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Enabling packaging sustainability - embracing the digital transformation

It is of great strategic value to internalize and own your packaging material specifications.

Creating digitized specifications and owning these documents within your system is a foundational task and enables an organization to make the most out of its packaging and suppliers.

It creates a clear understanding of key requirements around product/packaging compatibility, filling line interactions, quality assurance, and purchasing.

Developing your specifications is a time-consuming process that needs to be done with diligence. Having a partner who guides you through the process and helps you get things right the first time is helpful, as often at the beginning there are simply too many things to consider.

As a brand owner, the packaging specifications are the backbone of your products' packaging system. They are the key communication tool to share your designs, requirements, and graphics to your packaging suppliers.

Packaging specifications cover a wide range of materials and packaging types that span across primary, secondary and tertiary packaging. This starts with corrugated board, paperboard, flexible films, bottles, closures, labels to pallets, and stretch film. Once you try to capture all packaging materials that are in your supply chain the list gets quite long.

Packaging components will vary depending on material type and will often include a detailed drawing layout for production, a die-line for graphics and written directions to ensure conformance regulatory requirements.

Surprisingly, not all companies internalize ownership of their packaging specs, creating dependencies to their existing supply base. This creates an internal knowledge gap in their process that is time-consuming to fill.

Once you have identified the value of specifications and especially owning those specifications the benefits become clear. For many companies, drawings and specifications are written and controlled by the respective packaging material suppliers. While these suppliers also need their own specs to produce these materials the ownership should remain with the brand owner.

1- Speed

As you are looking for potential new suppliers or more sustainable materials, clear specifications with validated criteria are a must.

Specifications help you to improve operational efficiency, address a quality concern, implement sustainability programs, or execute a strategic sourcing initiative.

If you have access to your specs can save many days at the front end of your change management process and avoid issues later on.

The content needs to be clear and concise, so basically any supplier can produce your material. Easy access to digitized drawings and specs within your internal system enables fact-based collaboration to address any changes or modifications.

2- Sourcing strategy

If you work with a  single packaging vendor controls that owns your packaging specifications there are limited opportunities to assess other vendors for reduced costs, improved service levels, or improved quality.

Pulling together bid packets and sharing them with other partners without having your digitized specifications is a challenging task that requires significant time and resources to compile these documents.

3- Agility

Having the ability to shift sources of supply or move manufacturing operations to different geographic locations allows for a lower rate of risk within your supply chain.

Whether your company is looking to move manufacturing from Asia to Europe or Italy to Poland, owning your packaging specifications enables a seamless transition when supply chain shifts are needed.

The same applies to supplier evaluation- as you plan to change materials to become more sustainable or optimize current systems, specifications are the key document to enable evaluation.

4- Communication​

Often companies operate with a packaging development and engineering team which support plant manufacturing and production, quality assurance and purchasing.

If you own packaging specs within your systems and ideally in a digital format through a PLM or other specification system, this allows a fast and effective communication and collaboration your business partners.

Creating clear ownership of the specifications and their content in is critical. The specification needs to be treated as one of the most important documents and the content needs to be understood by all parties involved.

5- Change management

Very often after a new product launch the packaging is optimized over time to increase its profitability and production efficiency. To achieve results, both designs and materials are often incrementally revised. This means that changes to the primary, secondary, or tertiary packaging, or eventually to all levels occur.

Maintaining ownership of your packaging drawings and specifications allows you to have improved control over managing these revisions along the way. A history of the changes and most recent status is available to you at all times.

Essential specifications and documents

Key documents that you should own as a brand owner are material specifications with verified parameters and the technical drawings/die-lines.

Compiling and owning all of your packaging drawings, die-lines, and specifications may be a long-term strategic activity, depending on the number of products and packaging components that you have within your production. Once you gather all this information there can be significant benefits for your organization.

You want to start with the specifications for your primary packaging, followed by secondary packaging to cover the most important ones. Once you have completed these you can expand further to tertiary (often stretch film) and accessories (such as promotional leaflets and stickers).

It makes sense to start managing the specifications in a product lifecycle management (PLM) system. These platforms allow for internal process control, revision control, and visibility across multiple sites and geographies. Documents can be shared easily with external partners and specs are readily available for audits.


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