How to be competitive in the packaging industry

Over the past 21 years in the packaging industry, things have changed quite a bit. We used to design using pencil and paper; now it’s CAD software with 3D renderings. We used to teach using chalkboards; now it’s smart boards and online courses. Even the manufacturing processes have undergone a complete 360-degree change over the years, from using the classic Heidelberg printers to increasingly more digital printing.

The ease of accessing information from all over the world has, for some, made the life/work balance quite mixed. But how can we use what we find and actually make it work for us? How can we translate what we read and see into a competitive advantage in the market, and more specifically, in the packaging industry? As packaging professionals, we are expected to keep up to date on trends, processes and technology in order to stay ahead of the competition. But there is one area of decision making that sets one group of people apart from the rest. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit that renders some of us different, and sets us apart as game changers.

As a part-time professor for the past twelve years at two local colleges, each year I usually see two groups of students emerge. One group is hopeful for a career, and the other uses their first job as a stepping stone to the next level. Typically, the creative graphic designers I see are usually hired by advertising agencies. The ones interested in the packaging process are usually hired for various skills, but not a defined title, as they have a broad level of knowledge and interest in learning more about the intricacies of packaging. This could include paper, metal, plastic, glass, films, foils and laminates to name a few. But then they take that information to the next step and understand the process of how to print and develop these materials.

The students who have the entrepreneurial drive and a natural curiosity will take what they learn over the years and undertake some freelance work to make additional income. Eventually, some of them will transition to operating their small business on a full-time basis. It’s not an easy path, but the people who want to learn more persevere and take risks to get the rewards they’re looking for. So how do we take the knowledge we possess and put it to work? We have assembled some unique products and technologies that are not only great learning tools, but showcase true innovation. These are great examples of how entrepreneurs think and play.

Ignite Beer Bottle

Heineken Ignite CampaignSo you’re at a nightclub and you want to have something to break the ice while being creative. Then bring on the Heineken Ignite beer bottle (! It’s a bottle with a plastic base that has an LED sensor in it. When there is music or if you cheer someone, then the bottle lights up, creating a great new atmosphere to socialize with friends. It also has a microprocessor that can be remotely programmed to synchronize with the music, thereby providing a truly unique experience in the beer category. The bottle is made from PET and aluminum and uses UV inks. This innovative idea comes to us from Tribal DDB of Amsterdam.

So how can we use this technology in other products and make them do something similar? Perhaps it could be used as a starting point to develop a solar, rechargeable version for use as a light source for third-world countries where electricity is limited or non-existent. How would a project like this get funding? Crowdsourcing is a great way to start, with companies such as Kickstarter ( or the National Crowd Funding Association of Canada (NCFA) ( These are great ideas to get the capital you need to move on to the next step of producing unique and innovative products. For more information on the Ignite beer bottle contact Heineken: Marnie Kontovraki,

As packaging development and design consultants we are constantly looking for ways to save our customers money. We learned a long time ago that just reducing the material grades on corrugated board was not enough to be competitive. Offering a totally redesigned case and packaging line was the best course of action. This solution typically applies to higher-volume runs of 60,000+ plus cartons annually. A new packaging line is often hard to sell to customers due to the upfront capital costs, but when you show an R.O.I. of 12 to 15 months, the solution sells itself.

Another cost-cutting method could be to reduce the number of SKUs. Typically some products are too loose or too small inside and some have no box at all. If you can find a solution then you can reduce warehouse space, void fill, and confusion on what carton size is required. In addition, as with all packaging, the higher the order volumes the less the price will be. So amalgamating a typical user’s 10 to 15 cases into just three will prove to be a great solution.
Enter the Jivaro by Savoye Logistics.

Based out of France, the Jivaro has been around for a few years but bringing it to North America has always been a challenge. There are now some large North American office supply and book companies using this system. What does it do that’s so amazing?

It measures the carton’s height with the product in it, then it cuts the corners and perforates the carton at the optimum height and folds the flaps in at that height, then adds a top cap. In addition, it also eliminates the need for void fill material and keeps a common foot providing maximum savings on shipping cost. Carton stacking ability increases by 30% over using a common Regular Slotted Container (RSC). It also removes any non-conformance cartons that would be not glued correctly due to the fact the carton is just a die-cut blank. The Jivaro provides exceptional cost savings and an environmental solution by reducing packaging. For further details visit


We needed to design a moulded P.E.T. or P.P. injection moulded lid and bottom for one of our new packaging concepts. The client asked for something cost effective yet attractive, and it would be an added bonus if the material had an environmental aspect to it. The solution was a product called PaperFoam ( It’s an injection-moulded starch made completely from natural resources. It’s also a compostable product under certain conditions. The ingredients are simple: industrial starch (from potatoes, for example), natural fibres from wood pulp, water and a pre-mix.
According to Thomas van Sintmaartensdijk, “Paperfoam is one of the most sustainable packaging materials available. Paperfoam is compostable and paper recyclable, with a very low carbon footprint compared to plastic and other traditional packaging materials.” 3D printed concepts are required for this project’s approval process, but because PaperFoam is starch, it will work on most 3D printers.

Markets for this product can range from pharmaceutical packaging to egg containers to electronics manufacturers. This product would typically replace foam packaging, which is expensive and creates a larger package than required, which adds to shipping costs and increased carton sizes. The company is based out of the Netherlands with other locations in North America and Malaysia.

E-ink for packaging

Problem! We need a display with a monitor to play a video to catch the consumer’s attention, but we only have a small budget. Just one typical video display could cost hundreds of dollars, making this solution unattainable for many companies. We all know about ebooks – is it possible to use that same technology to make an affordable counter display with motion for the printing industry? A Swedish company, Motion Display, ( has done just that!

Its focus is on electronic Point of Purchase advertisements or Electronic Paper Displays (E.P.D.) that run on small batteries so that no power source is required. This is a huge selling point when you are pitching an idea to a chain of stores that have different floor space limitations and limited power source options. We like this product because it is so cost effective when considering the potential it has to increase sales. One of the case studies on the website shows that Bacardi Eristoff had a 79% sales increase during a two-month period when using animated ink displays!

What is actually happening to make the sign work? The technical side of it is actually quite simple. It uses positive and negatively charged white and black particles encapsulated in a clear fluid. When you add a charge, positive or negative, the image will become white or black. Colour can also be used if required. For more technical information you can go to Currently the Department of Motor Vehicles in South Carolina is thinking of using this technology for license plates. When the tag expires it would flash “expired” or perhaps it would change colour.

Printing with water

Yes, I said water! Let’s get rid of the expensive ink toners and substitute them with water. Instead of going to the store to buy replacements (or buying an entirely new printer for less than those replacements), you would actually buy special paper to print on. The paper is treated with a dye that becomes visible when you print it with the water.

It seems like reverse thinking, but according to Sean Xiao-An Zhang, Professor of Chemistry at Jilin University in Changchun, it is possible and they are currently printing in blue, magenta, gold and purple. They soon hope to blend them to get the desired black. Why would we adopt this technology other than reducing cartridge costs?

The water print will fade after 22 hours of being printed and the special paper can then be reused dozens of times. An estimated 40% of printed pages are thrown away after being read just once. Using water to print will reduce paper use, which is beneficial considering approximately 4 billion trees annually are being cut down for paper according to the Ecology Global network. Where can we use this process in packaging or in the advertising industry? Other than newsprint and flyers, there may be a possible use for logistics and security labels. For more details go to:

3D Printing

In an article on packaging and printing, we cannot avoid talking about the ubiquitous 3D printers. The possibilities for their use in the packaging industry are virtually endless. A simple 3D printer can now be bought at a reasonable price, and there are also home kit 3D printers that you can buy and assemble. The Litto, by Tinkerine, is one of them. You buy it and you build it.

Litto 3D printers are now sold at Staples for about $1,600 – and the Cube printer by Cubify retails for just under $1,000. So what can you print? You can print typical plastics of all different densities and colours. You can print with gold and make jewelry, print a new ping pong ball that doesn’t crush, a braille phone, use it to create costumes for movies, create 3D printed wearable clothing, print with LED light – the list could go on forever.

Printed with Nutella

Print with NutellaWith respect to packaging, currently the 3D printer is used to make product parts or to make new bottle designs before going to the mould-making process. Not only can clients see it, but they can touch it and use it. Production can also get a head start on filling equipment and labelling requirements. Although we can produce 3D designs and develop the brand and packaging, nothing can replace seeing and holding a sample in your hands – especially one that can be made in such a short time. If you were to get 3D printed samples made by someone, assuming you do not have the skills, software or equipment, they would cost a few hundred dollars each in North America and about 30% less if made overseas.

3D printed samples can also save time with respect to product labeling. If you are making a new bottle design, for example, using your CAD software, you can determine the label size and begin the artwork. By the time the production bottles arrive, you may find that the labels don’t apply as expected and now you are looking at a costly mistake, and risk missing your deadlines. Having the 3D printed sample can help to reduce the risk of such errors.
SolidWorks is one of the industry standards for 3D CAD. This and other 3D design programs can be costly. However there are a number of lower-cost alternatives.

SolidWorks rendering

Cost savings on Packaging and Design

So far we’ve talked about some great products, new technologies and touched on cost savings. There is constant pressure in this industry to design products, print packaging and source packaging and materials. For example, when creating a design we like to look at the big picture.
Start with the product and see if it’s maximizing the logistics chain. Does it fit on a pallet well, does it provide stacking strength, does it nest well, does it fit on the shelf, and can it be packed well by automated picking or loading equipment?

Then we look at the type of secondary container, if required. Is a corrugated container required? Is a master container required to hold multiple units?
After knowing these parameters we can then calculate most of the packaging cost.

SolidWorksPackagingSourcing these materials is the next step that can make or break a project. Local suppliers can do great work and have competitive pricing.
If sourcing overseas, then it’s most likely that the product is being manufactured in the same country. So the packaging specifications would need to be altered to the market that you are making it in. To be more specific, you cannot just ask a supplier in China to make the same carton you have in North America. They have different paper grades and ways to measure the paper. Keeping yourself flexible and aware of the limitations is the key to a successful launch.
Co-packing. This part always shocks because of its high cost. North America is getting better and better at automation, thus making the cost of co-packing much less. From loading pork tenderloin into cases, to filling cranberry juice, we all have ways to look for efficiencies.

Co-packing overseas is a little different. China, for example, is amazing at doing hand assembly work and is one of the key factors in producing there. That’s not to say they don’t have automation, because they do. The owner of one of the largest outdoor patio furniture manufacturers in China said he needed to get automation to be competitive. Most people didn’t look far enough ahead to see that there would be a labour shortage in China. He did – and today he is still the largest in his category!

Shipping and logistics. Hopefully your design team has done its work upfront because now is when the true cost is coming in. How many units in a shipping container, 40 foot, 40 foot high cube (HQ) 20 foot, or is it your standard truck? Is it best to route through different ports or rail systems? Having a good broker and shipping company can make this process and the paperwork a lot simpler than it may sound.

So you’ve shipped you product and it has arrived on time to the distribution center (DC), and hopefully all the requirements at the DC are correct as well and your product made it in one piece.

The last stage is having the product loaded again and sent to the stores. For fresh produce, this whole process from picking in the fields to in-store display can be done in as little as 48 hours.

About the author:
Shaun McNaughton is a Packaging Consultant and owner of PDD Studios Inc. ( PDD Studios is a Global Packaging Development and Design company and provides product and brand packaging design and Global sourcing or materials and products. A graduate of the first class of the Packaging Program at Mohawk College, Shaun has 23 years of experience in the packaging industry. For the past twelve years, he has given back by teaching part time to the Graphics and Packaging program at Humber College, and did the same for ten years at Mohawk College. The schools have won numerous national and international design awards under his direction. He has traveled all over the globe searching for packaging solutions and has recently had speaking assignments in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Email: Twitter: @PDDstudios. Linkedin: Shaun McNaughton