Box of Tricks
Greg Burton, Design Manager at Lesters, talks to DPA about the importance of packaging and why it is now one of the earliest considerations in product development.
Traditionally, packaging has often been an afterthought when designing a product, pushed to the back of the mind in pursuit of cost-effective production processes and speed to market.
This has been a costly mistake thousands of manufacturers and machine builders have fallen into over the years, but attitudes are changing and changing fast.
The changing attitude of packaging
Designers coming through the ranks have switched on to the importance of packaging and are investing time, consideration, and company investment into placing this important decision at the very start of the ‘development process’.
For Greg Burton, Design Manager at large packaging specialists Lesters, it is a wake-up call that has been a long time in the making and, for those companies that have made the transition in thinking, a decision that is helping to reduce costs, improve customer experience and, importantly, avoid expensive logistical issues.
“I know you’d expect me to say this, but packaging really is a critical part of the design cycle for so many reasons.
“It’s the first interaction a customer has with your product and, depending on its specific use, can deliver different advantages. For example, in a retail environment, packaging shapes/contours and innovations are used to differentiate and catch the consumer’s eye alongside print and logos.”
Our approach to packaging
Greg, who joined Lesters last year as part of its expansion, went on to add: “In an e-commerce situation, the sale has been made, so the main factor here is to protect the product and provide an unboxing experience that feels good and, if possible, lives long in the memory. Apple, unsurprisingly, are particularly strong at this.
“The understated and biggest issue that is overlooked by engineers is when the product leaves the manufacturing site. If packaging can be tweaked to suit standard sizes to fit UK or European standard trailers or shipping containers, then the efficiencies can be unlocked and costs dramatically reduced.”
Greg has instilled a culture of ‘innovate smarter and challenge quicker’ at Lesters, where his team is designing packaging solutions for clients involved in the automotive, cycling, food, pharma and retail sectors.
The supply chain is complex and there is often lots more money to be saved ‘around the box rather than in the box’, it just takes closer collaboration with design engineers at the earliest possible point.
“We look differently at packaging to engineers and machine builders and can work jointly to give them access to innovative materials and technologies that allow them to meet their expectations and those of their customers,” added Greg, who enjoys restoring classic Minis and building CNC machines in his spare time.
“Some really good examples of how we do things differently is our collaborative work with a leading UK university to bring new technology to the commercial marketplace, delivering free of charge health checks and our time and motion studies on how long current lines take to pack products.”
Proof is in the proverbial pudding and Lesters has numerous case studies of how it has created new solutions for its rapidly growing customer base.
One of the most recent solutions has involved redesigning the complete packaging range of an EV charging company.
With sales for electric cars going through the roof, the client has seen a massive increase in demand for its products, yet the existing packaging hasn’t really kept up with the growth and the brand.
Greg and his team applied their expertise and knowledge – taking into account supply chain and end user requirements – to deliver a solution that was optimised for the courier service, removed all plastic from the equation and upgraded the ‘opening’ experience.
“We took an approach through innovation that other packaging companies may have shied away from, creating a singular box that had all the fixtures and fittings attached.”
Greg continued: “This reduced the number of packaging SKUs from 4+ to just one. It is also an easier solution to pack (which fits with the customer’s limited space for assembly), protects the product through the supply chain and palletises great on a UK standard pallet.
“Furthermore, it is a fully sustainable corrugated solution that has no plastic, can go through any kerbside recycling worldwide and is scalable for future product development with the applied design principles. In short, it’s a game-changer.”
The future of packaging
Going forward, design engineers will have to be mindful of the next innovations slowly emerging in the marketplace.
The main thrust will be around sustainable packaging, and this will be at the forefront of most company agendas as the business world continues to strive for transparency around the impact of certain materials on the environment.
We are at a critical point in time where firms need to react and, if they are to be successful in the future, they need to consider new materials that are kinder to the world and more socially acceptable.
There are some really interesting developments coming through. Mycelium, which is a completely organic, farm-grown material made from the roots of a mushroom, could replace less environmentally friendly options, such as plastic and polystyrene. Then there’s other emerging options that embrace starch-based foams and cellulose shrink-wrapping – all of these will slowly change the way customers think about their packaging.
Asking Greg about the one bit of advice he would impart on design engineers, and the answer is as straightforward as it gets.
“It’s simple – keep packaging in mind throughout the design process. Sometimes the reduction of a couple of millimetres in one length, can optimise a product so it can travel on standard shipping routes and cut costs drastically.”
It has been a whirlwind period for Lesters, one of the UK’s leading large packaging specialists.
Over the last two years, the company has taken on fifteen staff across production and in admin/support, whilst a second shift has been introduced to keep up with demand.
This has helped support the design and manufacture of a growing range of products, including octabins, pallet boxes, heavy duty packaging, bespoke die cut units, corrugated cartons, and retail ready packaging.