Packaging: Last Mile In Product Development

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A game-changing perspective on product development, highlighting the often overlooked significance of packaging as the key to customer satisfaction and environmental responsibility.

In a recent product development workshop, a customer made a thought-provoking statement that resonated deeply with the essence of product creation: “What good is a product if people can’t use it?” In the world of product development, this remark holds immense significance. We, the product developers, frequently underestimate this facet.

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How you introduce your product to customers plays a pivotal role in determining how it will be received in the market. It is akin to the culinary world, where the presentation of a dish distinguishes an experienced chef from a novice. Similarly, in product development, the way a product is packaged and presented can significantly influence the impression it leaves on customers.

Consider this analogy to appreciate the impact of presentation in product development—just as a beautifully plated meal can enhance the dining experience, the way a product is presented can elevate its appeal and desirability in the eyes of potential buyers.

Functions of packaging

Often, we tend to treat the packaging as an extra item that gets discarded after the customer buys the product. Such an attitude to packaging is not correct. Let us examine the functions that a well-designed product packaging must perform to understand its needs.

Product protection

The main job of product packaging is to keep your stuff safe and sound. Imagine your product going on a big adventure from the factory to your doorstep. Along the way, it faces all sorts of challenges like bumps, bad weather, and even shady characters who might want to mess with it. That’s where packaging comes to the rescue!

Packaging is like a superhero shield. It soaks up any bumps and jolts during the ride, making sure your product arrives in one piece, free of any scratches. Plus, it keeps your precious stuff dry on rainy days. Sometimes, we even use multiple layers of packaging, like a gift within a gift, just to be extra sure.

But that’s not all! Packaging also has a secret mission: it guards your product against sneaky tricks. When you buy something, all you can see is the package. If it’s not tamper-proof, some not-so-nice folks could swap out the good stuff with something fake and trick you. A tamper-proof package acts like a security guard, making sure everything inside is legit. So, you can trust the company and have a happy shopping experience!

Transportation

On its journey from the factory to your doorstep, your favourite products travel in various ways like trucks, trains, ships, and planes. It’s important to note that most of the time, the manufacturer doesn’t control how these products get to you. Each of these transportation methods has its own rules, and your product and its packaging have to follow them.

In the last couple of decades, one of the biggest achievements in making this journey smoother has been the standardisation of shipping containers. Think of them as the building blocks of transportation. These containers come in standard sizes, as set by ISO:668. They make it easy to load and unload goods quickly and smoothly, whether they are on a ship, plane, truck, or train.

So, when we design the packaging for products, we have to be mindful of these container sizes. We need to create boxes that fit perfectly in these containers. If our packages are too big or too small, it can cause problems. We might end up paying extra for shipping, or our products might get delayed at different points along the way because of their odd sizes. So, packaging matters a lot when it comes to getting your favourite things to you efficiently!

Handling

Designing product packaging requires careful consideration of how the product will be handled throughout its journey. When packages are transported, they are often stacked, so the packaging needs to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight. It is important to think about the direction in which the load will be placed and add the right protection.

Some products have delicate parts that need special care. The packaging should clearly show handling instructions that are visible even when the boxes are stacked.

To prevent rust and moisture damage, you can use absorbent granules. You can also apply a protective plastic coating or grease to keep shiny surfaces from getting scratched during transportation.

Transport companies often have rules against carrying liquids, explosives, flammable materials, or powered items. If your product contains any of these, it might need special handling. These rules can change, so it is a good idea to check with the transportation authorities if your product includes sensitive items.

Usually, products go through multiple layers of packaging. The main product goes into a retail package with a tamper-proof seal and eye-catching designs. These retail packages are then placed inside larger shipping cartons for delivery to retailers. Sometimes, these shipping cartons are loaded into shipping containers or dedicated vehicles for long-distance trips.

In some cases, we opt for reusable packaging. When this happens, it is essential to plan how to efficiently return the used packages. Collapsible packaging is one option, but another is to partner with other manufacturers and share packaging resources. Shipping containers are a great example of this kind of collaboration.

Finally, we must consider how easy it is to open the package. Unboxing should be a straightforward and enjoyable experience. Providing clear cues and easy-to-use features in the packaging can make the opening process smooth and hassle-free.

Environmental consideration

Let us think about this for a moment: the fancy packaging that wraps up our favourite products may catch our eye, but it is not the real deal. Sadly, most of that packaging ends up as trash once we are done with it. According to a report from the World Bank, about 29% of our garbage is made up of stuff like paper, cardboard, and plastic that used to be packaging. In 2015, that added up to a whopping 77.9 million tons!

Now, if we look at plastic waste, things get even more eye-opening. A report from the European Commission tells us that each person generates quite a bit of plastic waste every year. In the United States, it is around 221 kilograms per person! In Europe, it is 114 kilograms on average. Japan and Korea do better, with an average of 69 kilograms per person. So, we can guess that India falls somewhere in between.

Here’s the real kicker: Only 9% of all that plastic waste worldwide gets recycled. The rest either piles up in landfills, slowly breaking down into tiny, harmful bits called microplastics, or just sits there, causing problems for future generations. That is why we need to make a big effort to reduce the use of plastic in packaging, especially the kind that is used once and then thrown away.

To create a better world for our kids and grandkids, we should use less material for packaging. Whenever possible, we should go for packaging that is reusable. When that is not an option, we should explore alternatives like biodegradable and eco-friendly materials. Think of materials like coir, jute, hay, and leaves—they are all kind to our environment and have been used for packaging.

But there is more we can do! Instead of using things like Styrofoam or foam for packaging, we can switch to corrugated cardboard. Are those blister packs made of single-use plastic? We can replace them with plant-based bioplastics or compostable materials like Polylactic acid (PLA). And for similar purposes, we can also consider using cardboard or paper mâché boards.

So, there you have it—lots of exciting ways to make packaging better for our planet and future generations. Be kinder to the Earth while still keeping our products safe and sound.

Look and feel

When you are shopping, do you ever find yourself checking out the fancy packaging of a product before you even get to see what’s inside? That first impression is super important! That is why it is crucial to put as much thought into designing the package as we do into creating the product itself.

The package has a big job to do. It has to show off the cool stuff our product can do, catch your eye, and give you the right idea about what to expect. It should never make wild claims that our product can’t live up to. Plus, it is a fantastic place to let know about any extra goodies we offer.

Remember our last article? We mentioned that we are offering cloud-based analysis and a weather station as optional add-ons to our main product. Well, the product package is where we will tell you all about those exciting extras.

But wait, there is more! Depending on where you are, there might be some important stuff we have to put on the package by law. In India, for instance, we have to show who made the product, where it is from, when it was made, its batch number, and how much it costs. Most stores will also want a bar code on there for easy scanning.

Now, here’s the thing about the package—it should be super secure so no one can mess with it, but it should also be easy for you to open. Everything you need to use the product should be right there in the package.

Imagine buying an electronic gadget and then realising you need to rush back to the store for batteries or some other random thing. A well-designed package will have everything you need, so you can dive into using the product as soon as you open it up.

Use instructions

When you buy a product, especially one that is a bit more complex, it is essential to get familiar with how it works. Even for everyday items, you might not know all the cool stuff they can do! That is where a well-made user manual comes in handy.

A good user manual is like your trusty guidebook. It not only helps you use your product the right way but also keeps it in tip-top shape. Think about it—when you use a product correctly, you are less likely to run into problems.

But that is not all! Your user manual is like a superhero for troubleshooting common issues with clear instructions. And if you ever need some extra help, it shows you how to get in touch with customer support.

Now, here is a tip: User manuals should be super easy to understand. They should avoid using fancy technical words and be written in a language you feel comfortable with. Some countries even make it a rule to have user instructions in their language, which is a smart move. But even if it is not a rule where you live, it is still a good idea. It helps prevent misunderstandings and makes customers happy. So, next time you get a new product, do not forget to check out that user manual—it is your ticket to hassle-free and enjoyable product use!

Service manual

The user manual tells the customer about the regular use of the product. Most products will require some regular maintenance. At times, the product may not perform properly. We need to provide a manual for its maintenance.

The maintenance manual should give instructions for periodic maintenance as well as provide guidelines for fault detection. It is normally a good idea to provide a schematic diagram of the main parts, their relationships, spare parts numbers, and instructions on how to replace the spare parts.

Such a manual should mention what faults can be corrected by the user. Normally, the maintenance manual will draw a line on what the customer can do with the product and where product warranties will become void.

Warranty

Quality is key when it comes to products, and a warranty is like a promise that the product is good. A smart warranty can make people trust the product even more. But when we decide how long the warranty should last, we need to make sure customers will need it. Fixing products that break under warranty can be expensive and hurt the company’s reputation.

Warranties are also a legal thing, and they can affect a company’s finances. We want to make sure people do not make fake warranty claims, and we need to keep track of when the warranty starts. One good way to do this is by putting a warranty card in the product’s package, or we can ask customers to sign up in the company’s computer system. Either way, we need to give customers all the information they need to register.

After-sales service

In the world of successful businesses, selling a product is not just a one-time deal—it is the beginning of a beautiful customer relationship. Surprisingly, many companies make more money from the services they provide after the initial sale than from the actual product itself.

Getting a customer to choose your product can be tough and expensive. But here’s the secret sauce: Offering fantastic after-sales service. It guarantees they will keep coming back for more of your awesome stuff and related goodies.

Even though it might not come inside the product package, if you want your product to stand out from the crowd, you have to make sure top-notch after-sales service is part of the whole deal.

Hand robot manipulator for packaging products
Hand robot manipulator for packaging products

Packaging consideration of charge controller

Let us explore how we choose the perfect packaging for our charge controller, but let us keep it simple! First, we need to consider the controller’s size: It measures 270mm× 170mm×80mm and weighs about 750 grams. There is nothing fragile inside, but we want to protect it from bending when handled.

Our customers are environmentally conscious, so we are committed to being eco-friendly. That is why we won’t use any plastic in our packaging. Instead, we will use strong corrugated cardboard boxes. To prevent bending, we will use double-walled boxes and insert crushable cardboard pieces to keep the controller safely away from the box walls.

We also know that our product won’t fly off the shelves right away. So, we need to think about shipping efficiency. The smallest container available is a 305cm (10-foot) container (ISO:668 D1) with dimensions of 2,802mm×2,197mm×2,330mm.

With the padding and reinforcements, the retail box will be 292mm ×192mm×96mm. We will pack these smaller boxes into larger shipping cartons and then into the shipping container, limiting our stacking options.

There are six ways we can arrange the small boxes in the big container, and we have calculated how many boxes fit in each configuration (see Table 2). We will choose the configuration that allows us to pack the most efficiently and then design the shipping carton accordingly. Keep in mind that the final packed figure might be slightly different.

Table 2 Units packed in a different orientation
Carton Orientation Units in Direction Total
L W H Length Width Height
        2802 2197 2330  
Package l w h 9 11 24 2376
  l h w 9 22 12 2376
  w l h 14 7 24 2352
  w h l 14 22 7 2156
  h l w 29 7 12 2436
  h w l 29 11 7 2233

Our retail packaging will feature high-quality product images, specs, and even connection diagrams and installation instructions on the back. The charge controller will be set up with its HTML-based interface. We have made it even more convenient by including user registration, user manuals, and service manuals right on the web page.

For added assurance, all this information is available on our company’s website. That way, customers can access it if anything goes wrong with the charge controller’s embedded web server. Online manuals are a smart choice. They are eco-friendly, hard to lose, and easy to search. In addition, they can include audio-visual presentations when needed.

Final review

We have now reached the end of our series about systematic product development. Our journey began by exploring what makes a product truly lovable. From there, we delved into the QFD process, which helps gather customer and stakeholder expectations and turns them into specifications, design ideas, manufacturing plans, and quality assurance strategies.

We also took a quick look at concurrent engineering, a method that brings together team members from different areas to improve our designs efficiently. In one of the articles, we discussed cost optimisation for boosting profits, and in another, we focused on design risk analysis.

Next, we explored ways to make designs more manufacturing-friendly and less complex. Our seventh article delved into user interface and product styling, emphasising intuitive and user-friendly products through axiomatic design principles. We wrapped up our journey by discussing product strategy, including designing for future expansion and building a product family.

With this final article on product packaging, we hope our series has provided a glimpse into the various aspects of systematic product development. Hope these articles will offer guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to create innovative products and contribute to the Make in India initiative.


SOUMYANATH CHATTERJEE is former TVS Motors Choir Professor at Industrial and Systems Engineering Department. IIT Khoragpur. His expertise is in Product Development and Supply Choin Management

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