Specifying Cartons for Protecting a Product – Part 1

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The Folding Carton and Photographic Film

Bringing the camera was a responsibility that could easily be forgotten among the many necessary tasks in preparing for a vacation or some other important event. With the rapid growth of mobile devices being used for picture taking, we have reached a point in which an entire generation has never even used a device solely for taking pictures. Although film is still in use, and there are many hardcore ‘film’ camera users out there, I can personally attest to the fact that there are more pictures of my 4 month old granddaughter residing on my iPhone than of me in total throughout the entire history of my life. Cameras vs. smart phones is not the subject of this blog, though; I thought that the topic of film, and more specifically film packaging, made for a good starting point on specifying a folding carton to serve its purpose of protecting the product.

Film technology has evolved tremendously through the years from its earliest stages of development when it was only used by a small group of professionals, to its peak at around the end of the 20th century in which 800 million rolls of film were sold in the US alone. The packaging requirements evolved hand-in-hand along with the advancements in film technology. The actual film was inserted into a cartridge making it more durable, compact, and easier to use. Increasing demand for film required more package engineering to meet the requirements of automated filling lines and longer distribution channels.

The film companies understood that it was not only important to protect the product from point of manufacture to the consumer; they also had to devise ways to protect the product from its end use – removing the film cartridge from the camera- to film processing. I will concede that a folding carton alone is inadequate for this purpose. Photographic film is obviously highly sensitive to light, dust, moisture and lots of other natural or man-made contaminants. A simple tin –later plastic-canister was needed to serve the purpose of protecting 35mm film from the elements prior loading into the camera, and then if you saved it you could use it to protect the used film prior to developing. Paperboard, in its natural state, doesn’t have the same barrier properties as plastic to serve this purpose but, a folding carton was still desired as the best choice to identify the package contents and hold in place from the point of manufacture to the retail site.

Applied Engineering: The Role of the Packaging Engineer


It is the responsibility of the packaging engineer to design structure of the package to serve its intended use. The primary considerations the engineer takes into account are form, fit, and function. In more detail: how is the product being distributed and palletized; how is the product being filled at point of manufacture; and how is the product being displayed at its final point of sale.

Most packaging engineers have a degree in this field, options being in both two-year and four-year programs. Michigan State University was the first American university to offer a program as a major. The University of Wisconsin-Stout located in Menomonie, Wisconsin is one of our local institutions offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Packaging. Stout’s program covers includes training in basic science, quality and manufacturing principles, along with applied package engineering. Regulatory and sustainability concerns are also taught.


A packaging engineer’s expertise is needed for both developing the packaging design as well as setting up the filling line. Because of the range and complexity of packaging material options, engineers will often specialize in a particular substrate, but it is important that they have some knowledge of all material options in order to specify the best packaging solution.

Besides understanding material options, an engineer must become proficient with computer aided design (CAD software), and have a total quality mindset by following a best-practice methodology in documenting the customer requirements, ensuring the package may be produced, and ensuring that it meets the customer requirements.

Author: Nicole Hannover

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