil polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE) and cold-formed foil in thermoformable blister applications. The films comprise a high-barrier variant of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) coating applied to a film structure made from layers of polyethylene. Multiple layers can be applied to create different coating thickness weights. As coating weight increases, so do the barrier attributes.

SBC films can save blister card space, and therefore material, compared with alternatives, according to the company. They don’t require stiffening ribs, which are often used to improve the ability of PCTFE to lie flat, nor the oversized blister wells created by cold forming.

SBC 240 offers ultra-high moisture and oxygen barrier properties to protect products susceptible to degradation. It also has a wider processing window than PCTFE—as much as 20 deg F—which helps meet specific production speed preferences.

“The high barrier of SBC 240 is there to protect drugs with increasing sensitivity to moisture and oxygen, as drug formulations continue to be more complex, thus requiring additional barrier to protect them over their specified shelf life,” says Michiel van den Berg, Tekni-Films’ director of global pharmaceutical development.

For more information, visit or call 484-690-1520.

Robust mobile robot moves pallet loads independently
A new industrial-grade autonomous robot handles pallet loads within plants. Photo is showing a demo at a trade show with just one layer of cases.

Robust mobile robot moves pallet loads independently

To optimize packaging line logistics, a new industrial version of a mobile autonomous robot was designed to automatically collect, transport and deliver pallets holding more than 1,100 pounds at speeds of nearly 4.5 miles per hour.

The new MiR500 from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) can recognize obstacles in a 360-degree radius—even in busy environments where people and vehicles are moving—allowing the robot to navigate by itself using the most efficient route.

MiR CEO Thomas Visti explains, “Industry is looking for new ways to optimize production and strengthen competitiveness, and internal transport is the last part of automation that is lacking.”

Using mobile robots for delivering packaging materials to the production line is on the rise, as Packaging Digest reported in its previous article “Mobile robots are adaptable packaging line workers.”

Ed Mullen, MiR’s vp of sales, tells us more about this new robust robot and how packaging lines can benefit from using it.

Why is there a need for an autonomous pallet handling in manufacturing facilities?

Mullen: Companies have been automating their production in recent years to optimize workflows and gaining competitive advantages. As for all other internal transportation tasks, people are still spending a lot of valuable time moving pallets around facilities—so there are significant efficiencies to gain by automating this task and redeploying human workers for higher-value activities. Since our MiR500 can find its destination on its own—and always takes the most efficient route to pick up, transport and deliver pallets autonomously—workflows will be optimized and bottlenecks avoided in production due to missing transports.

Autonomous pallet handling is also valuable for safety. The MiR500 is not only autonomous, but it is also collaborative and designed to work side-by-side with humans. This reduces the risk of crashes compared to traditional forklifts that need their own lane and are still not safe—our robot will always avoid obstacles or make a safety stop if a person stumbles in front of it, for example.

Moreover, this robot has a payload of 500 kg and, because the robot assumes heavy lifting duties, it reduces the risk of injury to the workers, who will have less risk of back injury, falls or other issues related to moving pallets.

Specifically, how is the MiR500 designed differently to be bigger, stronger and faster?

Mullen: The footprint of the MiR500 is twice as big as our MiR100 and MiR200 robots. We have designed it for industry use with robust exterior—it is all metal—that can withstand dropped cargo and can easily navigate up and down ramps and even through shallow water puddles.

Our other robots can drive up to 1.5 meters per second (5.4 kilometers per hour or about 3.3 miles per hour). So with a speed of 2 m/s (7.2 km/h or about 4.5 mph), the MiR500 is significantly faster. We expect that the MiR500 often will be used in applications where it transports heavy goods or pallets over long distances, and here it can speed up the process.

[Editor’s note: As a comparison, maximum allowable speed of a forklift is 8 miles per hour, but should be driven about 3 mph when people are around, according to the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Assn. (MHEDA).]

Your MiR200 can pull more than 1,000 pounds. Why design the MiR500?

Mullen: From both current and potential customers, we have seen a great demand for an industrial mobile robot that is bigger, stronger and faster than our other robots that are mainly used to transport smaller goods.

The MiR200 with the MiRHook can, as you say, tow 1,000 lbs. but we will see other applications for MiR500 since the payload of 1,000 lbs. can be placed directly on the robot. We expect that the pallet lift application will be used by around 75% of all MiR500 customers, and this is not possible with our MIR200 and MiRHook.

We will also see many big conveyor bands or belts placed on top of the robot. The complete solution with a larger footprint, high payload and extra speed will open up for many new applications and markets.

What features on the robot ensure pallet loads remain stable during transport? Do the pallet loads have to be unitized first (stretch wrapped, for example)?

Mullen: The robot has an anti-slip surface and a low center of gravity to ensure a stable transport. Whether the loads have to be unitized one way or another first depends on the loads being transported (payload, size and height) and the speed of the robot. 

Can the MiR500 be used to deliver pallet loads of packaging materials to the packaging line as well as take full loads from the end of the line to a warehouse or truck?

Mullen: Yes. Our robots are flexible and can be used for various applications within the same facility.

Users can develop and replace top modules—such as pallet lifters, conveyor belts and robot arms—so the robot can be used for different transport purposes. Who manufacturers/supplies these different top modules?

Mullen: Yes, our robots are a flexible, standard platform for which it is easy to develop and deploy different top modules for customized used. Usually, the top modules are manufactured by our distributors or by integrators. In our online marketplace, MIR TradeForum, customers can see some of the top modules that have already been developed.

The MiR500 is currently set up (and shown in the photo above) to handle the standard Euro pallet size (47.2 × 31.5 × 5.7 inches). Can it be altered to accommodate the typical American pallet size or GMA pallet size (48 x 40 x 6.5 inches)? If so, how?

Mullen: Yes. MiR manufactures the MiR500 Pallet Lift, which is made for euro pallets. However, as for all other top modules, integrators or distributors can also develop pallet lifters for American pallet sizes and integrate them. We provide guidelines and specifications, but the principle is the same; we provide a flexible platform where pallet lifters of different sizes can also be deployed.

We have had a high demand for the transport of euro pallets, which is why we are offering that specific solution for now. But as some very big markets (America, for example) use other standard sizes, we will also consider different pallet lifters to be offered by MiR.

Are the specially designed pallet lifters and frames standard with the MiR500 or are they an additional cost?

Mullen: They are an add-on and have additional cost as not all companies will use this specific application.

How many docks [I’m not sure what you call the pick-up or drop-off locations] come standard with a MiR500? Does the dock also charge the robot? If not, how is the robot charged?

Mullen: We call them MiR500 Pallet Racks. As the pallet racks (docks) are an add-on, the customers identify how many they need and order them additionally. The racks are only for delivering and picking up pallets. There is a separate charger where the robot can automatically charge. It charges 80% in one hour and it can be part of the robot’s missions to go charge when it has a low battery level.

Similar to your other products, the MiR500 can be programmed without prior experience. How is it programmed?

Mullen: Yes, we have an intuitive web interface that can be controlled via smart phone, tablet or computer. In the web interface, you can edit the map of the robot, which it uses to navigate, you can add positions, make as many missions (tasks) as you want, define preferred routes or de-accelerating zones, for example, and much more. 

The MiR500 uses the same interface as the MiR100 and MiR200. A few tasks concerning the ability to lift pallets are also added.

The MIR500 is also part of our fleet management software that we recommend using when a customer has more than two robots to prioritize tasks and control the robot traffic.

Again similar to your other products, the MiR500 is flexible and user friendly. Can you give us examples of both?

Mullen: The intuitive web interface is both an example of the flexibility and user friendliness of our robots. The customers have full ownership of the robots from the very start because they can program the robots easily. At the same time, there is no limit to the number of tasks that the robots can do, so the same robot can automate the material handling both within the manufacturing site, between manufacturing and warehouse, or in the warehouse.

With the ability to quickly and easily integrate different top modules, the MiR500 can be equipped with pallet forks, conveyors, a robot arm or other options to support a range of applications, which also underlines that the MiR500 is user friendly and flexible. 

Do we need a new measurement for packaging recycling rates?
What if we looked at packaging's environmental impact using greenhouse gas metrics? Would that help make better decisions about packaging materials used?

Do we need a new measurement for packaging recycling rates?

Looking at the pros and cons of greenhouse gas (GHG) goals and weight-based metrics for recycling might help states and organizations set their programs and policies for the best environmental outcome. We know it can help us better design packaging at the onset.

“What gets measured matters” is a common refrain we hear in business circles. The prevalent logic goes that a goal is the desired outcome of a measure, or metric. Thus, how and what we measure informs our actions.

Recycling success has been measured for years based on tons diverted, but recently we’ve come to discuss the limitations this metric offers in terms of understanding environmental impact and value.

Is there a viable alternative?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduced is one alternative commonly proposed, and The Recycling Partnership has recently been promoting a capture rate to recognize that 100% curbside recycling is not technically feasible.

But what is the best goal, and what are the best metrics to measure our progress towards achieving recycling success? Furthermore, what are the unintended consequences to using one over another?

Weight-based diversion goals are typically measured as a percentage of tons diverted from landfill (disposed - recycled + composted + waste-to-energy [WTE]) compared to the tons of waste generated (disposed + recycled + composted + WTE). This is a relatively straightforward goal and using tons as the metric makes it easy to measure. However, it provides little to no insight into the environmental advantages of diversion from landfill. On a straightforward basis, one ton of plastic diverted is the same as one ton of paper—yet we widely recognize that there are significant environmental and social differences between the two.

AMERIPEN—the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, a material-neutral, science-based association representing the entire packaging value chain—has met with many recyclers and regulators who have bemoaned the fact that the race to divert tons to meet weight-based goals has led to a race to collect heavier materials. They have seen a focus on materials like construction and demolition debris over lighter-weight curbside materials like packaging.

Furthermore, packaging designers are increasingly optimizing materials and reducing cumulative material use. Yet this success is largely ignored by a traditional weight-based metrics and may in fact hide the true recycling rate by making it appear as if we’re recycling less.

As the concept of sustainable materials management (SMM) has grown across the U.S., there has been a popular emphasis on GHG emissions or energy use as an alternative goal and/or metric. Sustainable materials management is a framework that encourages us to explore the impact of materials across their lifecycle. SMM helps us understand that impacts occur at stages—all the way from harvesting to production to consumption and, ultimately, end of use. Waste is not just what is sent to landfill, but the degradation of our environment through energy consumption, soil degradation, waste water and more.

Under an SMM framework, GHG reduction as a goal can provide insight into hot spots and tradeoffs that may need to occur to ensure we optimize resources across a product’s lifecycle. Examining GHG reduction by converting tons into GHG emissions provides us with a deeper understanding of environmental impact. We gain greater insight into different materials, as well as different choices for manufacturing, end of life and other lifecycle phases.

The risk to using tons converted to GHG as a metric alone and not also as a goal, is a common misperception that measuring recycling impacts via GHG emissions saved creates an argument to exclude materials from curbside recycling. AMERIPEN would argue: When we set GHG as a goal, rather than just as a metric to assess impact, we are encouraged to look across the lifecycle to see where resource efficiency is best achieved for the greatest environmental outcome. We don’t restrict materials from curbside then but, rather, we make decisions on material use based on cumulative impact not just end-of-life impacts.

Lastly, it needs to be noted that converting tons into GHG metrics provides just one assessment of environmental impact. While it’s an easy conversion to do since tools have already been created to do so, we recognize that environmental degradation can occur through more than just energy loss or pollution. As we set goals for recovery or resource efficiency, we may want to include alternative impacts where possible.

Examples of how this works

AMERIPEN believes that a deeper understanding of the environmental advantages of recycling and how to drive recycling success will not come from a single attribute. Rather, it will come from strategic systems thinking and, to do that, we’ll need both weight-based and GHG goals. Measurement metrics will include both tons but also provide perspective on diversion through GHG/energy conversion and perhaps even something like The Recycling Partnership’s capture-rate metric.

Let’s explain how this could work.

In 2008, the State of Florida set an aggressive 75% recycling goal by 2020. In 2016, when it realized it was unlikely it would reach that goal, it began to explore alternative ways to measure and message success. Using its 2008 baseline of tons, it kept a weight-based goal but also measured impact by converting its tons into GHG and energy savings. Informed by tons diverted, GHG emissions and energy saved, the state was able to gain greater insight into strategies to reduce environmental impact through solid-waste management.

Using tons, it could see that heavier materials would drive an increased result in terms of tons diverted. But also armed with GHG and energy savings, it was able to identify specific materials it might want to tackle from a cumulative environmental perspective, as well as recognize the role source reduction and prevention could play in its strategy. Note, when it measured GHG impacts, it saw a significant jump in recycling rates, as well as environmental impact.

The State of Oregon has taken a similar approach. The goal is still expressed as a percentage of tons diverted by recycling but, informed by the lens provided by converting tons into GHG, it has promoted policies to emphasize prevention, recognize source reduction and target certain materials.

In one example, it has a goal of 25% rigid plastic recovery based upon tons diverted. But to reach that goal, it measures not just total tons collected but also permits for policies to recognize the role source reduction can play. Credit is given for light-weighting or use of recycled material. This application of both weight-based and GHG goals and metrics provide a more holistic lens to develop a solid waste strategy and promote the value of recycling as an environmental outcome.

Value in multiple methods

What is exciting is that States aren’t the only ones starting to view waste management frameworks in this manner. Project Drawdown is an attempt by global scientists to identify the top 100 most substantive existing solutions to reduce and reverse climate change impacts. Its goal is GHG reduction but its assessments explore a variety of lifecycle impacts such as economic cost, scalability and more. Prevention of food waste ranks third in terms of cumulative GHG emissions that can be diverted, while household recycling is further down the list at 55. But in ranking solutions, the program architects are not intending to pit one strategy against another, rather, they argue, we need to apply multiple solutions in order to “drawndown” our environmental impact.

In other words, these rankings offer a way to assess tradeoffs and how best to apply limited resources.

Further along these lines, Walmart’s Project Gigaton is a similar approach. The company has vouched to remove one gigaton of carbon from its supply chain and are exploring how materials move across its system to inform where best to target its strategies. Recycling fits into this strategy but so too does material use and source reduction. GHG as a goal, and subsequent metric, gives the mega-retailer the insight into where the best areas for reduction can come from.

In all of these examples, we begin to unveil the value in having both outcome and impact-based goals. Tons can remain the base metric, but from there we convert to GHG or other impacts to better understand how we can reframe recycling objectives to best leverage environmental impact.

Said another way, the discussion should not be which goal or metric is better, but rather how all these different goals and metrics can form a strategy that reduces cumulative environmental impact.

AMERIPEN believes that we need to start looking at the movement of materials across their systems with an eye to reducing that cumulative environmental impact. Goals should be set on impact and outcome. Tons as a primary metric provide a common denominator from which we can convert into GHG to provide another perspective. Depending on your goals, other metrics may also be needed.

This toolbox approach will help us better design packaging and set policy to best inform environmental outcome.

Kyla Fisher is the programs manager for AMERIPEN. She is responsible for leading the association’s various member committees, research and development.


Mapping the journey to a destination private-label brand
Private label packaging is at its most effective when the brand is strong and reflects the story of the store where it is offered.

Mapping the journey to a destination private-label brand

A private label's successful itinerary earns consumers’ trust while leveraging the packaging and design in following these five guidelines.

Trust is something earned, not given. While this age-old adage may be debatable, it certainly holds true in retail. The ubiquity of Google in providing information about just about anything, including products and prices, has been a double-edged sword for today’s shopper. On one hand, shoppers can now download all the facts, reviews, and images related to any given product and, with Amazon, they can even buy it right from the very same web page.

On the other hand, the price war has never been so bloody as the availability of all that information has shoppers focusing on finding the cheapest price possible as they compare one source to the other for the same product. Profit margins are razor thin, especially in grocery, and one wonders how to compete when product categories and offerings are, for the most part, the same from retailer to retailer. If price is the main factor affecting a consumer’s decision to buy juice from one grocer or the other, does quality or packaging (and marketing) matter?

The good news is that packaging does matter and is effective when the brand is strong and reflects the story of the store where it is offered. Private label is experiencing a rebirth—in particular the need for private brand strategy. Retailers who tell a compelling story through their private brand program and follow up with corresponding, effective store design are finding their ideal customer persona that is more engage-able than simply “those who need groceries for a low price” as a segment.

An overall retail experience with a properly designed and executed private label program is a crucially important part of a retailer’s win strategy. Furthermore, a private brand with an identity that echoes some, or all, of a set of values, puts the given retailer in a light that resonates with the target consumer.

Customers are choosing brands (within a threshold for fair pricing) that create enough value to influence their decision to choose a private brand linked to a particular store over a national brand that can be found in any other store. The industry is naming these “destination brands.” Usually, widely available national brands are particularly subject to price comparisons to the same SKU in a competitor’s store, while private brands appear to be resistant to that sort of comparison by virtue of their exclusivity.

Amazon’s strategy and your strategy

It is also particularly interesting that private brands appear to be one strategy to combat the mecca of price shopping: Amazon. Philosophically speaking, Amazon has no ideal, specific customer persona as it caters to all. Although Amazon has its own private brand set (i.e. Amazon Basics), it centers on generic items for those who want to save some money on a similar name brand. Ironically enough, Amazon’s strategy is right out of the classic brick and mortar textbook. Retailers such as Trader Joe’s (US) and Farm Boy (Canada), who, conversely, have little to no ecommerce presence, are thriving as they see customers make the journey to their stores to get their private label products where the focus is local, as-good-as-or-better than the national brands, lower priced items with all the personality of the store baked into the labeling and display of each SKU. Their private brands support their respective stories and values which are also pervasive in their in-store experiences, marketing materials, flyers, and even their staff.

There are a few things that a retailer can do, right now, to get the ball rolling on mapping out a journey to a destination brand experience.

  1. Understand the core needs of your customers and who they are.
  2. Develop a clear proposition that aligns with the banner/store brand.
  3. Develop a clear brand architecture to ensure its role and proposition by category is well understood.
  4. Leverage in-store marketing and merchandising effectively to drive destination and appeal.
  5. Invest in brand and packaging design to ensure both functional and emotional attributes are well communicated.

Customers gravitate to the store and begin trusting what’s in the box, can, bag, or bottle when the story of the store and brand is beneficial to the customer while also being unique. An effective private brand program that is institutionalized into a company’s culture and operating systems with clarity and conviction results in an effective retail experience where retailers enjoy full control over the brand, its two-way transparency, its mission, and its messaging. Trust is earned from customers who feel like they have a stake in a given store and the feedback is resoundingly positive.

Michael Nussbacher is the VP, business development, for Watt International. From brick to clicks, he helps deliver successful leading-edge strategies to retailers. A well-known thinker and proven entrepreneur in the digital space, Nussbacher brings nimble and creative thinking from the retail tech start-up world to introduce fresh thinking to brands from craft to household names.

Perrier snares Brooklyn with a packaging design that roars
Shrink-sleeve labels help Perrier create a hyper-local marketing campaign.

Perrier snares Brooklyn with a packaging design that roars

This summer, Perrier is taking a walk on the wild side in Brooklyn, NY, with bottles featuring dazzling illustrations of wild animals. The limited-time beverage packaging is part of a localized promotional campaign in the borough’s Bushwick neighborhood.

Full-body shrink-sleeve labeling on the 330-mL glass bottles is printed with glow-in-the-dark artwork created by Cuban-born artist Juan Travieso. Dubbed PERRIERxWILD, the collection comprises three designs: a wolf, a lion and a tiger. CCL Label supplies the shrink sleeves, which are printed via héliogravure using standard inks and a UV special effect.

The packaging, which launched in Europe in 2017, made its U.S. premiere at the annual Bushwick Collective Block Party this month (June 2018). The single-serving mineral water bottles will be sold at Bushwick bars and restaurants throughout the summer.

Sylvie Nelep, packaging project manager for Perrier, answers a few questions about the PERRIERxWILD packaging.

Why did Perrier choose to launch such a “hyper-local” campaign?

Nelep: The idea of the PERRIERxWILD limited-edition launch in the U.S. was really to develop a genuine activation that will further integrate Perrier into the local street-art community. As The Bushwick Collective is one of the most influential communities of street art across the U.S., it made sense to launch the product ahead of their annual Block Party weekend and to have the limited edition available only in their neighborhood.

Where will the packaging be sold?

Nelep: It will only be available at select locations in Bushwick, including Pearl’s Social & Billy Club, Idlewild, Heavy Woods, The Rookery Bar, House of Yes, Sea Wolf and Faro.

Why did Perrier want the bottles to glow in the dark?

Nelep: That element of Juan’s creation helps demonstrate how we can show our wild side in the daytime and then also transform at night.

Is secondary packaging also decorated with the PERRRIERxWILD artwork?

Nelep: No.

Smart packaging helps boost Amazon’s auto-replenish service
Auto-replenishment is on the rise in ecommerce. Smart packages can now interface directly with Amazon's Dash Replenishment Service.

Smart packaging helps boost Amazon’s auto-replenish service

The Amazon Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) is now able to support smart packaging and devices with embedded technology that senses when new supplies are needed, helping consumers automatically reorder product before it runs out.

“Amazon has opened up the Dash Replenishment Service to third-party providers,” says Dr. Amanda Williams, smart packaging lead at Jabil Packaging Solutions. “This is the software that lives behind the Dash button, where you just push a button and it will automatically replenish your coffee, your detergent, your diapers.”

As one of the first certified members of Amazon’s Solution Providers program, Jabil Packaging Solutions is “combining proven electronics, wireless communications, sensors and supply chain management capabilities with massive manufacturing scale to transform the packaging landscape” for ecommerce, says Christine McDermott, chief marketing officer, Jabil Digital Solutions and Jabil Packaging Solutions.

Dean Seifert, general manager, Amazon Dash, says, “We are thrilled to introduce the DRS Solution Providers program to developers and brand owners. Solution Providers like Jabil help developers leverage more complete designs, including smart packaging designs that are already pre-integrated with technologies needed for an automatic reordering experience with Dash Replenishment. This will make overall time to market even faster. Companies interested in the DRS Solution Providers program will find additional details on the Amazon Developer Services and Technology page. We can’t wait to see what developers build.”

The Dash Replenishment Service provides unprecedented consumer convenience, yes. But the brand benefits are equally impressive. According to Amazon, “By early 2017, Dash-initiated transactions jumped to four orders per minute—quadruple the previous year’s rate. And the Dash Button has shown that re-order convenience has a measurable impact on product sales as well. Brands like Peet’s Coffee and Ziploc see more than 50% of their Amazon sales via the Dash Button, and Cottonelle’s share of wallet in the bath tissue category doubled from 43% to 86% among Dash users in 2016 alone.”

With Jabil’s DRS-enabled packaging, when products are running low, the “connected” packaging containers trigger a new order from Amazon.

How does this smart packaging work? Sensors are added to the packaging, which then communicate wirelessly with Amazon’s Dash.

Williams and Jabil Packaging Solutions vp  Joe Stodola explain more how the auto-replenishment technology works, along with how brands can use these smart containers to give consumers a customizable, easy product repurchase method that conveniently streamlines product replacement and fosters loyalty for the brand.

What specific technology—Bluetooth? Near-field communication (NFC)? Radio frequency identification (RFID)? Other?—are these smart containers using to communicate with Amazon to automatically place an order?

Williams: We can do a lot of different connectivity technologies, such as Bluetooth, NFC and RFID. We could do any of those. Because our parent company is an electronics manufacturing services provider (EMS), we have a lot of expertise in-house on designing wireless connectivity solutions, like radio frequency and antenna design.

We have more mature templates for some than for others. Right now, we have a technical blueprint that uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE). BLE is great if you’re sending small packets of information. You don’t want to send, like, audio over BLE. But for the kind of data we’re dealing with, it’s a really good solution. It doesn’t suck up a lot of battery.

We also have a WiFi reference design in the works that we’ll be wrapping up this summer.

And I’ve done a bit of work with demos with NFC.

Those are the three communication technologies we’ve identified as being the most important.

What types of packaging can be embedded with this smart auto-replenish technology—that is, with sensors?

Williams: Virtually any type of packaging.

Right now, our focus is on device-plus-consumables systems. Think of Plug-ins for air freshener, soap dispensers, spice rack, bulk-feed dispensers, hand sanitizers—that kind of thing. Or for detergent cartridges for your washer or blood vials that go into a centrifuge.

From a cost perspective, the device-plus-consumables combination is what is most useful right now.

You can connect consumables right now with NFC tags.

We are always planning for the next step and we think the connected consumable is the Holy Grail—and we’re working towards that. We benefit a lot from our parent company Jabil because we have resources available to do things, like trials of printed electronic solutions, for example.

Printed electronics promises to bring down costs a lot because you can use a roll-to-roll printing process—it’s a lot faster and cheaper than the current process for making flexible electronics right now. We’re very close to printed electronics becoming mainstream. The main things needed for that are a good integrator and customer demand.

What types of products can use this technology?

Williams: We’ve expanded our portfolio of contents beyond liquids. We are also working on bulk solids, and on sheets (like baby wipes). We have a demo that’s NFC-tag based—for example, a number of different bottled products in a rack or shelf. This makes a lot of sense for the shelf in your shower or spice racks in your kitchen.

There are a bunch of different ways to check product usage. And different solutions make sense for different types of products.

How much does this auto-replenish technology add to the cost of packaging?

Williams: That depends on how you implement it. If we’re talking about NFC tags, right now that would add maybe 15 cents. For expensive beauty products or high-end spirits, that makes sense. It doesn’t make a ton of sense on a $2 product.

If you did a device-plus-consumable model, then, on the consumable, we would be talking about the difference between a low-end label versus a nice label. It’s not a huge difference. One of our reference designs just augments the label with conductive inks for the sensing solution.

The cost would be negligible then, right?

Williams: Yes. There’s a minimal cost associated with the consumable costs, as well as a few dollars usually associated with the cost of the durable.

How do DRS-integrated packages sense product usage?

Williams: It depends a lot on the product.

For liquid level, we use capacitive sensing. That’s where the label and conductive ink really helps because it’s fitted perfectly to the consumable, so you can get really accurate sensing.

For other products, like for bulk solids and sheets, we’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of proximity sensors. It depends on where you place them and what you’re trying to detect.

We’ve also been looking at just being able to tap NFC tags. That requires a little user interaction but it’s super quick and easy.

Bottom line: We make custom solutions for our customers. We have strong design and development teams. If someone needs a sensor solution, we have someone to figure it out. There are problems we’ve already put effort into solving, but if a customer came at us with something totally new, we have the resources for custom development solutions.

Can consumers set the product level that triggers the new Amazon order? If so, how?

Williams: Yes. It’s super easy. For the certification we’ve done with Amazon, we’ve developed an auto-replenishment system app. The app can be branded according to our customer.

Setting the level for auto replenishment is a simple setting in the app. You’ve got a picture of the product and you just drag a level-set around.

How can consumers modify their orders—to change flavors, for example—before the order is transmitted?

Williams: With the Dash button, you can change the product order in the Amazon app. We’ve worked with the DRS team pretty closely to link our app to a lot of Amazon’s capabilities. Our app would be linked to your Amazon account and can provide an easy interface to product selection.

After you place the order, you can cancel or postpone it. The user gets a lot of control—when they want it. Or, if you want these processes to just work in the background so you don’t need to think about it, you can do that, too.

What benefit does this smart auto-replenish packaging bring to consumers?

Williams: It brings a pretty big benefit. There’s a term I keep using: cognitive overhead. That means you are keeping track of your stuff, your inventory in your home. You notice when you need more. You put it on a list. You plan your shopping trips and store visits. For one product, it’s a minor nuisance. For your whole household, it’s a lot of background, invisible mental labor. And sometimes you make mistakes because you’ve got a lot going on. Then suddenly you’re out of coffee—and it’s a tragedy.

It would be really nice to have that stuff take care of itself, reliably. And then you can free up all these cycles to think about stuff you’re actually more interested in.

That’s the vision, the future we want to work towards, where replenish systems are routine. I imagine that world is one where you’re freeing up a lot of that background cognitive effort you don’t really want to be doing but you have to.

Stodola: Amazon DRS and all of the capabilities Amanda is developing for connecting consumables’ packaging to a device is following the trend of direct-to-consumer. Today, you can link a Dash button with a product you want to buy and, immediately, it’s fulfilled. When you think about what we’re designing here, it’s like putting a Dash button on the package.

The consumer’s benefit is really for those things in their life they want to not think about—stocking and supplying. As a consumer, you can choose what parts of your life you want to put on auto pilot and reduce that cognitive overhead.

In the professional arena, the business format, think about the amount of manpower that goes into keeping track of inventory, and having products supplied when you need it, on demand, just in time. All of those things are managed now by having an interaction between a consumable and a device. Or you simply move that knowledge point about what’s being consumed to the actual package.

It could be coffee, or dog food. It could be syrup for a restaurant’s drink dispensers. It could be the amount of imaging material hospitals have for their MRI machine. All these things can be hooked up to auto replenishment if the package had the ability to connect to the network and give you more ability to transact to your business or your life.

So, it could benefit a lot of different types of products at various points in the supply chain, including business-to-business (B2B) and healthcare. That’s good to know.

In your press release, you say, “The ability to better understand consumer habits and preferences—not just in purchasing, but in actual use—will prove invaluable in driving deeper customer insights and informed product innovations.” How can brands leverage the consumer usage data generated by these smart containers?

Stodola: That’s one of the key benefits. Amazon is in position to help brands move their products to their consumers. All the data sits on the Amazon side. This now allows the brand to capture that data.

Williams: It doesn’t deprive Amazon of data in any way—they are still getting the same or better data that they would through the Dash button. But the brand now also gets really good data.

Here’s an example of data that brands are not getting that they can get from a DRS-enabled device-and-package system:

Say some households are doing laundry mainly on weekends. Another set of households does laundry any time of day on any day. Then another household does a massive amount of laundry once a month. What does that tell you about the household? And how might you market your product differently to those households? And how might you develop products differently for those households?

Right now, brands don’t get a lot of that data about how people are using their product. But with some basic data on timing and amount of use, you start getting a lot of insight into how to best serve your consumers.

The data that each device supplies is basic: when is the product being used, how much is being used, the approximate location and when does it need to be reordered. It’s when you get a quantity of that data from many, many devices out in the world, that you can find good insights.

You can also fuse “use” data with other publicly-available sources—for example, weather data. Or you could use historical data to predict future demand.

All this can make marketing efforts more fruitful and more accountable. It could potentially improve supply chain efficiencies. It can lead to better product development because you get a better understanding of niches of your consumers you weren’t aware of before.

What about consumer privacy?

Williams: My background is in user experience and human/computer interaction. So, user privacy is something I’ve been thinking about for longer than I have been thinking about packaging.

There are two general areas to pay close attention to:

1. Regulatory: What do we lawfully have to do to protect consumer privacy? If encryption is required, you have to do it locally, not remotely, because it’s safer. Data should be anonymous or pseudonymous. People get right of access to their data and the right to erase data. Generally, companies are finding it easier to have just one privacy policy instead of having one for the U.S. and one for Europe. And then you have policies like HIPAA, [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act]. We have defined regulations we have to adhere to.

2. We need to respect people’s privacy…that’s the basic thing. I did survey questions on this to understand consumers’ attitudes a little bit more. If you’re taking data from people, you really need to be giving them something valuable back. And the data you get from them has to pertain directly to what you’re giving them. If you can do that, you’re being respectful without being intrusive. .

We do want to be careful about what data we take from them. The data from each device is basic—the data that the brand would get should be pseudonymous—like a user ID, but it’s not going to link to a person’s name and address or credit card information.

So, it’s like the benefits of Big Data without the personal details, right?

Williams: Right. If a company wants to know about product usage, they don’t get a ton of value knowing how I personally use that product. They would get more value out of knowing how everyone in my area tends to use that product.

How did you test this concept before launching the smart packaging?

Williams: We did a lot of market intelligence and research beforehand. What can you do with smart packaging and what problems can we solve? Where is the market most mature? Where is there white space?

We did surveys of CPG [consumer packaged goods] companies’ attitudes towards smart packaging, consumer attitudes towards ecommerce, subscriptions, auto-replenish, privacy.

We built proof-of-concepts. We just kept putting stuff in front of customers. Every time a customer would visit—a brand owner or a retailer—we would do some kind of demo for them. We would take their feedback and then come back and modify our work. We’ve made a lot of updates to the application, to the brand dashboard. We really refined the feature set based on the feedback we were getting from customers—and from what we were collecting from consumers directly.

Do you have any customers using this smart packaging yet? If so, who and what packaging are they using?

Williams: Not at this moment because we just announced this partnership. It’s really early days still. And we can’t disclose anything we’re doing with specific customers before the products are actually out on the market.

The news about this technology went out May 30. What has been the response so far?

Williams: We publicly announced on May 30 but started talking about it to some customers before the launch under non-disclosure agreements. I can’t reveal specific customers, but I’ve been on a lot of calls the last couple of weeks about this and there is a great deal of interest in taking discussions to the next level.

Anything else about the development I haven’t thought to ask that you are compelled to tell me?

Stodola: We defined a path forward because Jabil has capabilities that are unique. With our core competencies in connected technologies, what we can offer brands and retailer-brands is a real value based on the trends we see in omni-channel, ecommerce and direct to consumer.

Now as a DRS partner with Amazon, we’re going to help them put more devices into the world that are going to call for products. They’ve got the fulfillment services set up to ship those. It’s kind of like a plug-and-play-ready ecommerce module. Then add to that the ability to connect the consumable to the device, we feel like we are a uniquely positioned packaging company to offer our customers end-to-end solutions.

We’re trying to facilitate it in a way that’s more natural. It’s more natural when the package is talking to the device in the home. You choose what products you want to put in the system and manage that yourself. It’s with or without an app. We’re just helping to enable solutions for our customers—brands or retailers that would like this capability—to operate with the protocols already aligned to the DRS modules.

We can handle the primary package, a consumable, a device—all core ways brands can move products to the customer—and then offer ways to connect them together.

Williams: I think we’re just part of a pretty big sea-change in brands and retailers really embracing ecommerce and omni-channel distribution…in ways that will make life a lot easier for consumers. I’m going to bet that you hear more about auto-replenish this year, not just from us but from retailers and brands.

Also, look for us to develop core-packaging solutions for ecommerce—sturdier primary packaging that doesn’t require as much secondary packaging protection, better caps and closures, designing for the size and shape of the delivery box and the consumer’s shelf at home, that kind of thing. “Smart” packaging is about the whole package, not just fancy electronics.