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A New Spin on the Bottle

Bapco Lubricants is a relative newcomer to the auto lubricants business, one dominated by big companies with developed brands often seen on the side of racing cars. Without the visibility of a motorsport sponsorship deal, the Bahraini company had to find another way to enter the market with a splash.

It hired U.K.-based packaging design studio Curve Design Ltd. to create a range of lubricants bottles that would grab consumers attention in this fiercely competitive market.

LubesnGreases talked to Curves founder and managing director, Nick Buckley, about the process of creating the flowing bottles for Bapco Lubricants.

First, the concept team develops ideas for a unique brand identity. The winning concept for Bapco echoed shapes inspired by Bahrains traditional pearl diving boats, including a sail for the handle and a hull at its base. Concepts are then built with computer-aided design software to render a 3D digital model.

At this stage, design developers work out the finer details and technical features. For example, a crucial consideration is how far the bottle can be tipped before the oil starts to pour. If the fill level is too high, when you take the cap off youd only have to tip the bottle a tiny bit and it would start pouring, he said. Well, it would just sort of dribble.

Another detail is to reduce glugging. As the user tips the bottle, air must be free to replace the escaping liquid. This avoids the characteristic glug and the undesirable splashing of oil onto the engine and aims for a continuous, steady and predictable pour. Otherwise, everyone would hate your bottle as it could make a terrible mess every time they used it, Buckley said.

Efficiency of design is key at this stage, not only to reduce manufacturing costs but also to minimize distribution costs. To achieve this, Curve has a specialist analyze the space occupied by multiple packages when stored on standard pallets, in trucks and on display. The idea being that while maximizing the visual impact of individual bottles on shelf, overall volumetric impact critical to shipping and transport is minimized.

The refined computer model is then sent to a company that performs a finite element analysis, or FEA. This allows the team to carry out virtual drop, compression and impact tests without needing to make molds and real bottles, cutting down on expense and time.

The computer maps the design with colors to show weak spots and stress points to predict where the bottle will fail under different loads and forces.

The FEA offers a good indication of what performance to expect and where improvements can be made, Buckley said. You then go back to your design to refine it and design out weaknesses. The objective is to maximize strength whilst minimizing material weight.

For the gold and silver Bapco bottles, the designers wanted to use a metallic-look plastic using a specific additive, which has a weakening effect. This meant that during the FEA, the design team had to compensate for reduced durability by adding material and structural design support as necessary. The last thing you want to find out is they loaded up lorries that are bouncing across the desert in 40-degree heat and they all start bursting, he said.

Not considering all the technicalities that affect cost, performance and handling during even early-stage design development can be a major pitfall that even experienced, big-budget companies fall into. Buckley recalled seeing the launch of a new range of a Russian brand of lubricants. When I saw them, I thought, Wow, look at those bottles, theyre amazing. Thats really adventurous.

On closer inspection, he realized that the amount of plastic needed to keep them from collapsing under pressure when on a shipment pallet would be prohibitively expensive. Youd put any top load on them and they would start folding in certain places. And they were very spatially inefficient. And lo and behold, they never got launched.

No such fate befell the Bapco bottles, and now they are available to view in service stations across the Middle East, Africa, India and China. It is almost a shame to have to dispose of the bottles after using the contents in your car.

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