In this industry, “How It’s Made” is everything. This does not just refer to the manufacturing technique. How did the package get to shelf? How was the part designed? How will the package be filled? The questions are endless. Just as the questions are endless, so are the answers. From start to finish, there are many paths a project can take before it hits the shelf. Therefore, it is important to consider all of the aspects: consumer desire, design, technology, manufacturing, supply chain, retail, and so on. These factors must work together like parts of a finely tuned engine, propelling the machine forward, while humming in unison.
Knowing a piece of this process is essential. However, knowing all of the pieces is even more valuable. Manufacturing for packaging must involve areas throughout the entire process stream. As the saying goes, getting to this level is a lot like “eating an elephant one bite at a time.”
Being self-sufficient, and even vertically integrated, is old news in the manufacturing world. What’s really news is the ability to accomplish a different integration, not around the raw materials or the machinery, but about the innovation process itself. In an industry of nitty-gritty manufacturing, taking a step back and including the consumer is monumental.
So what are the most critical pieces? Think full product development: envision, develop, scale, and launch – all with validation utilized throughout. Before one can go in depth, it is important to note the consumer is at the center of this puzzle. When considering the consumer, it allows manufacturers to think like their customers, which means they now, speak the same language.
Going on the adventure of creating a new product is typically a long journey. Beginning this journey without insights would be like driving cross country without a map. Market insights lead the way to success. Without them, why are we developing or designing, and for whom? These market insights are critical to the development of a new product.
So what all should be known before moving forward? How will this package fit into the consumer’s life? How will consumers interact with this package? And the brand? Manufacturers must take action with these insights to succeed. How to stay true to the brand, please the consumer, and create the smartest package for the supply chain is the ultimate trio, and insights is where one would begin to answer these questions.
The next step is to take these insights and concepts and make them a reality. Going from idea to a massive manufacturing system does not happen in one jump. Instead, taking calculated steps has proved more successful.
Development means pilot manufacturing, process development, and material science. Simply put, one must understand each manufacturing platform and process before they can move into large scale manufacturing. First, it is important to perfect the product and process.
Manufacturing tends to get all the attention when it comes to creation of a new product, but do not forget about the importance of material science. Everyone has likely heard the phrase, “you get out, what you put in.” This definitely applies to plastics processing. It is of utmost importance to consider the material makeup of each package before finalizing design.
Focusing on development with new and disruptive products is critical. Newly invented platforms do not happen overnight. By testing the platform at a small scale, we have the ability to fine tune the product, learn, adjust, and then move forward with a scale project.
Simply put – let’s make a lot of this product. Now that we know how to make this product on a small scale, let’s get ready to ramp up the production. Integrating systems to work in harmony is a big project. Engineering integration and scaling to any size platform is what this portion of the process is all about. We must consider each piece from the resin pellet entering the extruder or mold, all the way to the finished product being loaded onto the pallet.
Now you’re ready for launch. You’ve completed the maze of product development, and the customer is ready and waiting to fill their new package. In a perfect world, you would ship the final product, the customer would proceed through filling and distribution, and the project is over. In the real world, all sorts of unexpected obstacles can come during this phase. It is critical to involve the customer prior to launch to ensure a smooth transition.
This phase is called “launch,” but it is equally an opportunity for continuous improvement. Always monitor the system and continuously make changes to better the project. As the project lives on, efficiencies can be had, and the system perfected. After all, you’ve came a long way to get here. Send it off the best you can.
Though not an official step, validation is still a very important piece. Validation ensures the project or idea is on the right path as you go along the innovation process. Through both qualitative and quantitative research, consumer insights can be gained to make sure the package consistently meets their needs and wants.
After successful navigation of this journey, the final product now exists – a satisfying accomplishment for everyone involved. The innovation process is ever-changing and can require a minimum of a few months to even multiple years. It is extremely important to partner with the customer during this process as all players are in this together.