When a consumer purchases a 500-milliliter bottle of a soft drink, how do they know if they get the amount of product that they paid for? Fortunately, in most—if not all—developed nations, there are legislations that enforce acceptable levels of variation between declared net content and the actual weight or volume within a package. For instance, in the United States, there is the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Maximum Allowable Variation (MAV). The United Kingdom has the Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations, which sets tolerable negative error (TNE).
While each country has its own rules, regulations, and methods of measurement and reporting, such legislations are all designed to protect consumers from buying underfilled packages. Food and beverage manufacturers, packagers and bottlers must thus take care to prevent underfilling and avoid possible fines or legal action—not to mention reputational risks. After all, with how fast news travels today, unhappy consumers with underfilled packages can quickly create a viral firestorm, making it hard to regain their trust and business. While such a firestorm may be unlikely for low-value products, such as bottled water, for more premium products, it may be much more likely.
To avoid underfilling, many organizations resort to some degree of overfilling within permissible levels of variation. However, overfilling simply provides a band-aid to the problem and can prove costly. Imagine overfilling by a small fraction on every product on a single bottling line. Those small fractions can quickly accumulate over time. Then, imagine that happening on an exponential scale across multiple lines in a single plant or several plants. It all adds up to significant financial costs—not only in product giveaway, but also wasted resources consumed to produce that additional content (across work hours, materials and machinery use). It’s the modern equivalent of the baker’s dozen.
For those who opt to absorb these costs, overfilling may seem like the only option. But a more data-driven approach is possible now, leveraging the latest in automation, digital sensors, process control and quality monitoring to effectively control net content. The result is a more refined packaging process—and much less underfilling or overfilling.