At PACK EXPO International in Chicago, the top packaging OEM companies displayed new equipment and new solutions to CPG companies. But at the conference’s educational stage, called The Forum, associations and educational institutions presented best practices on workforce development, closing the skills gap and other topics related to the future of the packaging industry.

Karen Proctor, professor in the packaging science department of Rochester Institute of Technology, presented a series of videos her students created to tackle real-world packaging problems. In her session entitled “Bringing Sustainable Packaging Innovation into the Classroom,” she explained how her university partners with corporate sponsors, including Unilever and Wegmans, which is a supermarket chain in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

These companies bring their packaging challenges to RIT’s packaging department. The students create videos to demonstrate their concepts for new packaging. Some of the challenges the students attempt to solve for manufacturers are increasing their products’ visibility and redesigning packaging for premium product positioning.

“The grading rubric for the projects is always the same,” said Proctor. “Students have to add value to the packaging; they have to address the circular economy, or end of life, of the packaging; and the product can’t be a blue-sky product, but something that is actually manufactured.”

Workforce development of packaging professionals through video production

The particular student projects showcased at the PACK EXPO Forum presentation were approaches to a new packaging design for Wegmans’ organic yogurt cups. Through the videos, the students tell a story about the concept of the new packaging and how it solves either an industry challenge, such as reducing the product’s carbon footprint, or a consumer challenge, such as ease of use or convenience.

One of the ideas communicated through a video was to incorporate injection molded lids to make the cups easier to stack for shipping. Because the lids would enable the product to be stacked on top of each other and could be shipped in crates containing 63 cups, the new design would eliminate thousands of square feet of corrugated cardboard boxes previously needed for shipping. Plus, the ease of stacking the new cups would allow retailers to stock more yogurt cups. To address consumer needs, the students created rounder yogurt cups, which are easier to eat out of.

“In our packaging program, we incorporate faculty from the industrial design, graphic design and packaging design schools of thought,” said Proctor.

One of the last projects the students worked on was for Mondelēz International, which patented two of the ideas that were generated from the students’ projects.

“Two students were able to graduate from our university with a patent before having a job,” said Proctor.

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