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Innovating Efficient Collaboration

Jeff Falk

Words are powerful. Innovation has become a particularly powerful word in this industry. It’s a word I tend to explore at the beginning of each packaging article I write. I seek it out in each topic—after all, why am I writing about the topic if there is nothing original about it? What good does my topic do your business if it is not one that will propel it toward greater success? But the word innovation always puts me in a quandary. Coming from so many directions and so frequently, its meaning blurs. My analogy is air. If asked to define it, I’m not so sure that I could. It’s here where I sit; I breathe it to extract oxygen in order to live. But it’s markedly less breathable eight miles above where I sit, where a winged, turbo charged aluminum tube uses it to create lift. Innovation is seemingly everywhere when the industry speaks of new packaging releases.

I have concluded that I must stop asking “What is it?” when applied to packaging or the creation of packaging. Instead, I answer the question “What must it do?” Simply put, it must be an improvement that increases profitability—boosts sales, cuts costs, etc. I need only to define it by what it must be—a profitable improvement.

So, a logical starting point for making a profitable improvement in packaging is at the very start of a package’s life cycle—at the design stage. The innovation here is not in the design itself or the tools used to create the design—software running in a zillion units of computing power on your desk. The innovation is that there is simply a more efficient and faster way to communicate about and make adjustments to the package.

Speed in delivering new packaging is critical for a product’s speed to market—and that is critical for the product’s success. In addition to challenging package designers, this has created opportunities. “The Building Blocks of Stronger Brands” (GCI magazine, June 2006) cites a Wall Street Journal article that states that more marketing dollars are being shifted toward packaging, and, as discussed in the GCI magazine feature “Engaging Consumers” (August 2006), the packaging market for personal care products posts annual U.S. revenues of just over $3 billion, and steady growth is expected. New consumer profiles to target and new product concepts continually challenge packaging designers. Designers also are looking to differentiate and are exploring new materials to deliver brand messages. These requirements have to be taken into account within the package design process.

Product Life Cycle Management

Product Life Cycle Management (PLCM) is not a new term in the pages of GCI magazine. Software and services that manage the entire life cycle of a product—from conception through design, manufacturing and service—are estimated to be a $15 billion industry. PLCM is ideal for the creation and approval process of packaging because it affords the opportunity to reduce prototyping costs, reduce waste and reduce time to market. Investment in a PLCM system and its proper implementation is an investment in long-term savings.

Ross Mast, manager, packaging application systems, Selerant Corp., described key business drivers and function details in his Packaging’s Role in Life Cycle Management presentation at The Packaging Summit 2006.

The business reasons Mast presented are simple: PLCM allows packaging and its delivery to be faster, better and cheaper. Functionality should include the ability to manage multiple package items, digital markups and comments, integration of artwork and regulatory considerations, the protection of intellectual property, and collaboration.

Ideally, effective PLCM utilizes a collection of integrated software tools and working methods. The key to PLCM systems, echoed by software and system providers, is collaboration; the innovation is how companies can work together using these systems.

According to Mast, collaboration is facilitated by systems that have Web interfaces, which allow online approvals, data sharing, and multilanguage interfaces and reports. A system must be designed to facilitate integration with external systems.

Esko-Graphics creates work flow software modules that integrate graphics, structure and project management. The company focuses on Design Life-Cycle Management, a software and hardware suite, to integrate and manage packaging supply chains from ideation to production. In essence, the system allows companies along the supply chain to communicate to efficiently execute package design and production.

By utilizing software that offers tools to ensure that renderings print in the colors selected by designers, production problems can be resolved before a design project is sent for a final print run. The simple idea translates to a shortened approval process, and reduces approval-related expenses and speed to market.

Because the collaboration in designing packaging depends on the virtual representation of the package, an accurate representation of the package is important. Color is only one visual element—shape, angles, folds and proportions are of equal significance.

To this end, Dassault Systemes is among the companies offering software that provides 3-D representations of products. The company’s ENOVIA 3D provides a single front-end to multiple information sources and applications, and ENOVIA DMU provides a collaborative design review environment that includes analysis and simulation tools.

Using Tools Already On Hand

Package printing has changed. It, too, has gone digital, facilitating the continued collaboration and efficiency of PLM, and the Portable Document Format (PDF) seems to be the foundation for additional software improvements in delivering package artwork to the printer.

Because PDFs are a file format and not a programming language, the files don’t need to be interpreted, making the process of turning a PDF back into a graphic simply one of reading the description rather than interpreting the file. PDFs have become the standard for file exchange in graphic arts, and companies that create PLM software and systems are taking advantage of this standardization. In fact, Adobe® Systems, the creator of the PDF file format, created the Adobe® Intelligent Document Platform for PLM. The system enables manufacturers to more securely gather, input and exchange information about products, and Adobe LiveCycle™ products and Adobe Acrobat® software offer a secure format for capturing 2-D and 3-D design information, independent of native authoring applications.

Esko has created 3-dX, a plug-in for Adobe® Illustrator® that creates a 3-D PDF file that can be viewed, rotated, annotated and approved directly in Adobe® Reader®. The software allows the packaging to be virtually held and generates the two-dimensional assets required in the next step of the packaging supply chain.

PitStop Professional, from Enfocus, facilitates the rapid and accurate exchange of files within a PDF work flow, allowing PDF preflight, auto-correction and editing. The company’s StatusCheck enables everyone in the production chain to verify the attributes of the PDF file. According to the company, its technology provides capabilities that bridge critical gaps in PDF work flows—including automatic error correction and editing capabilities. Enfocus also offers an online resource that provides up-to-date PDF specifications to everyone in a work flow.

The End of the Cycle

Product Life Cycle Management, in addition to considering design and production, also should consider the disposal of a package. It seems to be an aspect of the life cycle of packaging that has been ignored until relatively recently, making companies such as Aveda stand out. “Designing for the environment takes package development to a new level,” said John Delfausse, vice president, package development, Aveda, in the December 2005 issue of GCI magazine. “Supplier environmental and social ethics is also a new consideration.” Delfausse asked the members of his department to think about how they will educate the consumer about the package’s end-of-life handling.

There are software tools available that will allow any company to access the impact of packaging disposal. MERGE (Managing Environmental Resources Guidance and Evaluation) is a real-time decision support tool that incorporates environmental considerations into the design of packaging, as well as formulated products. The software, an initiative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, uses basic packaging component input data to generate environmental profiles or alternate packaging options. MERGE requires no prior environmental expertise or training, and offers a systematic means to measure and compare the environmental performance.

But is it Innovation?

Research conducted by Perception Research Services and presented by its president, Scott Young, at The Packaging Summit 2006, indicates that environmentally friendly packaging is not a driving factor in moving products off a shelf. It may be a factor that pushes a purchase “over the edge,” but consumers in this study did not make a purchase based on end-life impact. So, should innovation be the sole factor in considering options in the creation and development of packaging? That depends on how you’re going to define profitable.

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