What is Packaging Optimization? The Complex Role of Packaging Defined

By Rob Kaszubowski | Packaging Engineering Manager | Chainalytics

When I first began my career in the packaging industry, I thought “packaging and supply chain optimization” was just a fancy collection of words, pulled together to impress supply chain leaders and executives.

If you are a seasoned packaging engineer or work in a packaging-related industry–maybe manufacturing corrugated cardboard or designing sophisticated product packaging for the retail industry, for example–you probably have a general understanding of what the term “packaging optimization” means. But for most people, packaging is tied to bagging groceries, brown boxes and bubble wrap; using the term “packaging optimization” most often elicits a look of wry confusion.

What Exactly is Packaging Optimization?
In the simplest sense, “packaging optimization” means using smart packaging that’s designed to contain, communicate and protect your products while moving them from a manufacturer, warehouse or in-store fulfillment center to a final destination (usually the consumer’s home, office or other designated end point).


There are many factors that determine the condition in which your product reaches its final destination:

      1. Choosing the Right Packaging Materials Do you have an understanding first of the product’s vulnerability before you design all 3 types-of-packaging-1levels of the package? Once your product  is tested using established protocols to establish its fragility (how much damage can it sustain under what conditions and in which environments), the next packaging optimization task is developing the the proper primary, secondary and tertiary packaging to help the product and its packaging navigate the environments it will traverse.
      • Primary Packaging This packaging is designed with ease of use, ease of opening, user experience and store display in mind and is often designed to take up the least amount of space and materials possible, while providing the right amount of product protection.
      • Secondary & Tertiary Packaging This protective packaging helps the package sustain environmental hazards like temperature/humidity, fork truck handling, clamp truck handling, conveyors, as well as transportation hazards such as manual handling, vibration, rail-car coupling, manual drops and various impacts.
      1. Selecting the Right Amount of Packaging for the Environment & Supply Chain Many products are under-packaged, sustaining damage that makes for reverse logistics, product waste and many other fees and costs). But just as many products are over-packaged–using far more material than they need to traverse their environments–thereby incurring excess materials, packaging and even supply chain costs. But optimal packaging is designed to meet the requirements of your supply chain with:
      • The right strength and flute of corrugated board
      • The right properties and thickness of foam or  protective packaging
      • The right type and thickness of films or rigid plastics
      • The right amount of winds of stretch wrap
      • The right location and amount of tape or adhesive
      1. Choosing the Right Package Design With the right types and amounts of packaging material(s) targeted, it’s time to actually design and engineer the packaging, which will in turn impact many parts of your supply chain, including considerations like:
      • Material Vendors Design factors can tie into material vendor capabilities, as well as your own manufacturing capabilities. Can your material vendor make this package to your specifications? Does this design “fit”their equipment capabilities and material competencies?
      • Manufacturing & Operations Does your package design complement  your current manufacturing process and automation equipment? Would your new packaging requirements enable these systems to run at optimal speeds, or would you need to slow the equipment? How does slowing down equipment affect your operating costs?
      • Supply Chain, Warehousing & Transportation Efficiency & Costs Sexy shapes and curves may make your package stand out on the shelf, but how do those unique shapes and geometries impact your transportation expense? And anyone can pick a standard (or stock) package off the shelf or ask a packaging vendor to develop a simple packaging solution. But is your package truly optimized across all systems and touch points? Or does the design create significant air space (or wasted space) in a truck, distribution center or warehouse? In the transportation industry, air space is money wasted. Some design styles can be wasteful.  Choose wisely.
      1. Optimizing Your Product Count for Better Costs & Efficiency Consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers or even B2B manufacturers are often at the mercy of their customers in terms of their demands for order quantities and case counts. But what if you shipped an 8-count shipper or a 12-count shipper instead of a 6-count pack? How would that packaging adjustment impact your total packaging system cost? Can you fit more product on a pallet and improve your overall cube or product shipping density–an important part of transportation optimization when you’re using truckload or LTL freight extensively? Can you fit more product in storage or on a retail shelf, and help reduce inventory and storage requirements? Has this even been considered?
      1. Selecting the Right Amount of Protection Above and beyond choosing the right level of packaging protection to avoid damage during transit or stacking, effective packaging protection can have a wide array of requirements. For example:
      • Barrier protection for food products or pharmaceuticals helps maintain shelf life and protect against oxygen and moisture or other environmental damages.
      • Shock protection helps keep products undamaged from various drops and impacts.


      1. Sticking to the Right Product Design No, that’s not a typo; I said “product design.” As my colleague, Bob Fiedler, says, “the best package is a robust product.” One of the biggest components of packaging optimization is product protection. If your product is already designed to be robust (that is, it is made with the best possible materials and sturdy enough to sustain the normal buffering, drops and abuse it will take in the hands of your average package handler or consumer), it will need minimal (or no) packaging. But if your product is innately fragile or has unique requirements or special handling requirements during distribution, it may require extra packaging.  

So when you step back, “packaging optimization” does sound like a simple term. But once you start to peel back the layers, the amount of detail and engineering behind the phrase becomes more apparent. The best-in-class packaging systems have been well thought out and engineered to optimize the packaging across every touchpoint in the supply chain–from origin to destination, and ultimately to your front step.

Rob Kaszubowski is the packaging engineering manager at Chainalytics, where he is focused on reducing product damage and implementing packaging cost reduction initiatives while leading a team of packaging consultants.

Read more about how a Chainalytics’ packaging optimization engagement supports better supply chains:

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