Mobile Design Lab Speeds Package Development

Working with a vendor can be a long and arduous process. Here’s one approach that allows design and testing in your own backyard.
When Liz Lehman, Packaging Buyer at Ames True Temper, needed to test the viability of changing its “Grain Scoop” carton from a double-wall to a single-wall material, she wanted immediate test results.
In this world of faster time to market, any competitive edge is important. But how do you get quicker results, short of moving next to the packaging development company?
Liz did the next best thing. She got the packaging development company to move next to her.
The Packaging Div. of Menasha Corp. operates a traveling lab that provides on-site packaging design and consulting services to CPG companies.
The Menasha design team arrives at the marketer’s offices in a self-contained workshop on wheels, ready to collaborate with the entire project staff to design and construct packaging, point-of-purchase displays and/or merchandising structures. “The whole concept behind the Mobile Design Lab is to reduce cycle time and get our customer’s product to market much faster,” notes Doug Orischak, Menasha Design Manager.
In the traditional method, a sales rep hand carries a concept to and from the CPG company. The rep returns a concept to the person in charge of packaging, who makes changes and sends the project to the next department, such as purchasing. The purchasing department makes changes and sends the project to shipping, where additional changes occur. And so it goes.
With Menasha’s approach, Mobile Design Lab designers, rather than sales reps, meet directly with the brand owner’s various departments, usually at the same time.
On-the-spot solutions
The two parties can tackle all changes in one meeting. This allows Menasha’s design team to evaluate first-hand and provide on-the-spot solutions based on the customer’s unique product design requirements.
The Mobile Design Lab, packed in a trailer hitched to a 1-ton pickup truck, is small enough to maneuver into most parking lots, carrying a virtual design department that is ready for almost any project.
In the trailer is a raft of tools and gear to help companies develop their packaging. It exclusively features Esko-Graphics pre-press and pre-production systems for packaging.
ArtiosCAD, a state-of-the-art CAD workstation, allows designers to build packaging to product requirements, while a full-size Kongsberg sample cutting table takes the CAD instructions and cuts and scores prototypes on a variety of sheet stock, from “e” and “f” flute to heavy triple-wall corrugated.
With Internet and fax capabilities available via cellular connections, the truck can communicate with headquarters, or even send structural designs directly to graphic designers.
The workstation also has CAPE PACK software, which allows Menasha to analyze palletizing and structural strength. Other critical tests that can be run in the lab include:
Evaluation of vulnerability-in-transit factors to determine if the product might sustain damage en route from the factory.
Determination of speed of assembly and packaging.
Evaluation of presentation and promotion values, such as re-folding cartons for P-O-P displays.
Estimation of per unit cost.
Two experienced designers operate the lab. Once a design appears to be on the right track, samples are automatically cut and scored on the Kongsberg table. Brand marketers benefit from the “touch and feel” process, and see immediately if the ideas are on target.
Prototypes for presentations
When everyone signs off on the packaging or point-of-purchase concept, the CAD design moves to the graphics design agency on a disk. Or it goes to the in-house design department, which often creates and pastes graphics on the prototypes. With time pressures from larger retailers, marketers frequently use these prototypes for sales presentations.
“We’re able to meet with more people on-site. We can get packaging engineers, shipping people who will set up the display or carton on the line, production people and purchasing people all together at the most critical juncture of the project,” Orischak says.
“Brand managers are there, too, but they usually delegate the ultimate responsibility of the packaging to the packaging engineers. The Lab is able to reduce the design process from four to six weeks to just a few days.”
Liz Lehman of Ames True Temper was one of first customers to use the lab’s services. She asked Menasha to bring the lab to its Ames facility to test the viability of changing the Grain Scoop package in its Lawn & Garden Tools product line.
The carton wasn’t too complicated. But the challenge to reduce costs by replacing double-wall with single-wall materials did require some design finesse to make a structural change without a more involved set-up on the line.
Reduced production costs
As it so happened, Ames was packing the Grain Scoop on the line while Menasha was there. Designers were able to make packaging prototypes and test them on the production floor. Workers were able to choose what would work best.
As a result, Ames saved considerable time on the development of packaging, and saved $13,000 on the cost of production.
“The Mobile Design Lab has logged a lot of miles, visiting a variety of companies,” Orischak says. “It’s made possible by a lot of new technology—design software and an automatic cutting table that lets us work in the truck.
“If we can reduce and redefine our own time—and place—to market for packaging, we can reduce time to market for new consumer package goods.” BP
Where to go for more information...
Mobile Design Lab. At Menasha, contact Allan Lydic at 724.722.3456 or
Packaging pre-production systems. At Esko-Graphics, contact Mark Vanover at 413.583.4100, ext. 140 or