Find and Get What You Want in the Packaging Environment
Cut costs and serve your needs with a few simple prioritization steps.
By Daren Tuttle PE, CPP
Principal Packaging Engineer
BD Medical (Sandy, UT)
Table I. The matrix begins with necessary qualities.
Table II. Added criteria help to compare the value of each quality.
Many manufacturers claim that their equipment and materials are the top of the line and the ones you need to have. As packaging end-users, we are constantly bombarded with new ideas, processes, and philosophies. We must work through all these ideas and rationally decide which material or piece of equipment will stand out from the rest. How do we weed through the multiple materials, equipment, and suppliers and get to what we really want?
I have spent a few years coming up with a process that can take a multitude of materials and equipment and narrow them down to what is really important to my project, company, or process. It is not perfect by any means, but it can allow you to make specific and informed decisions based on facts and not feelings.
First, list those areas of importance to your decision and arrange them in a quantitative format. When validating a new top web material for a horizontal form-fill-seal machine and producing disposable medical devices, would you find the most expensive material on the market and validate it? Possibly, if it is the best material available and money is not an issue. However, most packaging engineers want to find the best material for the money.
List your desire for this material in a quantifiable format to which you can apply data. For example, if you value seal peel strength, then you can list that and put it in a manner that you can compare all the materials against. List its minimum acceptable standards as shown in Table I.
The two most important items to us as end-users for seal peel strength are that the seal be greater than or equal to one pound and less than or equal to four pounds. This criteria can carry a numerical rationale and be a standard for all materials we intend to review and study.
Table III. Companies are compared based on similar criteria to determine which is best.
Table IV. Ranking scales help to properly specify elements.
This works for almost every circumstance, but it can get a bit tricky if the criterion you are looking for is less than workable in a numerical format. For example, let’s say you want a cost-effective material. This will determine whether you go forward with a certain material or choose another that is almost as good, but less expensive. What do you put in the criteria field? I use my current material or an agreed-upon company standard as my benchmark and move forward from there, as shown in Table II.
Let’s say that you go through this exercise and find that you have six descriptive criteria to judge this material. In addition, you wish to evaluate three suppliers (see Table III).
Then ask yourself whether some criteria are more important than others. In the medical device field, everything is classified according to the quality and safety of the apparatus. If a certain criterion only deals with a package’s aesthetics or cosmetic look, it probably will rank lower in importance than a criterion that affects sterility or patient and actuator safety. With this in mind, rank the criteria according to an agreed upon standard used by the industry or your respective company. For ease of use, I will use the scale shown in Table IV.
Evaluate each of your criteria, without reference to the products or suppliers, and place the ranking number for each in the appropriate matrix column. Create a team for this task, with team members writing their choices on their own copy of the matrix. A team leader then can review them and determine a final number by getting an agreement from the team. Each team member gives each of the criteria a certain percentage of overall importance (see Table V). Remember that the total percentage must equal 100%.
Repeat the blind review process, letting the team decide how much weight each of the criteria should have. Some team members might feel that cost is the most important criteria, while others might feel that porosity is the most important area. Again, this can be done in a blind environment and then agreed upon after a review by the project leader and team discussion. Each team member gives each criterion a certain percentage of overall importance.
Table V. Score suppliers based on their performance in the matrix.
Table VI. Assessing the data allows you to reach a conclusion.
Now you have a starting point to evaluate your different materials. The team will judge each on its merits and on a level playing field. Conduct studies and engineering work, evaluating each material on the established criteria. Once you complete the work and are ready to choose a material or materials, bring the core team back together and evaluate each material separately in the matrix. To keep everyone on the same page and to eliminate any confusion, use the same scale of the ranking section, but change the description for each numerical ranking of the suppliers score as seen in Table V.
Place this information into the matrix and let the software calculate the overall effectiveness of the material and supplier. If done right, a certain material or supplier will show through as the appropriate choice, as it does in Table VI.
This has become an effective tool to consistently find the appropriate material, equipment, or supplier to work with and to evaluate any new ideas that come through our day-to-day processes. Another result of this matrix is that, if conducted with a project team, it can eliminate any personal or subconscious bias in the study process as well.
Daren Tuttle has been a packaging engineer since 1993. He serves as a board member of PMMI Packaging Management Council, and was previously the senior packaging engineer at Newell Rubbermaid and at Icon Health & Fitness.