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Art and Science Come Together

By: Marny Bielefeldt
Posted: February 6, 2013, from the March 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

When beauty companies embark on a custom packaging project, the brand managers and creative team are often focused on the art and aesthetics of the finished package. The company molding the new bottle, however, is probably more focused on the science and engineering. Both elements are equally important in creating a successful package that meets requirements for appearance, performance, cost and availability, and that’s why it is critical for brand owners and bottle manufacturers to work in partnership to ensure a custom bottle meets all the criteria necessary for brand and product success.

A List of Questions

Many times, the process starts with a list of questions. Often, a beauty brand’s creative team has a fairly defined vision of what it wants a bottle to look like, and sometimes it even has a sample it is trying to simulate or directly duplicate. But the success of the bottle is much more than whether a packaging company can make the bottle look like someone’s vision. As the manufacturer responsible for making a bottle that can be filled, decorated, shipped and used reliably by the consumer, the packaging development team needs to ask a wide variety of questions to guide its design and engineering process.

Perhaps most importantly, what is going into the bottle? Is it watery, oily or viscous? How will it be dispensed, and has a specific closure been selected? Does the bottle need to be squeezable, or should it be rigid enough to withstand the downward pressure of a pump dispenser? And are the contents colored or clear? A dark product can impact the color of the filled container, even if the container is opaque, so knowing these things up front can help guide the color selection process for the bottle or jar.

Regarding the closure system, if the dispensing closure needs to face a particular direction to align with the front label panel, that fact may determine what blow molding process can be used. Some packaging companies have control over the orientation of the neck threads, with single-stage polyethylene terephthalate (PET) blow molding and injection or extrusion blow molded high density polyethylene (HDPE). But some other blow molding processes do not allow the neck to be oriented, so packaging companies may seek to avoid those processes if neck orientation is required.

Knowing how a container will be decorated is also critical. Will it be pressure-sensitive labeled, silk-screened or printed in some other manner? Does the bottle need decoration lugs—small indentations on the base of the bottle that allow the decorator to orient the bottle on the decoration line? Knowing what processes the bottle will be subject to enables the packaging and product developers to determine the correct wall distribution, as well as any forms of surface treatment that may be recommended. A bottle destined to be silk-screened may need to be handled differently during the takeout and packing processes to avoid any scratches or scuffing that can occur when the bottle is still hot.

While this list of questions may seem tedious to brand managers who are excited about launching a new product in a flashy new package, getting the right questions answered up front can mean the difference between having a prototype approved in weeks, or going back to the drawing board to address issues that weren’t identified in the early stages of design.

Saving Time and Money With Existing Tools

Once the customer-driven parameters of the new package have been defined, it becomes the packaging company’s job to define the best manufacturing options for creating it. At Alpha Packaging, for example, the company not only has a variety of plastics that it can blow mold but also has different blow molding processes it can use for those materials.

If designing a PET bottle, Alpha Packaging will almost always start with its existing library of preforms to evaluate whether or not an existing preform can be used to blow the bottle. The preform is essentially a “test tube”-shaped plastic component that can be reheated and blown into a variety of shapes and sizes. Both single-stage and two-stage PET blow molding processes are used, but both processes require a preform (with single-stage blow molding, the preform is made in the machine during the blow molding process instead of beforehand in a separate machine). If the packaging company can use an existing preform, that can save the brand owner quite a bit of money (Alpha estimates savings of more than $100,000, as an entirely new preform set can cost +$150,000 while a new blow set can be just $20,00 or less) in mold costs, as well as help to dramatically shorten the development process. The preform dictates the neck finish that the bottle will have, in addition to its gram weight, and it may lend itself to certain bottle shapes more than others. However, packaging companies often have an existing preform from which to make a custom bottle or jar.

If an appropriate preform does not exist—for example, if a brand owner needs a special neck on the bottle or a heavier or lighter bottle than normal—the packaging developer can work with the customer to create a custom preform that is optimized for the new bottle. Again, all the up front questions will help ensure the preform development process goes smoothly.