The systems approach to formulation and product design

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Today’s liquid and paste formulations, from washing up liquid to shampoo to toothpaste are complex structured fluids or solids which are designed to meet the demanding needs of consumers. It is tempting to regard the formulation or recipe as the main challenge. However, these complex formulations behave very differently in the range of environments they experience across their lifetime, such as manufacturing, filling, distribution, storage and consumer use – sometimes leading to unexpected failures. Should we adapt the formulation to work with the process/packaging or vice versa or both?

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

We take a systems approach to designing and developing new formulations. Put simply one must consider the interactions between manufacturing process, formulation, distribution chain, application device or packaging, regulations (monographs, storage requirements etc…) as well as consumer habits and usage requirements. This has long been the goal of all product development groups but reality is often different.

Often there is a focus on only some of these parameters, for example the formulation, packaging, regulatory and consumer attributes, and then a huge effort is subsequently spent trying to adjust the manufacturing and distribution chains to accommodate the product – incurring unnecessary cost and time delays to new product introduction. This has a huge and often neglected economic impact, from personal experience this can add as much as 5% to the total delivered cost of the product.

Putting the Toothpaste back into the Tube

Many real-life examples exist of these manufacturing issues. These include a shampoo product, where the manufacturing line speed had to be turned down to prevent issues with filling bottles, such as dripping, mounding and air entrapment.  Another was the high level of product rejects due to incomplete sealing of toothpaste tubes caused by the formulation stringing during filling. A third was the eventual upgrade, at a significant cost, of filling lines to accurately dose out a structured fluid and prevent periodic under-filling. 

These solutions were a consequence of an incomplete understanding of how to design a recipe to cope with manufacturing and filling where there are quite extreme forces and shear rates involved. Recent advances in rheological equipment and methods, coupled with Computational Fluid Dynamic modelling now enable formulators to simulate these conditions and explore strategies to reduce or eliminate these issues. We have reached a tipping point where formulators can now actively design complex fluids to be easily prepared, as well as fulfil their other design criteria thus potentially avoiding unnecessary costs.

Delivering the Optimum Four-season Solution

Many companies are exploring new e-Commerce business models with products being distributed directly to the consumer, bypassing large parts of their centralised distribution network. This presents an interesting challenge to ensure products and packaging are designed to survive shipping and still deliver the intended consumer use experience. To help solve this puzzle it is important to obtain real-world data of what actually happens to your package before it reaches the consumer. Does it freeze in the middle of winter in Canada, or bake during the height of summer in Florida? Does it experience massive pressure swings as part of air freight causing packs to burst open? How often does the temperature cycle from high to low and back again, and how much vibration or shock loading does your pack receive?

All of these considerations can have a drastic impact on the integrity of your product and brand image and affect consumer acceptance. It is important to put together a testing protocol to verify that the formulation and packaging solution are sufficient to cope with any extreme conditions. We have experience fitting customised tracking sensors inside packaging and if necessary inside the pack itself. This enables real shipping or usage experiments to be run and high quality data collected to guide product design and stability requirements.

Putting it All Together

At CDP we have access to tools and techniques which can be used to explore important design spaces for formulated products, to avoid unnecessary costs and exploit new ways of doing business. Our broad combination of experience in Chemistry, Consumer Insights, Materials Science, Packaging design, Modelling & Simulation, Digital Systems, Manufacturing Technology and other areas can help you to take more control over your design space and specifications.

We do not specialise in just one area, instead we have experience in how all these aspects can work together across several industries, so that we can adapt and combine approaches from entirely different applications.

The recipe may be at the heart of the product, but it must work with the package and the process to provide the best possible customer experience.

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Mark Buckingham

Senior Consultant Chemist