Welcome to the sixth entry in a blog series created just for the packaging industry. We InfinityQS quality experts have spent the last few weeks writing about total quality in your manufacturing space, about solutions to your problems, about the unique challenges you face in mastering your particular quality issues…and how we (and InfinityQS quality management software products) are here to help.\r\n \r\nFor this blog, I’ll be discussing the challenges of sustainable packaging. We all know that the planet faces a daunting challenge when it comes to plastics and other such materials. The headlines are ubiquitous. As a packaging manufacturer you face the challenge of not contributing to this problem; but you also face the uphill battle of using recycled materials in a way that is both safe for the products the “sustainable packaging” contains and holds up to the rigors that packaging inevitably faces in its time of service. \r\nThis blog could be quite extensive (and, quite obviously, I think it’s fair to say that industries are not in the business of destroying the earth), so in the spirit of keeping things from getting out of hand, we’ll look at this from a businessman’s perspective (with which I’m a bit more experienced and versed than, say, from an ecological perspective). Let’s give it a try.\r\n \r\nSafety First\r\nLet’s begin by discussing the issue in terms of practical matters, that is, keeping the packaging—and, of course, its contents—safe. First and foremost, when you as a manufacturer begin making your packaging thinner or lighter, you are walking a thin line between savings and safety. Will the thinner cap keep the contents in the container? Will it keep things safe? Will the lighter cardboard perform as well as the earlier versions while saving the company money in packaging? Will the plastic bottles hold up under stacking pressure? Will our packaging make it to the final destination while in transit? The questions are boundless…\r\n \r\nManufacturers are creative, though. We know that, right? Flexible packaging, like pouches that hold juice or baby food. Aluminum bottles. Soap sold as is. Biodegradable packaging. Coffee beans in burlap bags. Items that cannot perish sold in totally re-purposed materials. The list goes on and on. I bet you can think of way more than I’ve come up with here in a few seconds…\r\n \r\nBut when it comes to safety, the safety of the product as well as the consumer, using recycled materials can be very challenging. And InfinityQS can help you with that challenge.Sometimes the Materials We Use Make Things Challenging\r\nOne of the things I’ve learned is that some packaging just cannot be made of recycled materials. Take something as “simple” as a potato chip bag, for example. It’s made of multiple layers. Who knew? One layer is an oxygen barrier. Another layer is for freshness. Yet another is for printing (gotta have a logo on it, right?). Somewhere in that mess you have to be able to use recycled materials, I think. But then you know that when the consumer throws it away, the recycling industry can’t just separate the layers to get to something that can be re-used. That’s just not feasible.\r\n With the ever-present pizza box, it’s easy to forget that it’s a one-time use item. The box can’t be re-utilized when there’s grease and cheese and sauce on it. I used to naively think they could just “burn all that stuff off,” and that all you would have left would be good stuff. But apparently not.\r\n \r\nAnd frozen food boxes. Think about the layers with wax, and paper, and all sorts of other good things. If it were just pure cardboard, no problem re-using. But complicated, necessary packaging, like for food products, be they chips or pizza or frozen foods—these all require complicated packaging to keep the food safe, shelf-stable, and enable the shipping of the products to their final destinations.\r\n \r\nAudience Counts, Too\r\nThen there’s the question of us, the consumers. A company might make a great, innovative, environmentally conscious packaging for their product, but if we don’t buy it—or we grouse about it on social media—the company will (must) discontinue it.\r\n \r\nAnd if you use the wrong packaging and you can't sell the product, that's waste because you then have to destroy packaging and the product. Oh boy, you’ve created more of a mess than you intended when you set out on this journey.\r\n \r\nOR: “It’s noisy, it’s crinkly, we hate it!” we say about the packaging. And the company moves on to another solution. Some of this is on us…just saying.\r\n \r\nThe Quality Fix is In\r\nSo, you face all these challenges. You want to be environmentally conscious of what you produce. You want the packaging to hold up. You want to be creative and make something both safe and useful…and cost-effective. I mean, after all, you’re in business to make money, right? It’s an uphill battle. Well, InfinityQS can help you work toward overcoming some of these challenges.\r\n \r\nLet’s say, first of all, that if you’re producing what we’re calling “sustainable packaging,” you have to know that there are going to be more inherent variations in your quality data. It’s just the nature of the beast. Therefore, because the data will not be particularly reliable anymore, you need to monitor the quality of the inputs a little more carefully.\r\n \r\nThink about it, the variations will appear with each and every lot. Not just once in a while. So, you will need to make more adjustments on the fly. Here’s how we can help with that.Quality Starts with Keeping Things Simple\r\nInfinityQS software products were built for simplifying tasks on the shop floor and in the laboratory. InfinityQS software helps make difficult tasks simple. Our software supports data collection from handheld collection devices, scales, high-speed checkweighers, scanners, and virtually any machine you might find in a lab or on the shop floor. Our software can even be configured to fully automate data collection, further simplifying operators’ and lab technicians’ work.\r\n \r\nAdditionally, InfinityQS software helps ease data collection burdens by reminding users when checks are required. The result is operators no longer have to remember when to collect data. And your quality pros no longer need wonder (or worry) if required checks have been performed…or missed.\r\n \r\nCharting the Quality Course\r\nPeace of mind comes with knowing your data collections are being performed every time, and on time. Keeping your finger on the pulse of variations, when they do occur, can also offer peace of mind.\r\n \r\nHaving a quality management system in place that visually informs you when a variation has occurred is a great asset. It’s how you stay on top of the inevitable variations that will occur when using sustainable, recyclable materials in your production processes. InfinityQS’ Quality Intelligence platform, Enact®, is that quality management system. Enact’s interface is designed to inform operators of what’s important to them.\r\n \r\nAs my colleague, Eric Weisbrod, InfinityQS VP of Product Management, discussed in his blog about the InfinityQS Enact Ecosystem, “Too much data makes it difficult for users to filter out the noise and focus on the priorities they need to pay attention to. Enact’s highly visual user experience streamlines delivery of the specific information that each user needs. Users simply tell the system what they’re responsible for, and the system surfaces everything for them, telling them what data needs to be collected, when, and where.” \r\nFurthermore, Enact and its visual dashboards (example above) are available on any device—laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Dashboards comprise a collection of tiles, which can be arranged to show individual users the precise data they need to see. That’s where those variations will display, clear as day, for your operators to react to.\r\n \r\nIn Closing\r\nSo, just because the headlines are ubiquitous, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a part of them. As I mentioned earlier, as a packaging manufacturer, you face the challenge of not contributing to this problem; but you also face the uphill battle of using recycled materials in a way that is both safe for the products the “sustainable packaging” contains and holds up to the rigors that packaging inevitably faces in its time of service.\r\n \r\nInfinityQS quality management systems can help you meet those challenges head on.\r\n \r\nRead the other blogs in this series:\r\nA Good Fit (Intro)AuditingPaper & PencilEnsuring Product QualityReducing RiskFolder-Gluers – Where We Can Help\r\n \r\nRead more about Enact, request a demo, or take a product tour here.\r\n \r\nTake advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.