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Speaking volumes: How design plays an important role in healthcare packaging

Pieter van Gool, Nelipak Healthcare Packaging, discusses incorporating innovative design capabilities with volume studies for healthcare packaging optimisation.

× Nelipak

Understanding the volume required to move tray parts allows the thermoformer to decide on the optimum shippers, bags and pallets required to send product to the OEM

In the healthcare market, packaging is no longer merely a vessel to contain and transport a medical device from point A to point B. Packaging has become a critical and integral part of the surgical landscape. Optimised packaging can maintain a product’s efficacy, prolong its shelf-life, and even play an active role in the operating room. On the other hand, packaging that does not perform as anticipated during final validation can result in an OEM’s entire product failing to get to market, or malfunctioning packaging in the field can compromise patient safety.

OEMs should look for healthcare-specific packaging thermoformers that can and should- – become true partners that work collaboratively with them to design optimised products fit-for-purpose to ensure the best performance, reduce waste, and even improve the experience for the end-user. Partnering with an entirely medical-focused packaging provider that is well attuned to the needs of customers and immersed in the regulatory challenges that they face on a daily basis can make a significant difference in their ability to understand what solution is needed. This can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure for the entire project.

Sterile barrier packaging for medical applications must be manufactured to exacting specifications under ISO-compliant cleanroom conditions from start to finish. But the efficacy of packaging for medical devices and pharmaceuticals is shaped long before the manufacturing process – it starts in the design phase. Choosing a packaging provider that has experienced teams of designers and engineers with the ability to leverage modern software and technology coupled with first-rate drawing skills during development can result in solutions that best meet the OEM’s needs for pack performance, functionality and product protection.

Design features can influence the logistic volume when shipping empty nested thermoformed trays and storage prior to loading product on the line.

It is important to leverage the most effective means to develop a thorough understanding of a how the complete packaging solution will perform. In order to achieve such understanding, it is critical to consider packaging distribution configuration. Minor changes in the length, width and height of a thermoformed product can have a major effect on logistic efficiency, both in terms of getting the thermoformed product to the OEM and the OEM maximising the pallet loads of their finished good for optimum sterilisation efficiency.

Design features can influence the logistic volume when shipping empty nested thermoformed trays and storage prior to loading product on the line. For example, consider de-nesting features and snap features that secure the content into thermoformed trays. Making this visible with a volume study gives OEMs a better understanding of the impact on the process and facilitates the decision-making process of the final design. Volume efficiency is increasingly important for OEMs who are challenged with balancing warehouse space with manufacturing footprint to maximise revenue.

Giving the designer an overview of the holistic packaging requirements brings them closer to the project and allows them to add more expertise. Downstream thinking beyond the OEM to the OR is extremely valuable when it comes to differentiating oneself in the marketplace.

A clear understanding of the volume required to move tray parts allows the thermoformer to make informed decisions on the optimum shippers, bags and pallets required to send product to the OEM. Through careful selection of the above items, reduction of the number of components needed to ship parts can be achieved, eliminating cost and material waste of shipper components.

Volume studies provide a clear understanding of the loading factor for product shipping from the thermoformer to the OEM, leading to potential reduction in shipping loads. Using pallet load applications, Nelipak designers recently evaluated max height of pallet loading and different loading configurations to achieve an average of 20% savings in shipping volume. The net effect realised a reduction from six to five standard 53ft container trucks, along with the associated decrease in shipping unit costs and carbon footprint.

Another key feature of using volume studies is the opportunity to look at downstream operations where increased design efficiency can impact post-packing operations. Understanding the impact of the design on the finished pack creates greater awareness to maximize load efficiency off the dock of the OEM’s facility, reducing transportation costs. More importantly, it allows both the thermoformer and OEM to clearly understand the impact on the time costly and time-consuming sterilisation process (autoclave steam, ethylene oxide, gamma ray, electron beam) where the goal is to maximise the number of units through the process. Again, this provides opportunity for cost savings while meeting company sustainability goals for manufacturing carbon footprint.

Taking the process a step further, volume studies provide both the OEM and thermoformer with information relative to the potential impact of finished product on the hospital shelf and, increasingly, the amount of material nurses need to place in the correct recycle stream as hospitals look to become more sustainable.

The path to market can also go much more smoothly if OEMs and their medical device packaging provider also collaborate to develop custom specifications, including design failure mode effects analysis (DFMEA). This helps ensure that all required specs are critical-to-quality and are accurately related to the product’s intended use and function, eliminating the complexities of making the packaging meet non-relevant and sometimes unrealistic generic specs in order to successfully pass the validation process.

Listing generic critical-to-quality requirements that are not linked to the functionally or intended use of a packaging product can lead to ineffective criteria being used to gauge the effectiveness of medical device packaging. This can result in considerable delays to market; rectifying the problem ultimately costs the OEM unnecessary time, money and resources.

Design for manufacturing is another important consideration for the thermoformer in the design process; having a package that ticks all the boxes for the customer is of little use if the product is difficult to manufacture.

In conclusion, by working together as true partners, thermoformers and OEMs can collaborate to produce optimised, fit-for-purpose packaging while also reducing costs and minimizing manufacturing and shipping footprints. This is particularly critical in today’s stringent healthcare environments. By involving seasoned designers early in the development process that conduct effective volume studies, determine the most applicable custom specifications, and keep manufacturing needs in mind from start to finish, OEMs can achieve the best results from their medical packaging.

Tags Design Nelipak Healthcare Packaging Thermoforming OEM Issue 43 Latest Issue

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The development of this project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union
[LIFE16 ENV/ES/000305]

This publication reflects only the author's view and that the Agency/Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains

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