Packaging drives over $200 billion of business in the U.S. Each year thousands of products ranging from food, personal hygiene, apparel, housewares, and more are enclosed in plastic, shrink wrapped, boxed, or crated. Most consumers probably don’t dwell on a product’s packaging lifecycle. In truth, it is a long and complicated process. Designers spend time analyzing the most effective method to push consumers to purchase products. Testing sites populated with volunteers generate results based on readability, wow-factor, and accessibility.
Clemson University, located in Clemson, SC, created the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics in January 2009 to study the connection between graphic communications and packaging science. According to Chip Tonkin, director, Sonoco Institute, packaging design includes more than structural and aesthetic elements. “The process incorporates a wide range of disciplines including material properties, structural attributes, environmental sciences, manufacturing, marketing, and psychology.”
Tonkin’s origins are in the paper and paperboard packaging industry. While working he became very involved with Clemson University. As an adjunct professor he began guest lecturing, aiding students’ research projects, and pursuing a Ph.D. of his own. In 2006 he heard stirrings of a packaging institute. “I was extremely interested in playing a role because of its potential impact across disciplines and in the industry. It was an ideal fit for my interests and skill sets, and it offered me a chance to finish my degree and build something I truly believe in,” shares Tonkin.
An Industry Resource
The goal of the Sonoco Institute is to leverage Clemson’s core strengths along with the participation of industry partners to contribute to the packaging and graphics markets by acting as an academic stimulator, an industry resource for training and research, and bring new technologies and innovations to the forefront.
Through research, Tonkin and his students hope to convert ideas into practical reality. The curriculum focuses on four specific areas—consumer experience, printed electronics, total package workflow, and sustainability.
As mentioned before, consumer experience is just a part of the puzzle. At Clemson, students explore human factors in psychology, marketing brand management, computer science eye-tracking technology, and visual art design concentrations to understand the impact of a design on the consumer.
Printed electronics allow students to understand the functionality of market leading technology such as displays, RFID, and environmental and biological sensors; adapting them to the packaging market. Total package workflow studies the integration of a once disjointed series of steps into a single workflow that allows for the simultaneous development of functional, structural, protective, and graphic elements.
Sustainability also plays a large factor in the institute’s research. Based on various studies, sustainability drives consumer behavior and buying decisions. It includes the entire lifecycle of a packaged product—from inception, to print, and purchase. “There is an emphasis to design holistically and look at the big picture as opposed to simply trying to ‘greenwash’ a package with a shift to trendy material or lightweighting without considering potential downsides,” explains Tonkin.
To pursue the idea of sustainability, Tonkin discussed the potential uses of UV inkjet technology as a proofing device with Mimaki USA, Inc. representatives. During a casual conversation at last year’s Graph Expo in Chicago, IL Tonkin realized that Mimaki’s newest printer, the UJV-160 UV LED, fit Clemson’s needs.
“It is a new technology that allows us to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with LED-specific ink formulations and promotes the idea of a greener curing method. From a practical standpoint it offers tangible advantages as well. It allows us to have a printer in an open lab environment without air evacuation issues normally associated with UV curing. It also requires much less power than conventional UV units,” explains Tonkin.
The UJV-160 is a roll-to-roll inkjet device with an available flatbed attachment for rigid materials up to ten millimeters thick. It utilizes ultra-low heat-emitting UV LED curing technology, meaning it prints on heat-sensitive media like PVC. The UV LED curing inks stretch up to 200 percent without cracking. This feature allows for printing on curved surfaces, expanding application opportunities.
“We’ve only had the device for about a month and really just scratched the surface as far as integrating the technology into our curriculum, utilization in our industry programs, and subject matter for research efforts,” shares Tonkin.
Partnering for Success
Mimaki partnered with Clemson because of its successful graphic communications and packaging science programs. Statistics from the university show that 100 graduates per year are sought after in these fields; yearly, 200 students are offered paid industry internships; 50 companies in the market utilize the campus’ research and testing equipment; and 200 companies send employees to the institute’s training sessions and symposiums.
“Clemson University is well known for its top-tier undergraduate and graduate programs in graphic communications and packaging science. These departments were created in direct response to industry needs, and continue to remain relevant by adapting to new market realities and changing technologies. That is why Mimaki is proud to partner with the Sonoco Institute and its vision and dedication for shaping the future generation of leaders and innovations in package design and communication,” states Steve Urmano, director of marketing, Mimaki.
The Sonoco Institute works with other industry partners, including CGS Publishing Technologies Intl., Epson, EskoArtwork, and X-Rite, Inc. They are great assets for courses and seminars on color management and proofing.
With a 2,200 square foot prototype lab, the backing of countless industry experts, and the university’s reputation, a total of 100 students currently participate in three full-time classes at the Sonoco Institute.
Additional courses in printed electronics, advanced packaging development, and workflow design will be added in the near future. Tonkin points out that classes are only a small portion of the activity in the building; research, student projects, and industry service are offered at the institute as well.
One current class is Packaging Science 220. It was originally conceived as a computer software class to teach CAD and evolved into a packaging design class that covers the following—developing a product in Solidworks, building a package around it in ArtiosCAD, developing and applying graphics in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, evaluating palletization and truck utilization, and lifecycle analysis.
Students gain working knowledge of key software packages that are applicable in later classes. “They also get a great overview of the packaging design process and come away with an understanding of how seemingly minor decisions made early in the design process can have major implications later,” says Tonkin.
Over the Summer and Fall student research projects will focus on two major areas of proofing—seven-color process and opaque inks on non-standard substrates. Accurate seven-color process jobs are challenging due to inadequate prepress tools and proofing technology limitations; Sonoco Institute is developing process control guidelines and education and training for this segment.
Opaque ink is a developing area in proofing. Non-white substrates hardly benefit from mainstream color management tools. Since it uses opaque white and prints on a wide variety of substrates, the Mimaki UJV-160 printer will help students evaluate the proofing needs of these types of applications.
Affecting the Future
Countless universities and colleges throughout the U.S. offer programs targeted toward students interested in the graphic arts.
Under Tonkin and other professors of the Sonoco Institute, Clemson University students learn first hand the difficulties and intricacies of the graphic communications and packaging design process. With help from partners like CGS, Epson, EskoArtwork, Mimaki, and X-Rite their discoveries will affect the industry in due time.