Packaging engineers play an important role in companies of all sizes in nearly every market, from consumer goods and industrial products to food and beverages. Today, nearly every product or material is transported and sold in some kind of package. It’s no wonder packaging engineers are so vital to the success of a company and its products.
Recruiting websites have tens of thousands of packaging engineer positions listed, an indication of the importance of these roles, even in the midst of economic uncertainty. But many people are unfamiliar with the job and what it entails. Let’s take a closer look at the role of packaging engineering and why it’s so important.
What Is a Packaging Engineer?
Packaging engineers live and breathe every aspect of their company’s packaging program, which involves designing, evaluating, and producing packaging. They focus on both of the key aspects of packaging:
- Form: How will the package look? How attractive is it to the customer? Do the package’s design, label, and graphics hit the company’s marketing goals?
- Function: What does the package need to accomplish, both for the customer and throughout all steps of the supply chain? Does the package need to meet specific requirements to protect the quality or safety of the product?
A successful packaging engineer should have a deep understanding of the entire supply chain and logistics, but they should also be able to home in on the most minor aspects of packaging and logistics.
On any given day, a packaging engineer is likely working on packaging solutions for several products, moving from conceptualization to design to development. The role constantly interacts with several departments, so engineers often find themselves working closely with research and development, manufacturing, and marketing teams. Most companies have only one or two packaging engineers, but large corporations might employ entire teams of them.
The Packaging VIPs
Packaging engineers can make or break the success of a product. That’s because they play a vital role in both product sales and distribution.
For a product to sell successfully, it needs packaging that conveys the brand image, is visually attractive, and meets the customer’s needs and expectations. (After all, who among us hasn’t gotten extremely frustrated at a product because its packaging was unwieldy or hard to open?)
In terms of distribution, the packaging engineer needs to make sure the product is well-protected for both distribution and storage. That means considering things such as:
- How the package will be handled (by hand, on forklifts?)
- How it will be transported (across town on a truck, or across the country by train?)
- The environmental threats it could be subject to (e.g., heat, UV light, and moisture)
- Whether the product could present any safety issues (e.g., due to bulky design or sharp corners)
All of these factors require the engineer to carefully design and evaluate the packaging to make sure it meets the product’s various needs.
What Does a Packaging Engineer Do?
As with most jobs, the life of a packaging engineer comes with both challenges and opportunities. Some of the key challenges include:
- Keeping costs under control while maximizing the quality and durability of the packaging
- Designing packaging that is not only reliable and efficient but also appealing to the customer
- Ensuring that the packaging is durable but also easy for the customer to use
- Making sure packaging meets safety requirements for hazardous materials or products that may pose a risk for children
- Selecting packaging that aligns with the product’s ideal shelf life
- Ensuring that the packaging meets the company’s sustainability goals
With these challenges in mind, don’t forget how important a packaging engineer is to a company’s overall success. When a product really takes off, its success is, at least in part, thanks to its packaging design and execution.
In the Real World
A great example of packaging engineers making an impact is the pallet design engineers who brilliantly designed corrugated paper pallets. These packaging marvels are one-third the weight of wood pallets but still provide a maximum load capacity up to 10,000 pounds.
At Conitex Sonoco, packaging engineers play a vital role in our own success as well as that of our customers. For example, the material science engineers in our flexible products division are continually working to improve our bag design. They’re always looking for new ways to optimize features such as moisture and vapor barriers, flowability, filling efficiencies, stacking, odor control, bag strength, breathability, printing, labeling for hazardous materials, sealing, and sift-proofing.
As you can see, packaging engineering is a more involved process than most people realize. It takes a dedicated, detail-oriented, and creative mind to be a successful packaging engineer who, in turn, will help their company succeed. And because the packaging industry is always growing and evolving, packaging engineers constantly embrace the opportunity to make their products and companies ever better.
Tags: Flexible Packaging