SEMA News—December 2013
By Steve Campbell
It’s All Wrapped Up in Protection, Branding, Economics and the Environment
A package for an automotive product serves multiple purposes, the most important of which is protection. Whether a package contains highly durable grade-8 fasteners or a fragile electronic tuning device, its main mission is to get the product to the end user in pristine condition. But a package can also serve sales functions, provide branding and inform consumers about an entire product line.
“Our products can be expensive,” said Joe Dussol, marketing director for Powerteq, which is the parent company of Superchips and Edge Products. “Depending on the product, some people might spend $600–$1,000, and we want the customer to feel like he’s holding something worth that kind of money when he picks up our package. That’s why our packaging might be a little bit more costly than doing a cardboard box with some print on it, but we really want it to stand out.”
Dussol said that digital photography and digital printing technologies have allowed his company to use a variety of new inks, patterns and materials, ranging from plastics to cardboard, and print processes using everything from laser-jet to water-jet printers and sophisticated dyes.
“The new equipment and techniques also allow us to cut costs,” he said. “For instance, we used to have to wait for certain types of printing to dry, so you might order a four-color print job and have to wait several days for it to dry. With digital processes, there’s virtually no drying time.”
Rodney Bertram, creative director for Airaid Filter Co., said that digital systems and computer designing have also made packaging tasks more efficient.
“If you’re doing a specific package that needs product photos, digital is the way to go,” he said. “We used to have to deal with film, get the photo scanned and worry about quality. Everything is much quicker now, and we can look at recyclable materials, how much a package is going to affect the environment, whether we can save on ink or processing, how sturdy the box needs to be. We can send a die line [a flat diagram that shows all the cut lines and folds of a package] to a specific printer to make sure it’s correct and then build the artwork around that.”
For businesses such as Egge Machine Co. Inc., which manufactures aluminum components with close tolerances, including pistons and valves for vintage engines, packaging considerations do not include branding and marketing.
“Internal engine components are not ‘pretty parts’ when compared to other aftermarket components and/or accessories and are not typically displayed on retail shelves,” said Ernie Silvers, Egge’s CEO and president. “Our products often pass through a jobber or a warehouse distributor before getting to the end user, so the packaging must be durable and be able to successfully navigate the global UPS logistics system. Protecting the product is always the priority.”
For many companies, however, presentation is as critical as protection, both outside and within the package.
“When you open our box, it’s not full of white popcorn that you need to dig through,” Bertram said. “We use pillow packs—airbags—to cushion our products, because that makes it easier for the customer to make sure he’s gotten all his parts. Also, each of our filters is inserted into a box in itself, which further protects it. That lets the customer know that we really care, and the pillow packs are also more environmentally friendly because we can make just what we need to use.”
Dussol said that his company designs its packaging to appeal to the customer but also to provide retailers with inherent sales functions. For instance, the package for the Superchips TrailDash tuner—which won the 2012 SEMA Show award for best new packaging display—features a USB port on the side of the box to allow the unit to be powered up in a demonstration mode and a front panel that opens to reveal the tuner.
“The dealer can put the package on his counter and display the live product running, Dussol said. “And he can also sell that product because it’s not being taken out of the box and used.”
Bertram said that Airaid views its packaging as a branding tool, and logo placement is very important. That’s why the company logo is designed with contrasting colors—black and a yellow-orange gradient—and the logo is prominent on the top of each package. If the product is stacked on a shelf, the boxes will form a wall of Airaid logos.
“We just changed to a new logo,” Bertram said, “but most of our packaging stayed the same. On our existing packaging, for instance, in addition to the product name, one of the panels contains general information about our intakes. We also print our instructions in black and white, since we don’t consider them a sales tool, so it’s more economical to print them in-house.”
The ability to stack products not only helps shippers and retailers but can also save money. For instance, plastic clamshell packages can create stacking problems unless they are encased in an additional cardboard box. And, Dussol pointed out, customers don’t like them because they are difficult to open.
“In addition, all of our products have barcodes and serial numbers positioned so that they can be easily scanned when they’re on pallets,” he said. “Warehouses are all about part numbers and barcodes, not brands, so you want to position those items so that can be quickly scanned or seen by a distributor and pulled off the shelf and moved.”
Ultimately, though, it is protection—that primary packaging purpose—where everything starts. Silvers said Egge consults with box manufacturers, industry peers and shipping companies to determine the proper paper weight and density to match up with the company’s products.
“We place the order in a box and suspend that box within a minimum of 2 in. of packing material inside another shipping container—floating the box within a box, if you will,” he said. “We quickly discover what works, adapt and stay with it.”
Dussol said that the rigors of shipping play prominently in how Powerteq’s products are packaged, and quality control includes
the simulation of shipping mishaps to determine that a package will hold up. The company also tries to ensure that its packages are recyclable, so it stays with paper and cardboard, nontoxic inks and recyclable foam inserts.
“We also look at the assembly line process to be sure that it doesn’t take too long for the line to put a package together,” he said. “Our production workers have meetings to confirm that the line is working at its most efficient. We want the boxes to be clean and look great, but we also want the people who have to assemble them to be able to do it quickly and easily.”
Those considerations are only part of the packaging process. As Silvers pointed out, companies must also ensure that their products will survive myriad loading, transportation and unloading sequences by freight carriers, some of whom are more intent on quickness than on tender, loving care. Commercial shipping packagers make it their business to deal with such contingencies.
“When our engineers set out to design a new package, they begin with a focus on the product, how it’s intended to travel in the box and what they need to do to protect it,” said Matt Lerwill, vice president of PackageOne Inc. “They consider what the product is, the weight, the shape, the number per container, how it will travel through its supply chain (palletized, going on a shelf or parceled out via FedEx or similar carriers) as well as the time it will spend in transit, storage and warehousing. These requirements help them decide the strength requirements of the packaging and which materials will best hold up to the task.”
Daniel Ferguson, vice president of sales for Cougar Packaging Solutions Inc., said his company’s main focus is ensuring that the product gets to the end user safely.
“Even one damaged product not only costs the manufacturer dollars on that unit but also a cost to its reputation,” he said. “Our materials are chosen based on volume, product sensitivity, ship cycle, ship method, product value and customer demands on package testing. Any and all of these can be factors for choosing the proper materials.”
Commercial packagers use a number of sophisticated methods and tests to create containers that are designed for specific loads and products.
“The container has to hold up and cannot compromise the product,” Lerwill said. “It also cannot compromise the safety of the various handlers who convey it through the supply chain, and it has to be consumer friendly. The consumer must be able to easily understand how to open it. We often go to retail and club stores to see how products are being displayed and take note of the materials and designs that look good and those that do a poor job of communicating what the product is. We also take note of containers that have failed and do ‘post mortems’ on them to understand why.”
Cougar Packaging Solutions
Most companies also take returns into consideration so that a customer can use the original packaging if a product must be reshipped.
“If our product is returned, we want the customer to feel confident that it will come back in one piece so that proper credit can be given,” Betram said. “We use tuck-top boxes so they can be reused.”
And Powerteq uses a unique system with its serial numbers and barcodes to ensure that returns can be tracked and any production problems can be quickly resolved.
“Our barcodes contain a serial number and a Julian date, so we can look at the specific code on the box––which also contains the UPC code––and we can track the product back,” he said. “That way, we know who built the product as well as the day and time it was made. That same number is on the device, so if you get a customer calling for support, you just ask him for the number off his device and determine if there is a known problem. We can take care of customers more quickly because everything traces back to the time of manufacture and the person who worked on the product.”
Lerwill said that his company recently invested in another increasingly important technological concern: the environment and recyclability.
“In April 2012, we took a major step forward for the packaging industry and our nation by collaborating with Clean World Partners and opening the first commercial high-solid organic waste conversion facility at our manufacturing plant in Sacramento, California,” he said. “The system converts scrap materials, food waste, agricultural residue and other organic waste into clean renewable energy, fertilizer and soil enhancements. The byproduct is nitrogen-rich peat moss and compost materials, which provides nutrients to local farmlands.”
So even though the basic design parameters remain unchanged—creating economical, protective containers for a variety of automotive specialty-equipment products—the techniques used to get there are just as evolutionary as in any other facet of the industry. From branding to the environment, it’s all one package.