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Microsoft upgrades its packaging

Software giant switches from a bleached board/corrugated combo pack to coated unbleached kraft board, saving material and equipment costs.

When Seattle-based Microsoft saw an opportunity to strengthen its packaging and lower its materials costs the company didn’t hesitate to make the change.

Since 1988 Microsoft had been packaging its software and training manuals in corrugated boxes within either a 16- 18- or 20-pt SBS outer folding carton. Changes in the physical nature of the software training manual thickness and customer opinions regarding “over-packaging” prompted a reduction in packaging materials.

“We started looking at our packaging and asked ourselves ‘Why do we do what we do?’” says Jeff Sanborn Microsoft senior project manager. “We began to look at what we required structurally. We looked at our current packaging requirements and then at an alternative that would give us equal or even greater structural benefits.”

Because its software is now housed in CDs or DVDs instead of floppy discs and training manuals aren’t as thick as they used to be Microsoft engineers saw that they could eliminate the inner corrugated box if they switched the outer material from SBS to something stronger. The first thought says Sanborn was to switch to a higher-grade SBS. But tests didn’t yield the desired structural protection so engineers began testing coated unbleached kraft (CUK) in January.

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Production of a 28-pt CUK carton offering superior structural stability and source material reduction began in March. The material supplied by Mead (Marietta GA) has also allowed Microsoft to simplify its manufacturing process.

“The problem with the inner corrugated was more of a complication issue” Sanborn says. “The CUK actually allows us to eliminate any folding converting and die-cutting equipment related to the corrugated.”

Unwilling to divulge specific monetary savings Sanborn does say that the new package saves Microsoft a “significant amount of money.” While the CUK carton itself costs more than the SBS the elimination of the inner corrugated support package and its related assembly equipment more than offsets the added cost of the CUK.

New packaging advantages

“The CUK actually provides a better box a better total cost-effective solution” Sanborn says. “We get regular feedback from our customers and they’re candid about what they like and don’t like about the packaging. They like that this is a little more friendly to the environment. True it’s not a recycled product but it’s in line with our environmental policies. The CUK helps us in our overall environmental strategy as well.”

While many of the cartons are basic tuck style some are book-style with flaps that open to reveal additional graphics or instructions. The switch from SBS to CUK had no effect on the more complicated cartons.

According to Sanborn Microsoft will be able to convert most of its software packaging to CUK as long as the training manuals have spines no more than 23/8” thick and the total product weighs no more than 2 lb. “This zone represents the vast majority of software products we sell in the retail channel” he adds. “We currently have an active project to address those products that are greater in spine size and product weight.”


The CUK also allowed Microsoft to maintain strong package graphics which Sanborn says is an important issue for both stockholders and customers. Converted by multiple companies the majority of the cartons are litho-printed in four to five colors. Some nonretail versions of the software are flexo-printed in fewer colors.

“When it’s all said and done the switch to CUK is a win for both Microsoft and its customers” Sanborn says. That’s because Microsoft gains a sound packaging solution that uses less material from managed resources is lower in weight and is easier to assemble while retailers still get a package with all the visual appeal they’re accustomed to.

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