Autonomization: Delegating New Functions To Packaging – Part 01

140536-Cheese cutter W540 100dpi

It isn’t often that the consumer is afforded the necessary tools to serving a particular food in its very wrapper. When the implements are provided, they’re often quite poor in quality. The most interesting element to this packaging is that it also functions as a utensil for slicing the cheese. Adding a functional and highly useful element to packaging can in some ways be limiting but also in many cases appealing to more consumers.

In a series of three articles I will relate about a fascinating phenomenon that we have seen evolving in the packaging arena over the last few years. We have seen the consumer evolution from its simple, not-knowing-any-better acceptance of the four fundamental functions of packaging (contain, protect/preserve, transport, and communicate) into their contemporary requirements, in which the four fundamentals aren’t sufficient to satisfy their needs and some extra feature has to be incorporated in the packaging to guarantee an enhancement of their consuming experience.

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When Ball Packaging Europe debuted in 2013 the on-the-go pop-up straw the question arose whether this addition to the beverage can was a (little) step into the direction of autonomization of the can or just a fun item to attract the young consumer.

This first part of the series will lay out the scope of autonomization in packaging, the relevant technology and consequently the new functions autonomization brings into packaging. “Autonomization” signifies new functions in packaging, delegated from the surrounding system, in other words from our social system as a whole, creating more autonomous, independent, portable and thereby, more convenient products. With autonomization packaging is complementing the consuming experience to an ultimate level. More in detail about the significance of the term in a minute.
The second part will relate some examples of autonomization in packaging we have seen in the market over the last few years. The third part is a bit special as this design is at the top of the autonomization game at this very moment. It will describe in detail the most advanced packaging for fresh produce (salads), in which fresh produce is stored uncut, and being cut by the consumer themselves just a few seconds before consumption, securing for them all the healthy features related to fresh produce.

Technology in Packaging
Developments and trends in packaging, its technology and the grade of its sophistication are entirely dependent of the evolution in requirements and expectations of the consumers in regard to the factual product, they intend to purchase.

As I already argued, that long since, consumers have decided that the four fundamental functions of packaging (contain, protect/preserve, transport, and communicate) aren’t sufficient to satisfy their needs. It is for them crystal clear that some extra feature has to be incorporated in the packaging to guarantee an enhancement of their consuming experience. In other words there has to be at least a fifth function added to the basic packaging, will that packaging ever be able to convince the consumer to buy, as contemporary consumers aren’t buying anymore just a product, but a solution for a specific

For the contemporary consumer packaging has to be like their smartphone. Not only convenience, but identical as with their smartphone, they want to see a smart packaging, complete with applications suitable for their demanding on-the-go, day-to-day and professional life, as well as their extra-curricular activities.

Marketing people often classify this fifth feature as active, intelligent or smart. For the consumer however, it has basically nothing to do with electronics or connectivity. For them it has to be an extra feature in the packaging to enhance their experience and sets them to consider purchasing. This consideration of the consumer has, basically, nothing to do with imbedded electronics, the Internet of Things or connectivity, but with simple mechanical and material technology of packaging.

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The Flip Bottle is a first-of-its-kind package that functions as an all-in-one bottle and glass.

Basically technology is a matter of adaptations to unique environments or occasions. These adaptations are the result of a continuous process of creative mutation at a very large scale and in different circles and circumstances in our social system. Many of the technical steps forward produced in this manner aren’t even noticed by the general public. However, some successful adaptations will diffuse through swaps and imitation. Some of them will become so successful that they create new qualitatively different niches. This is usual accompanied by further “mutations”. The diffusion is in fact springing from the heart of the development, because it is the precondition of the process of “recombination”, in other words the creation of new technological solutions based on fusion of existing elements. This process of recombination is regarded as one of the main mechanisms of technological advancement and creativity.
free from: Dynamics of Science-Based Innovation

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Sometimes even everyday items may need to be seen from a different perspective. The Kian Gogol Mogol is unique egg carton concept made from recycled paperboard. The packaging also holds a means to cook the egg stored inside. More details about this form of autonomization in part 02 of this series.

Autonomization
Every system, engineering or non-engineering, is a part of hierarchical pyramid, with its super-system on top of it and the sub-systems in order of importance lined under it. For example, if the system is a car, the super-system is the transportation system and the sub-systems are formed by the wheels, the motor, suspension, etc.

There has been identified a trend of functions delegated downward – from the super-system to the system and from the system to its sub-systems. We call this Trend of Autonomization. Actually this trend reflects a global tendency of decentralization, making systems more dynamic, flexible and thereby more adequate to requirements of the environment (super-system) and creating more convenience for the consumer (sub-systems). Manifestations of such a tendency are plural: from portable devices to viruses, from methods of programming to terror cells organization. In the consumer market the classical example is a wheeled suitcase, where the function “to move” attributed the super-system has been delegated to the system itself: the suitcase.

A very striking recent example is the debut of the self-lacing shoes from Nike. The super-system’s function “tie shoelaces” is being delegated to the system itself: the shoes.

An image of the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is projected on a screen as Nike CEO Mark Parker speaks during a news conference - Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP

An image of the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is projected on a screen as Nike CEO Mark Parker speaks during a news conference – Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP

In the world of packaged goods we can witness many cases of the delegation of functions from the super-system of the supply-chain to all the essential sub-functions that make a packaging successful. For example, the function of the preservation of bananas was initially attributed to large storages, ripening rooms, refrigerated vessels, etc. Then it was delegated to reefer containers and later paperboard boxes and finally, to individual conditioned banana packaging.

In general, we can say, that the development of MAP and similar technologies can be considered as transfer of the “preservation” function from the super-system (production, refrigeration etc.) to the system itself: the individual packaging.

Actually, the Trend of Autonomization provides a simple algorithm of new generation of functional packaging ideas. One should identify the super-system and its functions performed with the specific product in all phases of its life from production to consumption and packaging disposal and then try to transfer these functions to the packaging. In this light we see two main streams in packaging design, namely autonomization by functionality and autonomization by transformation.

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A nice form of autonomization. Brew your own coffee on-the-go. In 2012 Danish Coffeebrewer Nordic created a disposable coffee brewer, which is basically a hybrid between a filter dripmaker and a French Press. Except the hot water, which has to be added, everything for a cup of freshly brewed coffee is stored inside the stand-up pouch.

Autonomization by functionality
In terms of functionality contemporary packaging design has to incorporate applications for heating, cooling, steaming, cooking, brewing, micro-waving, as well as mixing, dispensing, and dosing. Furthermore the consumer prefers packaging with dual-offerings, sharing options and the necessary utensils to consume peacefully, sustainably and with convenience.

Autonomization by transformation
A Transformational Packaging transforms itself into a useful tool for on-the-go and outdoor activities, with which the serving of the food and drinks becomes more practical to consume and where the packaging itself is adapted to the daily life-style of the modern user.

In part 02 of this series I will give some clear examples of new functionality as well as transformation.

These extra assets allow the consumer to enjoy the product at an elevated level, but the designer should be aware that since packaging is a disposable system, it must be low cost, especially when it relates to single-use systems (Only few packaging has an after-life and I’m not talking about recycling). That means that autonomous packaging design should be, on the one hand, efficient, simple, clever and safe and on the other hand, it should be manufacturable at low cost. On top of that, it’s imperative that the packaging is eco-friendly in all aspects.

4 responses to “Autonomization: Delegating New Functions To Packaging – Part 01

  1. Dear Anton,

    For your information, the last version of the Coffeebrewer pouch (2013) is by Spout.

    You can checck with the costumer or with our web page

    Thanks for your good job

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