In this age of downloadable software what is often overlooked is the great impact that good quality packaging can make. A well packaged product greatly enhances its’ perceived value compared to the download or even the freshly burnt blank disc with a title simply scrawled on in marker pen. Packaging styles and packaging machines come in many different forms and styles at a whole range of speeds and costs. What is true to say is that there is an appropriate style and machine to suit all budgets and all production volumes and hence to significantly enhance the value of the product.
What is software packaging for? It actually serves three purposes – the first, in a retail environment, is to enhance the shelf appeal of the product and to help customers determine which product they will purchase. The second is to provide a suitable receptacle and storage medium for the software for backup and re-installation purposes and the third is to prevent un-authorised tampering with the product before it is used by the consumer. This last point is dramatically highlighted by the recent case of MP3 players given away by McDonalds in Japan all of which contained a malignant virus. With the appropriate tamper evident packaging it would have been easy to determine whether the infection took place before or after leaving the factory.
The ubiquitous medium of software distribution is now the disc, be it in CD or DVD format. After this, there are many different ways which they can be packaged to achieve the desired result. The simplest form is to put the CD into a plastic or paper sleeve. These can either be purchased ready made or a packaging machine can be purchased to make the sleeve and load the disc simultaneously. Speeds of up to 120 per minute can be achieved on some machinery and the volume produced must be high to justify the purchase price. Most consumer computer magazines provide their free cover discs in this way – the capital cost of the machine is high but the unit cost is very low.
The drawback with this form of packaging is that the protection offered to the disc is not high and it can be easily tampered with as the plastic or paper sleeves are re-closable. The next stage in the packaging evolutionary process is to put the disc into a cardboard digibox, or plastic jewel case or indeed into an Amaray plastic DVD case. This can either be done by hand, using pre-purchased cases, or automatically using a packaging machine. Typically machines for DVD or digital media packaging run at speeds from 60 to 120 per minute so once again the volume needs to justify the machinery purchase. Alternatively, there are a growing number of contract packing companies who undertake this work on a contract by contract basis.
After inserting the disc into the plastic case, the product is protected and a long term storage medium has been provided but there is no provision for tamper evidence. It is therefore common at this point that the plastic case is either shrinkwrapped or overwrapped using a heat sealable film. The difference between shrinkwrapping and overwrapping machinery is down to the type of film used and the amount of heat required to produce the seal.
Shrink wrapping predominantly uses a film called Polyolefin, which has a 40% shrink property when heat is applied. Typically an L sealer is used to create a “bag” into which the disc case is placed, either manually or automatically. It then passes through a shrink tunnel which heats and shrinks the film so that it forms a skin tight wrap around the case. Typically the wrap has “beaded” edges and the film is difficult to remove by hand. Again, shrink wrapping machines are available as table top units for 4 or 5 packs per minute up to in line packaging machines capable of speeds over 120 packs per minute.
Overwrapping takes a different approach. The film, generally Polypropylene, has less of a shrink property. This actually makes the film, on a gauge by gauge basis, less expensive than the shrink wrap equivalent. The overwrapping machine wraps the film around the pack and produces folded end seals which are then sealed using a topical application of heat at the seals. This has two advantages. Firstly, much less expensive energy is used compared to a shrink tunnel and because the film is not shrunk, a tear tape can be applied onto the film as it is running to ensure that the wrapped pack is easy to open. Overwrapping machines are available as manual systems all the way to high-speed, 120 per minute packaging machines which are fully integrated into the production line.
Two further layers of packaging can now be applied, but they are certainly optional depending on the image being projected. In store, getting as much shelf space and visual impact is vital. Once the CD or DVD case has been overwrapped, it can then be placed into a printed, glossy, cardboard box. These boxes, typically A4 in size, contain the disc, manual and some fresh air ! Again, these boxes can then be shrink wrapped or over wrapped to provide tamper evidence. Once major game supply company had a problem when it did not wrap it’s products with customers complaining that the pack did not contain the game purchased. Until the pack was overwrapped, it was not clear whether the game really was missing or whether the customer had taken it.
Although loading the plastic case, manuals and flyers into the cardboard box is a semi automatic operation, the packaging machine which would carry out the shrinkwrap or overwrap would be fully automatic. By using other types of packaging machine, such as transit shrinkwrappers or case packers, further manual operations can be eliminated as the shrunk wrap software is collated and packed for distribution.
The use of such options as printed films, tear tape opening systems and product coding system can all add to the usefulness, advertising potential and traceability of the software product. What style of packaging that is chosen, and what it says about you as a software producer, is down to you. However, there will always be a packaging machine available that suits the speed or size range that you require.