Delcam Software Enables On-Site Packaging Design

A GPC container using the Delcam Power Solution range

American consumer goods companies go to great lengths to develop the most profitable packaging designs for their products. They have little choice: more than anywhere else in the world, US markets are overcrowded and margins are wafer-thin. To create that ideal package, they take into account a wide range of variables including cost of the package itself, cost to fill and close, shipping and handling, plus all the imponderables that go into getting and keeping shelf space.

The intense focus on package design is driven by the consumer products companies’ realization that their customers are almost always rushing. This means product marketers get only a fraction of a second to appeal to shoppers as they hurry through supermarket aisles. Meanwhile, the numbers of competing brands and new products is exploding.

To cope, the marketers of consumer products rely heavily on packaging companies like Graham Packaging Corp., a worldwide leader in the design, manfacture , and sale of blow-moulded plastic containers for food and drinks, household products, cosmetics, and automotive lubricants. The company has 60 plants in North America, Europe, and Latin America, producing several billion containers per year.

Designing these packages – often under intense time pressure – requires advanced CAD and engineering tools. Sheldon Yourist, GPC Manager of Global Design, has come up with a laptop-based system, built around Delcam’s PowerSHAPE, ArtCAM and CopyCAD software, to create new package ideas quickly – in customers’ offices using their data, labels and artwork.

The Delcam software that we use can show packaging ideas and concepts on-screen, and lets us make changes as the customer looks on,” said Mr. Yourist. "That capability is very important to GPC as we are being asked to be more creative and faster all the time. Our customers tell us that our competitors still cannot do most of the things we can do; sometimes not even in their own offices, let alone the customer’s office.”

Mr. Yourist noted that GPC has tried other specialized CAD software packages, but none were as easy to use. He commented, "In an evaluation, we gave a synopsis of our tolerances to everybody in the CAD business including all the big and costly players. Aside from Delcam, none of them could meet GPC’s needs.”

PowerSHAPE is fantastic for form manipulation,” Mr. Yourist continued. "This comes into play in areas of the bottle such as thumb and finger grips, and label attachment surfaces. Changing details in the bottle designs is made easier than ever with the various surface manipulation tools.”

Adjusting the volume in a package design is also very quick and easy using the speed of PowerSHAPE. We have found that it always works accurately even with amorphous bottle shapes,” he explained. Customers routinely ask GPC’s designers to make packages taller or shorter by a few millimetres while maintaining the same container volume.

"A full design run-through demonstration takes only about 45 minutes,” he said. "This includes building a bottle and scaling to a particular volume constraint, plus converting the surfaces for an STL output. With ArtCAM and CopyCAD, we can put lettering type logos on a package in just 10 to 15 minutes.”

Of course, there are shortcuts. "The container’s neck is never changed as it has to fit industry-standard closures and caps,” Mr. Yourist said. "Necks and closures are always kept on separate drawing layers within PowerSHAPE. When the new geometry is completed, they are merged back into the body shape.”

Texturing plays a big role in GPC’s package designs and for that Yourist uses the texturing feature in ArtCAM extensively. "Before we had ArtCAM, grip surfaces were either chemically etched or hand sculpted into prototype moulds,” Mr. Yourist said. "The etching process alone took many hours and we had to allow travel time since this task went to outside sub-contractors. Now ArtCAM textured surfaces can be merged into a model in minutes.”

Equally useful is the PS-Render module in PowerSHAPE. Rendering now runs full-time in the background, making photo-realistic designs readily available. In some CAD packages, generating a high-quality rendering can take hours. "We can have a finished rendering, providing a customer with the latest design imagery, in minutes,” Mr. Yourist said.

For customers that need a physical model of the new design, Mr. Yourist can also send PowerSHAPE CAD models to in-house rapid prototyping systems. This lets customers take new package concepts from design sessions back to their managers, analysts and focus groups. "Delcam’s STL file output option is essential for this,” Mr. Yourist said. "It’s undoubtedly a factor in why our package-design business is growing so fast.”

"We find we now spend much less time drawing on paper and calculating by hand,” said Yourist, "and much more time s culpting within the computer. The computer is roughly twice as fast and it takes care of the calculations for us. This is why we feel PowerSHAPE is so cost-effective,” he added. "And with ArtCAM and CopyCAD we can put the customer’s imagery on the new package design, precisely as it looks, not just a sketch of the logo. To deal successfully with our customers, high quality visualization is always the key.”