Firms Answer Call for Packaging Personnel


Erik Swain

These days, pharmaceutical and medical device firms are willing to contract out more and more functions, including packaging. It is not surprising, then, that some are contracting for packaging designers and engineers.

There is even a firm, Equity Packaging (Pluckemin, NJ), that specializes in placing packaging engineers and designers, as well as graphic designers, with corporations on a contractual basis. The healthcare industry is a major focus, says Andy Tybus, Equity's manager of packaging services.

"This industry tends to think in terms of outsourcing for project management or for taking on additional projects, and so it is open to bringing in professional packaging engineers on a temporary basis," Tybus says. "Most other industries have not quite made that leap yet."

Equity has been involved in a wide variety of healthcare packaging projects, from the redesign of medical packages to eliminate heat-seal failure to package development, specifications, and validation protocols for launch of a drug product switching from prescription to over-the-counter availability.

While many firms provide technical personnel on a temporary basis, Equity sees an advantage to being focused exclusively on packaging.

"The benefit for potential clients is that they are getting contract people dedicated to packaging, as compared to generalists," Tybus says. "We speak the language of packaging and can provide people who can jump quickly into meeting their needs."

Another firm, The Packaging Department (Bloomington, MN), also offers engineers on a contract basis—only its staff of 40 employees focuses solely on transportation packaging, explains Bob Fiedler, vice president of engineering services. Capabilities include transport packaging design and testing, package engineering, packaging process design, shipping analysis, reusable and returnable packaging development, packaging audits, supply-chain assessments, and financial modeling. "We can help companies that are cutting back on in-house engineering," says Fiedler.

Many of Equity's contractors are right out of packaging schools, but the company also employs industry veterans who prefer flexibility in their jobs.

Alex Baker, a recent graduate of the Michigan State University School of Packaging who is currently working on a project at McNeil Consumer Healthcare (Fort Washington, PA) after being placed there by Equity, says contracting is a way for young packaging engineers to gain valuable experience and explore different fields.

"When I was looking for a job, the most common thing I was told was that they were looking for someone with more experience and a broader background," says Baker, who found Equity through a friend. "Well, where can you get that? Contracting gives it to you. You get an idea of the packaging world without being set into a certain company or position."

Equity is responsible for matching the clients with the contractors. "We try to get a firm understanding of what the project will entail and what the client is looking for in terms of level of experience," Tybus says. "Then we will compare that with our contractors' backgrounds and interests." A typical project lasts 6 to 18 months, but it can vary.

Often, he notes, the client asks to hire the contractor permanently at the end of the project. "While we are sad to lose them, we take that as a compliment when it happens," he says. "It's a testament to the quality of our people."

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