One of the giants of the packaging industry – Smurfit UK – is offering designers a global approach to innovation that is intended to fire the imagination of all those who use it. Six tools have been created to support the design process. Rodney Abbott reports

InnoBook is effectively a data bank of creativity that currently has 230 designers across Europe and South America tapping into it. The bank boasts 1600 designs at present and is growing at 20 new designs a month, with only the best and most innovative work selected from each country.

By taking a precise specification for users’ packaging requirements [form, function and mechanical], InnoBook can identify all existing packaging solutions to meet their needs. It provides instant access to the combined imaginations of all design departments within the Smurfit Group worldwide.

Like any good parent, InnoBook has spawned a number of healthy children, the eldest of which is MecaBook – a tool designed to find the production process best suited to meet a client’s needs in just a few clicks.

This tool collates and then analyses essential production data such as the packaging dimensions, the required volume, available space and the necessary balance between quality and cost. It plays an essential part in maximising the competitiveness of the user’s production method.

MecaBook has four smart sisters – PrintBook, PackExpert, GradeExpert and PackControl.

Whether its offset, screenprint, flexographic, gravure pre- or post-print, PrintBook enables the user to identify the print technology best suited to his or her packaging needs. With over 30 different criteria to analyse [including number of colours, production quantity, production method and cost], it is designed to guarantee optimal balance between quality and cost of print.

Another sister automates the complex calculations necessary to determine the level of strength required by a client’s packaging. PackExpert is intended to take into account all the physical constraints and processes in the supply chain such as transport, storage, handling, temperature conditions and humidity levels to deliver the right solution. In a bid to allow users to specify the most suitable grade of paper, Smurfit has come up with GradeExpert, a system that uses an internal empirical database to compare performance and characteristics of different grades.

Last but not least, PackControl allows users to test the strength of their packaging against the mechanical and physical conditions that it must withstand throughout the distribution chain.

Tests include a climate control chamber, compression and vibration machines, inclined planes, drop tests and tumbling drum tests.

With this suite of tools, Smurfit has raised the profile of design within the company, allowing its designers and customers to take advantage of the expertise and experience of others throughout the group. Young designers in particular will benefit from this bank of knowledge and, the company expects, will be influential in its longer term development.