Raising the standard for Georgia-Pacific’s automated utensil dispenser

Disposable cutlery dispensers can be erratic. When it comes to how the utensils are stored and dispensed, each spoon, knife and fork act uniquely. So when challenged to improve this automated utensil dispenser by Georgia-Pacific (GP), Design Central’s engineers had to predict the unpredictable. The manufacturing company approached us to close the gap on its already impressive four percent failure rate. Using our knowledge of dispensing, and through a multi-layered process of prototyping and testing, we successfully provided a final design with a one percent failure rate. Our work also allowed the client to take control of the product’s intellectual property and reduce the cost of parts. Projects like this elevate the simple-but-true importance of product performance. When it works really well, everything else falls into place—in this case, literally.

  • Georgia Pacific
  • Commercial
  • Product Design
  • Engineering
  • Prototyping

Objective: Improve the reliability of Georgia-Pacific’s Dixie Pro Ultra SmartStock Automated Touchless Dispensers.

Testing ensures project’s success

Understanding each way a product fails—and the resulting consequences of that failure—gives us a strong foundation for inventing improvements. So we dispensed quite a few utensils, observing where and why the current dispenser encountered problems, from reloading to dropping into the tray. And we classified and rated the severity of each problem to prioritize. A jammed dispenser is worse than one that releases too many utensils, for instance, because a jam requires the user to troubleshoot and potentially throw out stacks of unused spoons, forks and knives. This analysis allowed us to hypothesize solutions and begin creating initial prototypes. 


If you dropped a plastic spoon, knife or fork, it’d be hard to predict how it would act once it hit a surface. So we knew the shape and material of the tray inside the dispenser mattered greatly when it came to preventing a utensil from bouncing out. We’d create a prototype, test it, tweak the design and repeat the process—learning and building our knowledge along the way. Each new prototype, from polyurethane foam to our cost-effective alpha models, got us one step closer to a final design, which includes a refined tray, refined advancement mechanism and improved refill process. GP didn’t own the intellectual property on its older dispenser, so in order to give the company more negotiating power with manufacturers, we rebuilt all CAD, and refined the product design. As GP says, “The standard for cutlery dispensing has been set.”