A packaging engineer designs and constructs boxes, cartons, bottles, plastic wraps, and other containers used to protect consumer goods. Professionals research different types of materials and improve the industrial techniques used to package products. They utilize expert knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and marketing to determine what materials to use to protect specific goods. Packaging engineers work in many different settings, including research and development companies, manufacturing plants, and private consulting firms.
A research and development packaging engineer usually works in a specialized laboratory setting to conduct experiments on different types of materials. For example, a professional might want to create a new type of plastic food container that is durable, recyclable, and capable of withstanding microwave heat. He or she researches the qualities of different plastic polymers to determine which ones most closely match the desired traits. The packaging engineer then works with a team of other scientists to develop prototypes and put them through a series of tests to determine their efficacy.
Many packaging engineers are concerned with the design of attractive, effective containers and efficient production techniques. They first determine which materials to use to package a given product, such as cardboard, glass, plastic, or wood. Engineers often try to minimize waste by using the least amount of packaging material possible. They employ mathematical models and computer-aided drafting software to help them create the most efficient designs. Professionals also help design and construct industrial equipment used to produce and package consumer goods.
The educational requirements to become a packaging engineer vary by country and setting. Most professionals who work in manufacturing plants and consulting firms hold master's degrees in packaging science, materials science, or mechanical engineering. Those who engage in research and development of new materials, methods, and processing equipment typically hold doctoral degrees in their specialties. Some countries require packaging engineers to pass licensing exams to test their understanding of the fundamentals of the job and legal matters related to patents and consumer safety.
New packaging engineers typically work as assistants to established professionals for many months before working independently on projects. Assistants are often responsible for writing grant proposals, contacting clients, and conducting research under the supervision of senior engineers. With time and experience, an individual can earn additional responsibilities and have the opportunity to advance within his or her company. Many skilled packaging engineers become involved in marketing their designs after gaining several years of experience in the field.