Industrial design at Krones AG
Have you ever wondered who designed your ballpoint pen? Or the desk you’re working at? Or the bottle you’re drinking out of? In most cases, they will have been industrial or product designers who (unnoticed by the public) work in a huge range of different companies. But are these objects of everyday use really “designer products”?
Design – form follows function
In most cases yes – since every object around you doesn’t look the way it does by accident. Your favourite ballpoint pen perhaps fits particularly snugly in your hand or can be handily and inconspicuously tucked into a folder. So often there’s very much more development work and know-how behind a product than you realise at first glance. This applies particularly to everyday objects that are almost unnoticeably integrated into our lives. When you hear the word “design”, of course, you immediately think of several celebrity names, like Konstantin Grcic, Karim Rashid, Zaha Hadid, Luigi Colani or Philippe Stark – to name only a few star designers. And unfortunately, too, you often think of overstyled, impractical, inconvenient objects (try: “Why your lemon-squeezer looks gorgeous and mine works properly”). But the majority of product or industrial designers work incognito every day on the products that surround and in best case help you as you live your life.
Design strategies in the corporate environment
Industrial designers, however, do not always design only a firm’s end-product or merchandise, but in some cases even this enterprise itself. They do this by providing the company concerned with a “corporate identity”, i.e. a face. Here, Peter Behrens is acknowledged as the prototype of the industrial designer, as the inventor, so to speak, of “corporate design”. Behrens was in 1907 involved in the “Artistic Advisory Board” of the AEG company and thus in almost all of AEG’s design-related projects: starting with graphic art and print media, then product designs for the merchandise, all the way through to the architecture of the company’s buildings. Design has here been comprehended as a holistic approach, centrally organised (“Artistic Advisor” is comparable to today’s “Creative Director”), influencing all levels of a company and shaping its visual image.
What are the advantages of this strategy?
Then as now, the primary focus was on commercial success, efficient working procedures, and cost optimisation. A strong identity for the brand and the company as a whole can facilitate this, since it triggers positive effects both inside and outside the firm. That means not only possible customers identify with the firm, but its staff as well. This can enhance both the purchasing behaviour of the customers involved, and the job motivation and personal commitment of the employees as well. A company with an unambiguous image, unequivocal principles and goals, makes its staff proud. I myself, for example, find it motivating to work for a company with a potent corporate image. You may be familiar with this feeling too. Some other tradition-steeped German firms, too, such as Braun, bulthaup, Wilkhahn or the automakers, are design-focused in their operations.
Industrial design at Krones AG, and how it all began
Krones is in its core focus a company themed around mechanical engineering. But Krones, too, of course, has a corporate identity, with a distinctive visual image specified in the Corporate Design Manual. Industrial design functions at Krones AG as a service within the framework of selling lines and machines. These service departments for our clients include the “PET Packaging Design” and “LCS Bottle Design” groups, which include qualified industrial designers. The crucial decision was taken about 25 years ago: Krones would be expanding and supplementing its product portfolio and entering the growing market for PET. In 1997, the first system of its kind to feature PET stretch blow-moulding technology was delivered – the Contiform. With this decision, Krones not only developed, designed, assembled and delivered the machine for its clients, but also laid the foundations for classical industrial design at Krones AG. Because a PET bottle is a typical mass product, designed as an article for private consumers. It was only over the course of time that this service for our customers was set up and expanded, so that now we can offer our clients a complete solutions for their PET lines: the client receives not only the Krones machines and line components from a single source, but also a PET container designed specifically for his needs – the merchandise with which he is ultimately going to be financing this line.
Martina Ambrosiak works in the “LCS Bottle Design” group, and has been part of the team since “Day One” of container design. Her colleague Mario Casper joined Krones AG in early 2014.
Martina, what was the main remit you took over back then as the newly constituted container design team?
At first, the moulds were outsourced. That meant the principal task involved in container design was project coordination.
It was only later (early in 2000) that a container design department was set up in-house. This also marked the debut of the Unigraphics CAD software package in the Krones world. To start with, the entire working and design processes were still being handled by the container designer – meaning both the container itself and the mould as well.
It’s only since 2003 that we’ve had two separate teams. In parallel, an in-house mould manufacturing operation was also put in place. This was pretty virgin territory, because neither the data systems in SAP nor the production status were configured for it. So there was lots of liaising with our colleagues needed to bring the projects to a successful conclusion.
The automated system we have today only developed from this step by step.
Mario, as a dyed-in-the-wool industrial designer, what’s your view on designing PET containers?
Mario: PET containers as products pose a particular challenge for us designers. Since PET containers are everyday products for utilitarian use, they are in most cases not perceived as the high-tech products they in fact are. If you now remember that a Krones line manufactures, fills, labels and packs several tens of thousands of containers an hour, which with wall thicknesses of 0.3 mm withstand a pressure of up to 4 bar, then you get a clearer idea of what PET containers have to be able to do nowadays.
There are numerous technical influencing factors, like the filling processes, labelling and secondary packaging variants, an enormous range of different beverages, material properties of the preforms, and lots, lots more – you need a plentiful amount of experience and technical expertise to handle all of this.
What’s more, our clients expect a constant steam of new, individualised design solutions, to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And this in a market that is steadily growing and continually bringing forth new design languages and trends. So during the course of the development work, you stay in continual close contact with the client and advise him in all questions relating to the design work. Here, you need a large amount of communication skills, innovative vigour and aesthetic intuition.
What distinguishes our projects in particular from “run-of-the-mill” design projects is the relatively short processing time. In most cases, only a few days or weeks are left for developing the design.
Creating PET containers is thus the perfect remit for industrial designers – technically and aesthetically sophisticated products, close contact with the clients, and a steady stream of new, exciting job profiles.
Martina and Mario, looking back, what did you see as the milestones for container design at Krones AG?
Very briefly, these are what we would single out:
Early 2000 – establishment of an in-house mould manufacturing capability
2003 – separation of container design and mould construction. Also entailing closer contact between the container design team and the client.
2006 – the first industrial designer joins the container design team. A different approach thus evolved, and a new level of competence in terms of container design.
2007 – first 3D printing of container mock-ups
2008 – development of the free-form petaloid base
2008 – development of a new filling process: NitroHotfill
2010 – ProShape
2013 – establishment of another container design team in the USA at Krones Inc.
2014 – establishment of another container design team solely for retrofit projects at the facility in Neutraubling
2015 – initial trials with direct-printing technology
What are you looking forward to in the future?
Martina: Lots more projects with lots of different clients, new requirements and exciting tasks.
Mario: Wider use of direct printing technology – this creates entirely new design options for us.
Martina: The development of new technologies, so as to continue impressing our clients with our corporate capabilities.