The protection in this case is really about safety, whether of the objects themselves or of those who come into contact with them; safety beyond the normal consideration of packaging design.
The concept of “advanced protection” in this chapter covers two particular areas of safety: one where the contents are of significant value or in some way delicate or fragile, and the other where the product is a danger to those who handle the package, such that in order to transport it safely, additional material or structural precautions are required.
For high-value items, at a basic level, this can mean layers of bubble wrap around the spout and handle of the expensive teapot you do not want chipped when delivered as a present. However, in order for it not to be entirely custom every time, and to build in a level of guarantee to the system, we must consider options beyond small bubbles of air sealed in polyethylene.
Structurally, highly elasticized rubbery films are now able to suspend the teapot free from impingement, and molded paper foams are able not only to protect from impact but also to provide good thermal insulation for products that need to be kept hot or cold. Structural innovations are also able to change the way we perceive certain materials. Pallets for industrial shipping can now be made from paper, provided that the sheets are folded and corrugated in the correct sequence.
There is the use of materials “grown” specifically for the purpose, such as in the Bacs. packaging concept, in which protection is afforded in the way nature intended, through the use of foam-like cellulose that is built up around the product – in this case an egg – caused by bacterial work on glucose.
For hazardous items, there is sensibly a hierarchy of protection based on the level of danger. At one end, to ensure that fish is delivered fresh and without odor during transport, the number, material type, and order of multiple layers of plastic and metallic films are controlled to minimize weight and cost. Here the exact chemical reactions that occur in a recently dead animal must be considered – what gases are likely to be emitted and how are the color and structure of the skin and flesh to be maintained during chilling? Both ingress and egress of molecules through these films must be carefully controlled.
At the other end of this range is the packaging of materials that have been made toxic by their use and will remain dangerous for some time to come. Radioactive waste is of sufficient hazard that it needs not only to be entirely encased in glass to render it safe, but the glass containers themselves also need to be stored in geographical areas of minimal seismic activity in bunkers deep under the ground or within mountain caves.
Advanced protection can also mean security. And increasingly, the need to both ensure that the products and packaging are exactly what they claim to be (anti-counterfeiting) and also remain on the shelf until legally purchased is an industry in itself. Although the items protected tend to be of higher value, the packaging still needs to remain cost-effective, and the introduction of nanotechnology in the form of highly conductive inks and films is enabling this.
Through all these projects, safety remains the underlying theme: protection of the products from outside damage, whether physical or chemical, and also protection from the items themselves, since in our globally interconnected world there are now few things we use that did not travel from somewhere else to get here, and increasingly they require advanced protection to do so safely.
Adapted from the book Material Innovation: Packaging Design by Andrew H. Dent and Leslie Sherr
– Image courtesy of Mareike Frensemeier, INM Leibniz Institute.