Every manufacturer has a different lead time depending on what type of packaging they produce, the desired volume, and where they produce it; locally (U.S.), semi-domestically (Canada or Mexico) or overseas (China, India etc.) Packaging lead time can vary from a couple of days to several months.
What is Packaging Lead Time? Typically, packaging lead time refers to the time it takes for the manufacturer to make your packaging. However, there are many other lead time components that, when combined, create the entire lead time from the moment you think you need packaging to the moment your customers are holding it in their hands.
Think of these lead time components as links of a long chain. In fact, Supply Chain Management is a business term describing the complex flow of goods from supplier to manufacturer then to wholesaler or retailer and ultimately to the consumer. Buying packaging is one of the many links of this supply chain. And every one of the seemingly infinite amount of processes that make up a supply chain has its own lead time (the time it takes to get that particular task completed)
Below is a chart that offers approximate packaging lead times for manufacturers only. These lead times do not include graphic design time, prototyping, testing time, freight time, etc. They only include the time it takes for the manufacturers to make your packaging.
So, basically, manufacturing lead times start once:
- The packaging is designed and signed-off on.
- The manufacturer gets a formal purchase order (P.O.)
- Some kind of deposit is received or line of credit is offered.
Approximate Packaging Lead Times
Type of Packaging
Not Including Freight Time
Semi-Domestic (Canada, Mexico)
Not Including Freight Time
Overseas (China, India)
Included Freight Time to Nearest Port
1 – 4 weeks
|2 – 5 weeks||6 – 12 weeks|
|2 – 6 weeks||4 – 6 weeks||6 – 15 weeks|
|3 day – 2 weeks||1 – 2 weeks||5 – 10 weeks|
|3 – 4 weeks||3 – 4 weeks||6 – 12 weeks|
|2 – 4 weeks||3 – 6 weeks||6 – 12 weeks|
|6 – 8 weeks||6 – 8 weeks||2 – 3 months|
|1 – 2 weeks||1 – 2 weeks||4 – 6 weeks|
|3 – 5 weeks||3 – 5 weeks||6 – 15 weeks|
As already stated, these lead times are for the manufacturer only. They do not include all the other lead times that you, as the packaging buyer, will be faced with. And the lead times that you are faced with are all subject to increase due to unforeseen circumstances (including the manufacturer’s lead time).
What is Your Packaging Lead Time?
Have you thought thoroughly about what your packaging lead time is? Here are some factors to consider that can help you determine your overall lead time:
- Graphics design time – artwork for your packaging
- Prototyping – custom designing the packaging
- Testing time – testing the prototype
- Preproduction time – making tooling/checking artwork/scheduling
- Production time (this is the lead time the packaging manufacturer will give you)
- Postproduction time – quality checks/packing out/palletizing
- Freight time to your fulfillment facility
- Fulfillment time – putting the product in the packaging
- Freight time to the distributor or retailer
If you think you are going to need your packaging in several months from now and it only takes about 2-3 weeks to normally get it done, do not wait until you have 3 weeks. Start the process six weeks ahead of time at least. If unforeseen problems occur that significantly delay your packaging, you’ll be glad you did.
Also, try to save time by filling out accounting paperwork, getting proofs finalized and approved, sending your deposit check (this can hold up your order especially if you have no verifiable credit already set-up with other vendors), ensuring your manufacturer has the correct delivery addresses etc.
The goal should ultimately be to have a reasonably accurate forecast of your monthly, bi-yearly or yearly packaging needs, and to develop an inventory and logistics program with your manufacturer.
I know what you are thinking – you don’t have a place to warehouse packaging that arrives earlier than you need it. Space is money and it will cost you to store the packaging somewhere. However, many manufacturers will store your packaging for free (or a nominal fee) until you need it. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a deal with them – they want your business!
Check out this article on Packaging Rush Jobs for tips on what you can do to help speed up your packaging job when time is not in your favor.