All About Contract Packaging (Co-Packing)

August 12, 2021
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According to Thomas Net:

Contract packaging, also called co-packaging or simply co-packing, is the overall procedure of putting a product into its final finished packaging. One business hires another business (the contract packager) to produce their packaging, assemble the product, and potentially even store the product in a warehouse and distribute them. In many cases, companies don’t have the time or resources to invest in the expensive equipment needed for packaging or to build their own packaging facilities, so they hire a contract packaging company with the equipment and know-how to manage the packaging supply chain for them.

A contract packaging companies services include blister packing and shrink-wrapping, sterilization, cardboard package design, liquid dispensing and packaging, and military-grade packaging. Contract packagers can also help a company design a cost-effective and attractive packaging system. Generally, a good contract packager has experience with several types of packaging and can offer a variety of different solutions to the hiring company, as well as variations on a single packaging plan. Contract packaging is an essential service for industry sectors such as bulk manufacturing, retail and wholesale, original equipment manufacturing (OEM), industrial equipment, and cargo shipping.

Contract packagers often focus in different areas and types of service. Large contract packagers can provide high-volume packaging operations, while small contract packagers usually excel with more detail-oriented and small-scale promotions. If a company already does some of its own packaging, a contract packager can provide additional support in terms of taking on projects beyond the company’s capacity. A contract manufacturer may also be a contract packager. This means they both create and package the product for another company. If the contract manufacturer doesn’t have packaging capabilities, a separate contract packager can be employed by the contract manufacturer.

Some contract packagers specialize in areas that extend beyond the hiring company’s capabilities. For example, some work with FDA-regulated products and have the facilities and quality procedures in place to meet all regulatory requirements.

Types of Contract Packaging

There is a wide range of contract packaging services from package design to product shipment. Some of the services that packaging contractors can offer include:

Packaging Design

Whether a product is being shipped directly to the customer or to a retailer, the design of the packaging is essential, not only to protect the product but also to promote a company’s brand. Everything from brand graphics to package sizing for custom and branded packaging can be designed as part of the contract packaging process.

Packaging Testing

To make sure the product reaches its final destination without harm, the packaging should be tested. Standard or customized testing measures help ensure the quality and effectiveness of the packaging produced, either by the hiring company or by the contract packager.

Product Packaging

The crux of the contract packaging operation is, of course, product packaging. This includes a variety of processes, but essentially is the simple assembly and physical packaging operations. Some specific types of product packaging include flow wrapping, which involves wrapping a product in a protective film, blister packaging, which is heat-sealing a uniform plastic blister to printed cardboard, clamshell packaging, shrink wrapping, and filling.

Labeling Services

Labeling services are often a part of the shipping process but can also be separated. The shipping and manufacturing of consumer goods requires strict inventory controls, and labeling helps with this control. The two main types of contract labeling services are barcoding and radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging. With barcoding, the packager adds a simple series of thin and wide lines that can be quickly and easily read by a retail store’s checkout or warehouse equipment. Each product is labeled with a bar code that is unique to that product and includes information such as pricing and product category.

RFID tags are typically placed on shipping containers, though they can be placed on individual products as well. RFIDs allow for real-time product tracking capabilities so that a customer or retailer can follow the product’s journey from the moment it leaves the warehouse.

Shipping Services

While sometimes contract packaging may just involve packaging, leaving the shipping to the hiring company, many contract packagers prepare, ship, and deliver a packaged product to wherever its final destination may be. Along with shipping the product, they may offer package tracking as well.

Types of Contract Packaging Equipment

Packaging requires a lot of different machinery, machines that are typically used in conjunction with automated lines for faster production and turnaround times. Automated bottling lines may be used for bottling liquids, including soft drinks and beer. Larger lines are capable of filling bottles at a rate of 30,000 bottles per hour. Auger filling machines package dry products, such as powders, vitamins, seeds, and other small items.

Other complex machines are used for contract packaging, such as the vertical form fill sealing machine, an automated assembly-line product packaging system. The machine makes plastic bags and stand-up pouches out of a flat roll of film, while concurrently filling the bags with the product and then sealing the filled bags. Both solid and liquid products can be bagged using this machine.

The other machinery used depends, of course, on the desired product packaging, whether the items need to be shrink-wrapped, which requires a heat tunnel on a conveyor belt, or contained in blister packs via a thermoforming machine, or in clamshells, other sealed trays, or stand-up pouches. These machines are often part of a more complex production line, which is why many contract packers specialize in specific types of packaging.

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