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What Is Packaging Engineering?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 17, 2024
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Packaging engineering is an industrial discipline that crosses many engineering, marketing, and sales boundaries. It involves everything from the development of packaging materials to their compliance with labeling laws and their design to promote the sale of products. Industrial design fields like packaging engineering increasingly require expertise in a variety of fundamental sciences, such as physics, materials science, and chemistry.

Mechanical engineering is also important to become proficient in packaging engineering, as automation is a key component of packaging design. The arena in general is estimated to be the third largest industry in the United States as of 2011, producing over $100,000,000,000 US Dollars (USD) in revenue. Worldwide the industry utilizes about $450,000,000,000 USD in source materials and machinery annually.

Packaging science is not a new discipline. Rutgers, a prominent university in the United States, claims to have the second oldest program in teaching packaging nationally, and has offered it since 1965. The program focuses on such elements as the transportation of products from manufacturer to consumer, the function of a package as a silent salesman, and ease of use in package design. Since it is a standard four-year program, the first two years focus on common engineering challenges and the final two years on packaging regulation, graphic design, materials use, and more. Emphasis on a strong background in mathematics, computer science, and industrial engineering is required to pass the program, and the option exists to go on to a Master of Science (MS) degree or Ph.D. level of education.

As of 2004, packaging machinery sales was one of the highest growth markets for automation equipment in Europe. Of eleven machinery markets looked at in an analysis, packaging and labeling equipment sales were second only to that of machine tools. European production levels grew steadily throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and estimates as of 2004 put increases in the production of packaging equipment in Europe at a growth rate of 6% per year.

Industrial engineering work in packaging engineering is unique in that the engineer doesn't work on just one aspect of a package life cycle. Often there is involvement from the level of creation of schematics, drawings, and specifications all the way to seeing the final product on a shelf. This involves everything in between, including safety issues for the performance of the package to environmental impacts and cost of the materials used. A packaging engineering job, therefore, can involve interaction from customers and vendors to attorneys for patent protection and production managers for dealing with efficiencies in the process of implementing new package design product runs.

Initial graduates who go to work in the packaging engineering field are often placed in structural design, purchasing, or research departments. Since packaging falls under the umbrella of a total marketing concept, it requires engineers who have a diverse background in both business and science. Openings in any packaging engineering section of a company usually give preference to candidates who have already worked in pharmaceutical or food industries, where safety and design issues are both equally critical.

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