8 Facts About Packaging Engineers

Packaging is not just about marketing a food product. It’s a crucial element that ensures the safety and quality of the food we consume. It provides functions including the marketing of a food product, protection of foods from dirt and bacteria, and security to indicate if a product has been tampered with.

Food product developers typically focus on creating and perfecting new food products. In contrast, the responsibility of designing food packaging falls into the hands of food packaging engineers. This profession is important for the manufacturing world because almost all foods are packaged somehow. If it weren’t for packaging engineering our grocery stores would look a lot different from what they are right now!

1. Food Packaging Engineers design and test food packaging

Packaging engineers design, test and carry out packaging designs for food products. They begin by determining the characteristics of the product being packaged. They begin with a comprehensive analysis of the product to be packaged, considering the product’s pH levels, state of matter, storage temperature, product and shelf life and the product will be marketed. 

In the next step, packaging engineers develop ideas for what the packaging might look like. They might start by sketching the design on paper or utilizing computer-aided design software to create detailed blueprints.

During the design phase, engineers carefully consider the product’s characteristics and how it will be positioned in the market to ensure that the packaging meets both functional and marketing requirements. Once a viable design is established, engineers create physical prototypes to be rigorously tested for performance. For example, the tensile strength and thickness of shrink film might be tested to ensure its suitability for the product.

The engineers persistently iterate on prototypes until they find the design that works. This job is not just about trial and error, it’s about creative problem-solving and innovation!

2. Food Packaging Engineers typically graduate with an engineering degree

Packaging is a very specialized field in engineering, but surprisingly, many programs offer this specialization. Most packaging engineers hold bachelor’s degrees in packaging engineering when enrolled in this program students will learn from a range of topics. Packaging science majors begin with courses related to the general sciences, which provides a solid knowledge foundation. In the later years, they focus on concepts such as packaging design theory, polymer science, and mechanical properties of packaging.

Alternatively, some packaging engineers attend schools to study other types of engineering, such as mechanical engineering, materials science, chemical engineering, or environmental engineering. These programs also provide transferable knowledge.

Professionals seeking certification in packaging technology can seek accreditation through the Institute of Packaging Professionals. This accreditation shows a commitment to the excellence of the packaging profession.

They provide two certification levels: Certification Professional in Training (CPIT) and Certified Packaging Professional (CCP). The CCP requires individuals to have at least six years of experience, pass an essay test and a multiple-choice exam, and submit a résumé of activities. The CPIT certification is open to college and university students.

3. Food Packaging Engineers collaborate with other teams

Packaging engineers may work for a variety of locations, including food and beverage companies, packaging manufacturers, and consulting firms. They are typically employed by larger companies with diverse product lines, allowing them to work on a wide range of products. Their responsibilities often involve close collaboration with cross-functional teams such as Research and Development (R&D), purchasing, engineering, and marketing to develop optimal packaging solutions.

They may also work with external partners and suppliers to ensure comprehensive input and expertise in the packaging process. These companies are the ones creating the actual packaging, such as Tetra Pak, which supplies the packaging used in production.

Want to learn more about what it is like being a food packaging engineer? Check out FoodGrads Podcast Ep 41: [Special] Highlighting CareersNow! Mentorship Sessions where we interviewed Swarna Ariyakumar, Senior Packaging Engineer at Mars Canada

4. Food Packaging Engineers are heavily involved in cost-saving projects

It’s one thing to design a package that performs a specific job, but it’s another to design it in a cost-saving way. The margins on food products are small and packaging plays a part in a product’s overall price. There are many strategies and initiatives that a packaging engineer could go through to reduce the cost of a piece of packaging. For example, they could:

  • Reduce the amount of material used
  • Utilize a more cost-effective material
  • Simplifying the packaging manufacturing process
  • Designing a packaging that optimizes space utilization during transportation.

New technologies are constantly being produced, creating many possibilities for improving packaging. Packaging engineers continuously research new materials and processes to see if they can include them in future projects. Companies are always looking to reduce the cost of making a product.

5. Food Packaging Engineers are knowledgeable about packaging equipment

The materials used for packaging are just some of the considerations when designing packaging. Engineers also need to understand the machines used in food packaging lines. Knowledge of this field includes actively participating in equipment selection processes and contacting suppliers for specifications. You can design the most creative packaging, but if it can’t run properly on a line, then it simply won’t work.

6. Food Packaging Engineers must manage multiple projects simultaneously

The food and beverage industry is dynamic and diverse, leading food packaging engineers to work on multiple projects simultaneously. Packaging engineers must be efficient with their time and utilize many time-management skills such as:

  • Prioritization and Planning: Engineers prioritize projects based on deadlines, complexity, and business impact. 
  • Utilize Tools: Use project management software to keep track of progress and deadlines.
  • Regular Meetings and Updates: Frequent check-ins and status meetings help keep all projects on track.

Overall, deadlines are present on the job and it takes time to produce and test prototypes. Packaging engineers must be organized to meet their clients’ demands promptly.

Check out our podcast: The Power of Informational Interviews and Co-op Programs with Sonya Turvey, R&D Packaging Project Lead at PepsiCo

7. Food Packaging Engineers follow packaging laws

Engineers have an ethical obligation to ensure that the packages they design accurately represent the quality and quantity of the product without misleading customers. Materials that could contaminate the contents and pose a risk to consumers are prohibited. 

For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned three specific perfluoroalkyl ethyl-containing chemicals due to concerns about their toxicity. These chemicals were previously used to make paper and paperboard packaging resistant to oil and water for contact with aqueous and fatty foods. Therefore, a packaging engineer could not develop a packaging that uses this material as this could have potential health effects for the consumer.  

Different countries have different packaging laws. For example, in Canada, all final designs must comply with the requirements outlined in the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act, which aims to ensure that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. Alternatively, this falls under the Food and Drug Act in the United States.

8. Food Packaging Engineers are problem solvers, creative and have an attention to detail

Being a Food Packaging Engineers demands a diverse range of skills, but some are absolutely essential. These skills are not just beneficial, they’re crucial for success in this role:

  • Data analysis- Packaging engineers rely on data to validate their ideas. Through constant testing and experimentation, they generate valuable data that needs to be carefully analyzed. This analysis enables them to make informed decisions regarding the refinement and advancement of their prototypes.
  • Creativity—Packaging engineers must consider packaging costs, materials, marketing, and shelf life, requiring them to devise creative solutions to address these characteristics simultaneously. This involves balancing various aspects to ensure an effective and efficient packaging design. It’s a complex process that demands creative problem-solving. 
  • Attention to detail —This skill is essential for this profession because if a small detail is missed during the packaging design process, it could lead to product damage during transportation and handling. Overlooking packaging details could even lead to contamination or growth of harmful microorganisms, posing serious health risks to consumers. 

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