The Lean Packaging & How Packaging Went “Lean”

Lean Packaging

Lean methodologies have shaken many different industries, and packaging is no exception. The question here is: how did lean packaging start to happen?


Just recently, Graphic Packaging International unveiled a new innovation center in Bardon, Australia. The facility, (with a $1m investment from GPI), is supposed allow faster and freer project development and experimentation for a few selected design teams. The cartons specialist even went as far as to develop its own workflow system, named Packworks, for design and graphic services’ management.

James Lockett, head of development, spoke to Packaging News:

[quote]Packworks drives the design brief through each stage – sample making, die ordering, colour mock ups, repro, artwork approval and production – keeping all teams fully aware of the project status at all times. This improved interaction not only increases efficiency but ensures effective execution, accurate sampling and cost transparency at each stage.[/quote]

Lockett’s declaration sounds strangely familiar to the recent discovery of lean management methodologies: lighter workflows that foster experimentation. The Lean Startup, Agile Development, Six Sigma, etc. The “lean” philosophies’ success as transforming movements for medium and small businesses all across the world has started to sneak into big brand names and/or seemingly unrelated fields, and packaging has also been affected in the spread; and, while it’s still a long way from the iterative software ideal, (hardware is much harder to prototype, and feedback is much slower and difficult to gather), this could mean the arrival of a new and leaner packaging future.

Or not. Packaging’s adopted lean principles go about cost and effort reductions and an improved value output ─ which, to be honest, aren’t so modern at all. Sterling Anthony already noted this at Packaging World in 2013:

[quote]The objectives of lean, themselves, are not new, but the tools that have become associated with achieving those objectives are newer, at least in name. There have been companies that long have been about rooting out the causes of defects and eliminating them, even if those efforts didn’t go by the name of Six Sigma. There have been companies that long have been about continuous improvements through teamwork (…) etc.[/quote]

Anthony’s claim was that the “lean” in lean packaging might be recent, as it is in other fields, but its implications couldn’t be less so. Packaging, he wrote, had historically pursued lean principles in the manufacturing of its products. Since its birth as a discipline, “competitive pressures” have always stimulated optimization and “overpackaging” reduction.

The question of “how”, then, is proved to be wrong. And it’s so because of the “when”, which dates long before particular definitions, says Anthony:

[quote]It’s likely that someday the concepts discussed in this article will go by other names (consider how quickly global warming yielded the stage to climate change), but currently, these are lean times.  And to any company seeking to be lean without granting packaging a central role, I say, fat chance.[/quote] [hr]

Sponsored by Derprosa, leading brand in biaxially oriented polypropylene films for packaging.