Contract packaging, or co-packaging, is the overall procedure of assembling a product into its final finished packaging. This can include anything from thermoformed plastic clamshell packaging to standing corrugated retail point-of-sale displays and transport trays.
The key to a successful contract packager is a well-planned and documented quality control process designed to identify packaging issues before they become problematic.
Contract packaging companies use various methods to package products for their customers. Some specialize in certain types of packaging. For example, a small contract packaging company may only provide blister packages, while another is known for providing shrink wrap or store displays.
A good contract packager should follow a quality plan for every project that he takes on. This quality plan should describe the applicable procedures, workmanship standards, measurement tolerances, material specifications, and other key information. The plan should also describe how the contract manufacturer tracks and records all work performed. Ideally, it should be in individual work orders for each product.
Understanding the difference between quality assurance and quality control (QA vs QC). Effective QA is proactive and seeks to prevent defects through process design. Effective QC is reactive and exists to identify defects in the finished product.
The final step in quality control involves inspections of products and packaging conducted by a qualified inspector. This type of quality control checks for conformance with design and production requirements, including labels, markings, dimensions, and artwork. It also examines whether a product function as intended.
To accurately test a product, the inspector must have the appropriate equipment. Third-party inspectors typically bring basic tools like measuring tape and defect stickers. However, they do not usually rely on the factory for a hi-pot tester or environmental chamber.
Ideally, QC staff should work out inspection criteria with the supplier before mass production begins. This can reduce the risk that a bad product is shipped out. Having to backtrack on a shipment later can save time, time, and money than ensuring that the initial product is of superior quality. This is why quality control should never be sacrificed for quantity.
When you choose your contract packagers, have clear quality requirements communicated upfront. This prevents confusion, saves time, and eliminates surprises later in the process.
Testing can include visual inspection, dimensional measurement, and leak testing. In addition, it’s important to test the ability of the packaging to withstand physical and environmental stresses.
For example, standing up to compression, stacking, and vibration. Various tests, such as free falls, incline shock, and rotational vibration, can simulate these conditions. Temperature and atmospheric stress tests can also be conducted.
When choosing a contract packager, set up clear communication lines. Ask for their quality agreement, current procedure index, and quality manual. Having direct lines of communication with your contractor will help you avoid mistakes, decrease packaging errors and realize success more quickly.
Many companies will hire a contract packager to produce short runs of products, for example, a holiday edition or a new product line. This can also be because their existing facility needs more space and knowledge to operate sophisticated packaging machinery.
Contract packaging companies often have capacities for structural design and testing, print and graphics, production labor, and sometimes full-service fulfillment. Some specialize in a specific type of packaging, like corrugated, shrink wrapping, or bottle/jar manufacturing and filling. They may also work with FDA-regulated products and have the facilities and quality procedures to meet regulatory requirements. Some even offer design services for custom and branded packaging. This includes everything from brand graphics to packaging sizing for different sizes of products.