Consumer expectations have risen over the years to expect high-quality packaging for all types of retail goods. The type of packaging used may have a significant effect on brand perception and marketability of the product. Packaging can also be a significant contributor to overall Cost of Goods. For these reasons, it makes sense that packaging design should be given priority as part of the core product design process, rather than an afterthought near a product launch.
Following SOLIDWORKS trend of enabling concurrent engineering and product development, I wanted to discuss a workflow for using SOLIDWORKS to virtually prototype package concepts in parallel with product design. This workflow allows for more iteration leading to more creative designs, as well as the ability to compress time to market.
The general procedure is as follows:
- Determine desired package dimensions based on preliminary product design
- Design preliminary folding carton using SOLIDWORKS Sheet Metal tools
- Export Flat Pattern “dieline” as DXF file to graphic design software for artwork creation
- Import artwork onto 3D model and perform Photorealistic rendering
This workflow allows a closed loop to quickly iterate different concepts. It’s worth noting that SOLIDWORKS is not a specialized packaging design software and the Sheet Metal tools were not intended to represent the box forming process. A production carton may have complex glue tabs and other features that would be difficult to represent using this workflow. However, even a crude mockup of the package can be useful, as zones for the artwork can be created and the overall shape of the package evaluated, knowing that the production design will differ in ways that should not be visible to the customer.
The Sheet Metal tools provide a check to ensure the carton will be manufacturable, but if it’s not desirable to generate a flat pattern, faces of the model can be individually exported to DXF for artwork creation. Nonplanar faces can be flattened and exported to DXF using the Surface Flattening functionality in SOLIDWORKS Premium- particularly useful for curved labels or other applied graphics.
Photorealistic rendering allows evaluation of different artwork and packaging designs in detail to make design decisions early on. Custom Scenes and Environments allow evaluating how the package will look in different settings. The renders below were performed in the integrated tool PhotoView 360. In this case, the artwork was exported as PNG files and placed on the SOLIDWORKS model as Decals. As an alternative, the standalone SOLIDWORKS Visualize renderer could be used, even by separate departments that do not have SOLIDWORKS access or experience.
SOLIDWORKS configurations can also be utilized to describe stages of a box forming or carton erecting process, as well as provide instructions on how the product should be packed.
By developing packaging concurrently with the product, time to market can be reduced. Once a final package design is selected, only minimal adjustments should be needed to the artwork to accommodate production. Additionally, allowing all relevant parties to participate early on minimizes the chance of surprises related to how much the package will cost, the structural needs of the package and its manufacturability, and how the product will be presented.