27 January 2021

Rather than try to bring out new products on a regular basis, which may not be either possible or judged necessary many companies endeavour to keep the pot bubbling by refreshing the packaging rather than the product itself. This is often how it works out for many food and beverage lines.

But as with everything and everyone in life circumstances differ. Some industries or parts thereof thrive on innovation and on product upgrades – it’s expected of them. If the products designed, developed and marketed by them failed to keep up to date their competitive rivals would soon see them off. This demanding product sector is the consumer electronic goods market.

When it comes to the design and manufacture of small electrical/electronic items and the attendant packaging, this sector may be regarded as being pretty unique. Devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, cameras and home-hub control systems, etc., are often purchased boxed up and ready to go. More often than not the specialist retailers, the shopping and warehouse clubs or the hypermarkets will only have one example of a product on show and as is often the case the store won’t even have a trained member of staff to answer technical questions. It’s down to the customer to do the research on-line prior to shopping and when in store, looking to what’s on the box for guidance. 

The appearance of electronic consumer packaging has if anything become more important in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this, one is the change in retailing.  A number of chain stores that were effectively warehouses, evolved as the demand for PC and IT took off in the early 90s and became mega-stores or hypermarkets.  These specialist stores and hypermarkets continued to move with the times and adjusted to the realities of the market and began to sell a more eclectic mix of fast-moving consumer goods, particularly as many of the formerly big ticket priced electronic goods became more commoditised.  This meant that in a marketing environment where the stores were ever more efficient and often with a ‘Retail Ready’ system in place, the packaging for items such as small electronic products must work that little bit harder.

 Packaging engineers, packaging technologist, marketing personnel and manufacturers have their work cut out. They need to take into consideration the materials and measures that will be needed to protect the contents of the box. But that’s only the start. Other considerations include: weight, safety and legislative compliance; suitability, sustainability and disposal or reusability of material. Another important element, one that grown in importance centres on package product dimensions. The dimensions of the pack must meet shipping and container requirements and often those of the retailer, the out-of-town warehouse, the discount club and the hypermarket. 

The packaging design team and others engaged in producing a finished product for the containment and display of electronic devices are under pressure from a number of directions. Electronic items have to be well-protected, the inside of a box or container needs to be well lined and is often provided with foam inserts. Electronic items are at risk of damage due to mishandling, vibration and knocks and bumps that may arise during transportation and shipment and when being stacked and handled in the retail environment.  Electronic components need to be protected from dust, moisture and in some instances require anti-static, static dissipative and conductive protective measures that in themselves can be quite expensive. Budgets are not unlimited and the design team may be competing against other departments within the organisation for financial resources. 

Consumer and industrial electronic/electrical goods are packaged in a variety of packaging medium including clamshell and blister packaging for low-cost components such as memory cards and connectivity accessories which are sold from wall mounted display units. Most products are however packed in rigid boxes made from paperboard or corrugated material. The inside of the box is fitted out with protective cushioning foam while the outside may incorporate a snug fitted slide on printed paper/paperboard sleeve. These sleeves, or pre-printed liner if the box is corrugated identify the brand, display a photo realistic image of the item contained within the box and still leave enough room for descriptive text, legislative and safety information and a marketing message. The sleeves provide a tight vacuum fit and when fixed around a box or container serve not only to provide a marketing message and product description they also act as a tamper evident device in that product contents cannot be accessed without breaking the sleeve which is snugly fitted, tear-resistant and difficult to remove.

The technique of pre-printed liner has revolutionised decorative possibilities for the packaging of big ticket priced electrical/electronic products and where a prestigious impact needs to be made. Another option for corrugated material is to laminate a pre-printed liner, giving the best results since printing can be undertaken on high grade paper stock. In a ‘Retail Ready’ environment pre-printed liner and laminates would more often than not be used for the sale of goods such as smart TV’s, computers and flat packed garden furniture and BBQs, etc.  

Although the introduction of pre-printed liner and laminated materials as well as an increasing number of engineered flutes have undoubtedly changed printing board, a degree of watchfulness and care may be necessary when for instance flexo printing some jobs as the medium can be challenging.

Whether printing on sleeves onto the carton direct or onto pre-printed liner or another packaging medium it’s down to the printer and packaging converter to output a product that consistently meets the quality and colour standards that the customer expects. Colour communication or proofing devices enable users of many descriptions to meet colour targets and other quality focussed parameters accurately and quickly and with minimal waste.

RK Print Coat Instruments have designed and developed a range of devices that can be used for colour matching, resolving ink/substrate related issues, for research and development purposes and for trialling materials prior to full scale production. Devices such as the FlexiProof 100, FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV are in effect scaled down and component critically exact versions of a production flexographic press and can be used to determine printability: gloss, flexibility, durability, rub resistance and chemical resistance, prior to full scale production.

Customers who particularly like the vibrancy and brilliance of UV flexo inks and the quality that it imparts to a product may be best served if their printing and converting providers have a FlexiProof UV or FlexiProof LED UV in place.  Unlike the original FlexiProof 100, the FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV incorporate an integral and miniaturised UV system so that proofs can be printed and cured in a seamless operation, ensuring that any blemishes or defects such as pinholes can be detected and print process adjustments made at an early stage and before possibly hundreds of metres of material are wasted during production. It is important to note that pin holes and many other blemishes are not detectable when using a conventional UV conveyor method for proofing due to chemical changes that take place as the sample is taken from one device to another.

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