Disposing of the disposable economy

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

The modern economy’s cycle of production, use and disposal—also known as the churn model—is under strain. “It could continue, but without closing the loop of the circular economy it isn’t feasible,” says Manbir Sodhi, engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.

But the alternative supply chain—which involves repairing, recycling or disassembling as part of the circular economy—can’t match the current system’s economies of scale for creating new products. “The volumes are too widely scattered,” he says.

The throwaway mentality of today’s consumer evolved from early-20th-century demands for better hygiene. “The earliest disposable [man-made] products were paper towels or napkins,” Dr. Sodhi says.

Instead of using cloth materials that had to be washed, the hygienic replacement was disposable products. Since then, we’ve gone to the phase where the efficiency of production makes it difficult for lasting products to compete.”

However, a new design approach might challenge this mindset. “If you want people to keep products for a longer period of time, you can try to stimulate emotional bonds to the products,” says Ruth Mugge, associate professor of consumer behavior at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“One way to do that is personalization,” she says. “If you personalize a product, you put effort into it in a way that suits your personality and your identity.

iStock_000020125423_SmallDr. Mugge’s research compared the attitudes of cyclists who painted their bikes with those who didn’t. “If you look at the functional aspects, like whether the bike is still working properly and whether it was worth the money, both groups were equal,” she says. “If you ask whether they bonded with their bikes, those who personalized felt much more attached to the bike than the other group did.

But customization carries risks. If consumers are entirely free to make alterations, companies risk losing control of their brands. “It’s important to give consumers some freedom, but the company is still making the big design choices,” Dr. Mugge says.

Furthermore, though often treasured for years, “bespoke products are really expensive,” says Danielle Applestone, chief executive of Other Machine Co. in San Francisco. “We have to decide we want products that last, but products that last have to be made more cheaply. If you only have $50, you can’t pay $500” regardless of how well that product meets your personal needs.

To bridge that gap, Other Machine Co. produces small-scale manufacturing tools, such as milling machines that make prototypes and customized or small-batch electronics.

“Desktop manufacturing lets you make smaller batches, Just in Time,” Dr. Applestone says. “It cuts down on waste, and you can provide customization at a price point that people can afford.”

Moreover, customers appreciate knowing a product’s origins. “It gives products a story and meaning, so people will want to keep them,” she says.

Similarly, heritage or heirloom design creates sentimental value. People tend to hold on to possessions such as watches, jewelry, paintings or furniture that tell a personal story.

“The tricky part is that while they should be able to last a long time, some you can’t keep a lifetime,” Dr. Mugge says.

New regulations could help extend a product’s life. The Brussels-based European Consumer Organization suggests ways to improve durability and repairability through new product-standard legislation, better consumer information, longer guarantees, greater availability of spare parts and more digital support. Meanwhile, the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive has set minimum durability standards for such goods as refrigerators, lighting and vacuum cleaners.

One appliance maker set its own unconventional benchmark when it advertised its washing machine with a wedding dress, and a strapline suggesting that its machines could outlast the average marriage.

Another way to extend durability is by changing a product’s dimensions or using new materials. This might “make a product more expensive, but if it lasts longer, it will give the brand a positive image,” Dr. Mugge says.

Alternatively, manufacturers could make it easier for customers to access a product’s inner workings or simply replace the batteries. Companies might not intentionally make it hard to fix their products, but the miniaturization trend—especially in electronics—often means that consumers need specialized tools to do so, Dr. Sodhi adds.

“It’s really an issue of consumer mindset,” he says. “People don’t have time or capability to do repairs. At the same time, they have enough money to buy new things. In societies where people don’t have money, they will repair.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

The Future of Package Design – Beyond the Box

By David
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Package design technology is on the rise, and so are its expectations to create and deliver.

Meeting consumer demand used to mean creating the best product available. But times have changed. Today’s consumers aren’t as easy to please. They’ve come to expect sustainable and eco-friendly packaging in their retail products, as well as a commitment from brand manufacturers to share these environmentally-conscious values.

As Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail companies shift greater focus towards rethinking packaging design, they need answers to meet these growing demands for sustainability. Brand manufacturers must now create packaging designs not only with increased functionality and greater efficiency, but with stronger shelf performance.

To do this, they’ll need to explore innovative avenues for devising new packaging design strategies. But before they can even think about to incorporate new design features, CPG and retail companies must have their design processes down to a science, or they’ll quickly find themselves grouped with the statistical majority of package failures.

Today’s plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose. Could tomorrow’s bio-plastic do it in 5?

As if appealing to consumer values and contributing to the environment wasn’t enough, packaging designers concentrating their efforts on sustainability have been quick to discover the potential economic benefits in using renewable materials. For example, manufacturers have found that minimizing the use of corrugate cardboard in packaging has potential to reduce shipping costs, decrease the potential for product damages, and even save shelf space.

The solution for recyclable package designs calls for optimizing resource management and energy consumption, while integrating reusable elements. Packaging suppliers and design agencies need sophisticated research tools to manage these complexities. To avoid falling into a tangled process of redundant rework and organizational disconnect, inventing the next packaging breakthrough requires the means to navigate the design cycle – and it starts with the ability to control what you create.

Can package designers do more with less?

Today, we can make 3 tin cans with the same amount of material it used to take to make just one.

Packaging manufacturers have made this possible by learning to innovate through re-creation – taking existing elements and exploiting previous design assets, then applying them to new concepts. But testing the feasibility of a physical prototype takes time and resources many packaging innovators don’t have. And with 50 percent of new packaging performing worse than what its replacing, innovators need every tool available to make sure their end product functions the way it should.

Did you know:

Integrating design, engineering, and simulation can cut design time 50 percent and lower material costs 30 to 50 percent while improving sustainability and consumer delight?

What package designers need is an application built around the innovation process from “concept to shelf.”  In order to apply existing packaging concepts into new geographies with minimal investment of time and resources, design teams need to be able to collectively assess multiple sources of data and share all of their digital assets across a unified virtual dashboard. Instead of relying on other agencies and suppliers for what they need, the ability to instantly access and reuse previous designs, labels, and materials, expedites the innovative design process and increasing productivity.

To accelerate expansion into new markets, packaging designers must be able to adapt designs for line extensions, new sizes and local preferences quicker than competition. From executing change order requests with “where used” analyses, to simulating mold, manufacturing, and package performance, synchronizing product data across a single platform allows package designers to bring products to market faster and more efficiently.

By integrating design, marketing, engineering, and manufacturing systems across a single business platform, packaging manufacturers can bridge the gaps responsible for undermining the innovation process and avoid costly rework, delays, quality issues and recalls.

And like all innovators seeking to eliminate uncertainty, package designers looking to ensure their new initiatives deliver the results they want know that when it comes to concept development; seeing is believing.

Could we see our creations before we craft them?

Brand manufacturers have no more than 8 seconds to “wow” a potential buyer. With more than 40,000 different products on retail shelves, brand manufacturers simply can’t afford to let their products go unnoticed. To ensure packaging innovations effectively communicate value and stimulate customer engagement, CPG and retail companies must be able to uncover true shopper insights in the context of a realistic retail environment.

This is why brand manufacturers, design agencies, packaging suppliers and artwork designers need a virtual template for integrating visual creation, digital comparison, system of record, proofing tools to eliminate errors throughout the packaging design cycle. Using a cloud-based technology, all parties throughout the supply chain can instantly monitor individual contributions made onto each stage of the design process to ensure brand consistency across multiple product lines.

Creating and testing new packaging concepts virtually is critical in guaranteeing product shelf success. This virtual interface provides stronger visualization and design sharing, allowing technical packaging engineers to collaborate with industrial designers. Together they can identify optimal design strategies, explore package feasibility from conception, and select the best packaging candidates based on consumer feedback and manufacturability. With the means to image how design concepts will look alongside competition, brand manufacturers can ensure all key design elements of the “perfect package” are translated on the shelf, without losing sight of the finished product.

If brand manufacturers wanted to increase design performance while beating the clock of competition – could they do it?

The answer is yes. And it starts with visibility.

Brand manufacturers are realizing more and more every day that when it comes to the package design world, creating the box starts with thinking beyond its walls. But collaboration is a team effort. And with the added complexities of consumer demands and industry standards, brand manufacturers wanting to thrive in a competitive marketplace need to be able to see the big picture. They need a partner that not only understands the cycle for inventive package, but can virtually lead them throughout the process.

Consumer Product Goods and Retail companies need to appeal to the mass market, while addressing a social agenda of implementing sustainable packaging design methods along the way. Brand manufacturers who can succeed in creating a packaging design that delivers both enhanced consumer value and sustainability benefits will drive consumer engagement and brand interaction. And craft a legacy of winning products at shelf. By managing the complexities of design with Perfect Package, brand manufacturers and packaging suppliers have the power to illustrate what change will mean for the future of packaging and help us realize that future…sooner.

Discover package designs trends today’s consumers are demanding and what brand manufacturers are doing to create them.

Download the “Future of Packaging” report to learn:

  • New trends in sustainable packaging
  • How packaging can influence shoppers
  • Key technologies to accelerate design efforts

…and how Dassault Systèmes helps brand manufacturers foster a deep connection between retail companies and their shoppers, through innovative packaging design.

There is a better way to develop new packaging which avoids costly mistakes and delays, the Dassault Systèmes Perfect Package 3DEXPERIENCE® can help cut design time and costs by 50% while virtually eliminating potential quality issues and recalls.