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Taking A New Flexible Package from Concept to Completion

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An Interview with Sonoco Principal Engineer Scott Huffer

Director of Marketing for Sonoco Flexibles Elizabeth Rhue talks with Principal Engineer Scott Huffer about the innovation process and how Sonoco helps new ideas take flight.


Would you introduce yourself and tell us how long you have been with Sonoco and in the Flexible packaging industry?
I’m Scott Huffer, Principal Engineer, and I’ve been with Sonoco for 20 years and in the industry for 34 years.

What patent are you most proud of and why?
The easy open/reclose package for hard baked goods. The feature is built into the package.

Before, cookies in a tray had to be slid out of the wrapper and there was no efficient method of resealing. With this invention, a resealable adhesive is present between the two plies of the package; and through precision scoring into the package on both sides, we can make it fully functional. This solved a real problem by keeping cookies fresh and making the package much easier to open and close. Through strong patent protection and great service with our customers, we are enjoying long life for that product in the marketplace.

What makes a good idea a viable commercial product?
The idea needs to solve a problem in the world or eliminate a frustration. The consumer is the real driving force that fuels the success of the product. I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door!” That is what we are always trying to do, because a good idea will also result in strong patent protection.

How does teamwork drive innovation and execution?
Innovation is defined as bringing something new. It takes the skills and talents of all to launch a new idea. Contributions from the commercial group, sales and marketing help lead the communications. Manufacturing and pilot facilities work to adapt the process and conditions to make it happen. The big idea must then take flight, which means all hands on deck. 

What does Sonoco do differently to drive successful innovation?
Sonoco has a very open innovation work environment that fosters creativity.  We have many different resources to pull from. We have built a fully integrated Innovation Center called our IPS Studio, which is a world class showcase.  In our IPS Studio, we have The Hive Design Services for insights, ideation, focus groups, and prototyping, plus an outstanding technical service department for troubleshooting and analysis. We have pilot plant facilities to validate the process and help ramp-up the idea for a commercial success. Also, cross-functional teams of Technical and Marketing experts are all under one roof. Sonoco is willing to take risks and make significant investments to bring these ideas to life.

Tell me some of the tips for success as you create new ideas.
Some simple tips for successful innovation are:

  1. Bring the “how” not the “what.” 
    The “how” is what you patent. The “what” is not patentable.
    It is “how” you do it!
  2. Don’t discount the small beginnings.
    You may think an idea is not taking shape or the details are not there; but the biggest part of invention is going from nothing to something. This is the moment the idea takes flight.
  3. Failure shows you what is not.
    Big innovations will encounter failures along the way. The failure shows you what it is not. Move forward and learn from failures with persistence.
  4. Make progress a success.
    We always want the perfect outcome. But progress towards that goal is an element of success and needs to be recognized.

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