Hands-on Activity: Designing a Package that Works

Contributed by: Making the Connection, Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN)

A striped cardboard design package.
Students design a package that works
copyright
Copyright © Pixabay http://pixabay.com/p-389934/?no_redirect

Summary

Student teams act as engineers and brainstorm, design, create and test their ideas for packaging to protect a raw egg shipped in a 9 x 12-in envelope. They follow the steps of the engineering design process and aim for a successful solution with no breakage, low weight, minimal materials and recycled/reused materials. Students come to understand the multi-faceted engineering considerations associated with the packaging of items to preserve, market and safely transport goods.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Good packaging, in terms of minimal damage to the shipped item, is often wasteful and uses excess materials. Sometimes these materials are also bulky and difficult to recycle. Packaging designers are continually testing and implementing new ideas in order to overcome high cost and recycling issues. Engineers who work in this field include materials, environmental and chemical engineers.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Make decisions related to advantages and disadvantages of products and processes.
  • Use resources (people, references, Internet) to gain knowledge.
  • Consider environmental impact on design.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The process of designing involves presenting some possible solutions in visual form and then selecting the best solution(s) from many. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the solutions for the design problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify a problem that reflects the need for shelter, storage, or convenience. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify relevant design features (e.g., size, shape, weight) for building a prototype of a solution to a given problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • examples of packaged goods, for discussion
  • 1 sheet of paper, on which to draw the design plan for their packages
  • 9 x 12-in envelope
  • (optional) plastic sandwich bag and piece of tape
  • raw egg
  • assorted materials such as: cardboard, scrap paper, newspaper, cotton balls, scissors, masking tape, aluminum foil, Styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap
  • Packaging Evaluation Worksheet

Introduction/Motivation

When an item is shipped from one location to another, either from a manufacturer to you as a consumer, or something from you to a friend or relative, it is important that the item not be damaged in transit.

The ShipItQuick Company is looking to hire a new packaging engineer. As part of the application process they are evaluating actual package designs, based on using a 9 x 12-in envelope, from each applicant. So, today, you will design and build a package for safely shipping a raw egg in a 9 x 12-in envelope. You will use design criteria that engineers use, including transit with no breakage, low weight, and a recycle/re-use component.

And, you will follow the steps of the traditional engineering design process, which helps us pose key questions to approach the problem as engineers would, in order to find the best solutions possible.

Vocabulary/Definitions

engineering design process: A series of steps that engineering teams use to guide them as they solve problems. Steps include: understand the need, brainstorm different designs, select a design, plan how it will work, create and test prototypes, continue improving the design until it is acceptable.

recycle: To use something over again.

Procedure

Background

While many shipped items are not fragile, such as clothing or paper documents, effective packaging in terms of minimizing waste is still an important criterion. Safe shipping of fragile items is critical to businesses and consumers.

The design of effective packages includes structural support and cushioning. Cost-effective packages use a single type of cushioning that is light and easy to manufacture or obtain. Some examples include foam peanuts, small, linked airbags, a blown foam that hardens around the item (which is wrapped in plastic to protect it), and pre-formed Styrofoam molds to cradle the item (most often used to package electronics such as TVs, radios, stereos, etc.). Packaging ideas that are good for recycling include shredded newspaper, popcorn and packing peanuts from biodegradeable potato starch.

The engineering challenge: To ship a fragile item and make sure it arrives savely. To do this, students create a new idea or adapt an existing idea(s) to best package a raw egg for shipping in a 9 x 12-in envelope. Along with the safe arrival of the item, the optimal design solution is the most efficient, Earth-friendly one that minimizes the use of materials.

Before the Activity

Gather materials and make copies of the Packaging Evalulation Worksheet, one per team.

Put each raw egg into a sandwich bag and loosely tape it closed. This helps to prevent major messes!

With Students

Part 1: Package Design and Construction

  1. Discuss the types of packaging available.
  2. Give each team a set of packaging supplies, a piece of paper and a worksheet.
  3. How would engineers approach this challenge? Review the steps of the engineering design process to get ideas for how to proceed.
  4. Have teams brainstorm and draw pictures of how they plan to package the egg.
  5. After drawing the design, give students an egg in a plastic bag, and a 9 x 12-in envelope. Have students construct their packages with eggs inside based on their drawings.
  6. Have students begin to fill in the information on the worksheet. Have students weigh and measure the packing materials.
  7. Discuss what types of tests might be used to determine if a package is effective. What would a "successful" packaging look like?

Part 2: Packaging Testing

  1. Have students, with the assistance of adult helpers, begin testing their packages according to the worksheet instructions, and fill in their results. Have each team put its package into a 9 x 12-in envelope after weighing and measuring it.
  2. Create a table on the board so teams can record their results. Make the following column titles: Team Name, Total Weight of Package, Total Measurements, Number of "Yes" Answers. Have the teacher or leader identify the best package by looking for the lightest weight, the smallest linear measurements and most number of "yes" answers.
  3. Mention that cost is another factor that engineers consider in developing a good package even though it was not discussed in this project.
  4. After this testing is complete, compare the packaging designs that were effective. Discuss the similarities and differences. Why is it difficult to create completely Earth-friendly packaging? What would students change if they were to redesign their packages?
  5. Conclude with a discussion about how students approached the problem like engineers.

Attachments

Investigating Questions

  • What are the advantages of lighter packages? (They weigh less and so cost less to ship. They typically contain less material that needs to be recycled. For large items, not as much gas is required for transporting them. For small items, less postage is required.)
  • What are the disadvantages of lighter packages? (There is less mass to absorb sudden shocks to the package during shipping [such as being dropped].)
  • What advantage does a pre-formed internal item holder provide? (It holds the item in securely place so that it is equally protected on all sides.)

Assessment

Pre-Activity Discussion: Observe student participation in the discussion on types of packaging available.

Embedded Assessment: Observe student participation within groups. Make sure all groups have completed their drawings before constructing their packages.

Post-Activity Critiques: Have students critique their own designs. Assign them write paragraphs about what worked well and what they would change or improve.

Activity Extensions

Assign students to make posters of all the types of packaging they find in their homes. This might include packaging for shipping, marketing and product life. Have students share with the class information about the types of packaging they believe to be effective.

Have students research shipping companies such as Mailboxes, Etc., FedEx, USPS and UPS. What ideas are they implementing to ship products safely with minimal waste and cost?

Activity Scaling

For upper level students, have them factor cost into their designs. The lower the cost, the better.

Additional Multimedia Support

Learn more about the steps of the engineering design process at https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php.

References

Digital Music: Coming to a Landfill Near You http://environment.about.com/od/earthtalkcolumns/a/digitalmusic.htm

CalRecycle shipping and packaging articles that include general packaging reduction techniques http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/WPW/Coordinator/Articles/ShipPack.htm#02c

Contributors

Martha Cyr, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2001 WEPAN/Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Making the Connection, Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN)

Acknowledgements

Project funded by Lucent Technologies Foundation.

Last modified: May 10, 2017

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