Physical protection - The objects enclosed in the package may require protection from, among other things, shock, vibration, compression, temperature, etc.
Barrier protection - A barrier from oxygen, water vapor, dust, etc., is often required. Permeation is a critical factor in design. Some packages contain desiccants or Oxygen absorbers to help extend shelf life.
Modified atmospheres or controlled atmospheres are also maintained in some food packages. Keeping the contents clean, fresh, sterile and safe for the intended shelf life is a primary function.
Containment or agglomeration - Small objects are typically grouped together in one package for reasons of efficiency. For example, a single box of 1000 pencils requires less physical handling than 1000 single pencils. Liquids, powders, and granular materials need containment.
Information transmission - Packages and labels communicate how to use, transport, recycle, or dispose of the package or product. With pharmaceuticals, food, medical, and chemical products, some types of information are required by governments. Some packages and labels also are used for track and trace purposes.
Marketing - The packaging and labels can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase the product. Package graphic design and physical design have been important and constantly evolving phenomenon for several decades. Marketing communications and graphic design are applied to the surface of the package and (in many cases) the point of sale display.
Security - Packaging can play an important role in reducing the security risks of shipment. Packages can be made with improved tamper resistance to deter tampering and also can have tamper-evident features to help indicate tampering. Packages can be engineered to help reduce the risks of package pilferage: Some package constructions are more resistant to pilferage and some have pilfer indicating seals. Packages may include authentication seals and use security printing to help indicate that the package and contents are not counterfeit. Packages also can include anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance tags that can be activated or detected by devices at exit points and require specialized tools to deactivate. Using packaging in this way is a means of loss prevention.
Convenience - Packages can have features that add convenience in distribution, handling, stacking, display, sale, opening, reclosing, use, dispensing, and reuse.
Portion control - Single serving or single dosage packaging has a precise amount of contents to control usage. Bulk commodities (such as salt) can be divided into packages that are a more suitable size for individual households. It is also aids the control of inventory: selling sealed one-liter-bottles of milk, rather than having people bring their own bottles to fill themselves.
Package design and development are often thought of as an integral part of the new product development process. Alternatively, development of a package (or component) can be a separate process, but must be linked closely with the product to be packaged. Package design starts with the identification of all the requirements: structural design, marketing, shelf life, quality assurance, logistics, legal, regulatory, graphic design, end-use, environmental, etc. The design criteria, performance (specified by package testing), completion time targets, resources, and cost constraints need to be established and agreed upon.
Transport packaging needs to be matched to its logistics system. Packages designed for controlled shipments of uniform pallet loads may not be suited to mixed shipments with express carriers.
An example of how package design is affected by other factors is the relationship to logistics. When the distribution system includes individual shipments by a small parcel carrier, the sorting, handling, and mixed stacking make severe demands on the strength and protective ability of the transport package. If the logistics system consists of uniform palletized unit loads, the structural design of the package can be designed to those specific needs: vertical stacking, perhaps for a longer time frame. A package designed for one mode of shipment may not be suited for another. With some types of products, the design process involves detailed regulatory requirements for the package. For example with packaging foods, any package components that may contact the food are food contact materials. Toxicologists and food scientists need to verify that the packaging materials are allowed by applicable regulations. Packaging engineers need to verify that the completed package will keep the product safe for its intended shelf life with normal usage. Packaging processes, labeling, distribution, and sale need to be validated to comply with regulations and have the well being of the consumer in mind.
Sometimes the objectives of package development seem contradictory. For example, regulations for an over-the-counter drug might require the package to be tamper-evident and child resistant. These intentionally make the package difficult to open. The intended consumer, however, might be handicapped or elderly and be unable to readily open the package. Meeting all goals is a challenge.
Package design may take place within a company or with various degrees of external packaging engineering: independent contractors, consultants, vendor evaluations, independent laboratories, contract packagers, total outsourcing, etc. Some sort of formal Project planning and Project management methodology is required for all but the simplest package design and development programs. An effective quality management system and Verification and Validation protocols are mandatory for some types of packaging and recommended for all.
Package development involves considerations for sustainability, environmental responsibility, and applicable environmental and recycling regulations. It may involve a life cycle assessment which considers the material and energy inputs and outputs to the package, the packaged product (contents), the packaging process, the logistics system, waste management, etc. It is necessary to know the relevant regulatory requirements for point of manufacture, sale, and use.
The traditional “three R’s” of reduce, reuse, and recycle are part of a waste hierarchy which may be considered in product and package development.
Prevention – Waste prevention is a primary goal. Packaging should be used only where needed. Proper packaging can also help prevent waste. Packaging plays an important part in preventing loss or damage to the packaged-product (contents). Usually, the energy content and material usage of the product being packaged are much greater than that of the package. A vital function of the package is to protect the product for its intended use: if the product is damaged or degraded, its entire energy and material content may be lost.
Minimization – (also "source reduction") The mass and volume of packaging (per unit of contents) can be measured and used as one of the criteria to minimize during the package design process. Usually “reduced” packaging also helps minimize costs. Packaging engineers continue to work toward reduced packaging.
Reuse – The reuse of a package or component for other purposes is encouraged. Returnable packaging has long been useful (and economically viable) for closed loop logistics systems. Inspection, cleaning, repair and recovery are often needed. Some manufacturers re-use the packaging of the incoming parts for a product, either as packaging for the outgoing product or as part of the product itself.
Recycling – Recycling is the reprocessing of materials (pre- and post-consumer) into new products. Emphasis is focused on recycling the largest primary components of a package: steel, aluminum, papers, plastics, etc. Small components can be chosen which are not difficult to separate and do not contaminate recycling operations.
Energy recovery – Waste-to-energy and Refuse-derived fuel in approved facilities are able to make use of the heat available from the packaging components.
Disposal – Incineration, and placement in a sanitary landfill are needed for some materials. Certain states within the US regulate packages for toxic contents, which have the potential to contaminate emissions and ash from incineration and leachate from landfill. Packages should not be littered. Development of sustainable packaging is an area of considerable interest by standards organizations, government, consumers, packagers, and retailers.
A choice of packaging machinery includes: technical capabilities, labor requirements, worker safety, maintainability, serviceability, reliability, ability to integrate into the packaging line, capital cost, floor space, flexibility (change-over, materials, etc.), energy usage, quality of outgoing packages, qualifications (for food, pharmaceuticals, etc.), throughput, efficiency, productivity, ergonomics, return on investment, etc.
Packaging machines may be of the following general types:
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