The new Australia Post Winepack is a real life version of this age-old structural design problem. Designed by Angus McDonald from Trymak Pty Ltd (consulting to Randflex Pty Ltd), the Winepack has been retailing since April 2002 and in October took out major prizes at the Australian Packaging Awards.
Australia Post approached McDonald to design an alternative pack for protecting wine on its journey around Australia and overseas. McDonald’s experience in working with plastic and his past project history with Australia Post, including the design of the plastic in-store shelving and merchandising systems, made him the perfect choice.
Replacing the bulky and environmentally questionable expanded polystyrene foam canisters that have been in use for many years was not going to be easy.
Australia Post needed a new pack that was made from a plastic material that was recyclable, and could withstand the rigours of postal handling. The pack also had to consist of one part. For McDonald it was his first foray into high volume packaging design.
“Australia Post didn’t really have an understanding of what we could achieve with plastic, so we sat down and started with the idea of changing the material first,” McDonald said.
The pack had to be highly impact resistant and low cost and McDonald focussed on a concept that featured internal support ribs. He also introduced the idea of integral hinges for the pack.
“We’ve built the parameters around the requirements of Australia Post, and added value with extras like highly visual colours, tamper resistance and tamper evidence,” he said.
“Australia Post required it to be a single use only pack. One of the problems with the expanded polystyrene packs was the reuse of them, often when they were already damaged in some way.
“We had a concept using internal ribs to support a bottle inside. In theory this concept seemed fine but trying to work out how internal ribs were going to work with different sized bottles ranging from narrow riesling bottles to bulky champagne bottles was daunting.”
According to McDonald, the toughest part of the project was testing, which was achieved by making a prototype tool that moulded a single half, which then doubled to make a complete ‘shell’.
“We made many prototypes and I spent a lot of time on this component because bottles vary in size and length, sometimes by almost 50mm,” he said.
“We set boundaries as to what the pack’s impact resistance had to be. Australia Post had an idea, but to try and work out what we could do we had to make the pack pass drop tests on every face from a height of 1.6 metres.
“Other tests included dropping the pack ten times onto a concrete floor with a full bottle of wine inside and dropping a 17 kilo parcel on top of it ten times. The pack could become damaged but the drop could not break the contents.
“Prototyping for sizing was done using stereolithography and we had a whole series of vacuum cast samples made from polyurethane. We had about ten of these made and some of them went into Australia Post for their marketing people to have a look at the shape and size etc and some were used to carve out shapes and work out internal rib sizes and the contact points and position of the ribs.
“The ribs flex over as much as they need to and so when you drop it the ribs flex even further to withstand the impact. That’s essentially how it works.”
At the 2002 Australian Packaging Awards McDonald’s Winepack took out the Gold Award for excellence in ‘retail packaging protection’. It also won the Silver Award for ‘innovation and a significant advance in technology and materials useage’.
“I actually had Chinese takeaway containers made from polypropylene that I cut into rib shapes to assess how much flexibility they had and to determine if it would actually work.”
“We needed to do an Australian mail run. This was what I call concurrent design where we were testing while we were still designing.”
“Then we did a worldwide mail out and sent hundreds of them everywhere. We asked recipients to send the package back and fill in a checklist reporting on the condition of the bottle and the pack.”
McDonald said a feature of the Winepack was its ease of use. “There are no peripheral items... you clip it, you shut it, you send it... it’s as simple as that. Once you close it it’s locked. When you receive it you rip the tabs open, your wine is removed and the pack is destroyed.
“Postal workers all do things quite differently, so it was a challenge to design something universal. An ordinary ball point pen can be used to write onto the etched surfaces provided for addressing or postal dockets can be stuck on.”
Australia Post holds a worldwide patent on the Wine-pack design. With an initial run of 100,000 the volumes are expected to increase to over 500,000 per annum using high-speed tooling and a single cavity tool.
The Winepack weighs 300 grams and the wall thickness ranges from 0.3 mm to 1 mm. It sells for $3.25. McDonald says he has been delighted with the support the project has received. Southcorp Wines has endorsed the Winepack and has been involved since its inception.
“What we had to achieve and what we ended up with is quite amazing. It’s amazing that such a fresh idea and approach ever got off the ground.
“It’s the first piece of plastic packaging I’ve ever designed and I had no preconceived ideas about it. What is different about packaging is that you are designing a product to enhance another product.”