Aneta Clark, medical packaging and advanced materials, Eastman Chemical Company outlines how to address industry needs for medical device packaging with advanced materials.
Medical professionals are admired for their ability to perform in high-stress environments — balancing a patient’s urgent needs with maintaining detailed processes that prevent future issues. They are surrounded by tools that should help them in these situations but consider what happens to their process when tools shift from being helpful to being a burden. Often it isn’t even the tools’ fault. Rather, it’s the packaging that stymies quick responses.
Packaging can become the medical professionals’ worst enemy when difficult — at worst, hindering their ability to save lives. On the other hand, when done correctly, packaging helps medical professionals be the hero, executing very complex processes quickly.
Some of the newest medical device packaging developed by Plastic Ingenuity, one of the largest custom thermoformers in North America, did just this. Made with a new material that offers more design flexibility than alternative offerings, this packaging met customer needs that also kept devices sterile and safe.
Medical professionals’ needs seem straightforward: They require recognisable, compact, intuitive and quick-to-open medical device packaging. Because of the quick access requirement, medical devices are often stored tightly in a single storage container. In addition, medical professionals prefer a recognisable package that doesn’t involve second guessing or confirming. By being labelled very clearly and distinctively in compact, easy-to-stack packaging, devices are much easier to access.
Lastly and potentially the most important consideration – because package design isn’t consistent across devices – it should be intuitive to use and easy to open, saving medical professionals time and allowing them to continue focusing on the patient.
A case study
All of these needs need to be considered while keeping devices sterile and safe. This means that medical device packaging designers have a lot to consider and the simplest way to fulfil all of these considerations is to choose the right material early in the design process. Choosing a material is exactly where Plastic Ingenuity started when designing new packaging for medical device products. The packaging company had used traditional rigid materials in the past, but it was considering new materials for more design flexibility.
To identify the ideal material, the packaging company looked to extruder Pacur. The two companies discussed challenges and needs, and they determined Pacur’s PETG foam made with Eastman Eastalite copolyester presented some new capabilities for packaging.
Starting long before medical devices reach the end user, packaging must protect devices throughout the supply chain. Knowing that device protection is a key design input, Plastic Ingenuity recognised that Eastalite provided a new capability to the marketplace. The Pacur PETG foam provided a cushioning affect that helped Plastic Ingenuity’s medical device customers reduce potential damage caused during distribution. For one customer in particular, this provided great value as the company needed a work in process (WIP) tray for international transit shipments.
In looking at end-user industry trends, Plastic Ingenuity identified that many customers are packaging trays in pouches to simplify their packaging systems. Traditional rigid trays in a pouch can present abrasion issues, so this type of packaging has always been challenging. The foamed PETG presents soft flanges which, when placed into a pouch, don’t present the same abrasion risk. Thus, Plastic Ingenuity helped its customer develop tray/pouch packaging systems that perform better than traditional tray/pouch systems.
In addition, Plastic Ingenuity also identified that the PETG foam allowed them to push the design envelope and they could execute challenging designs that go beyond traditional rigid materials. This allowed for designs with very aggressive geometry and undercuts. Deep undercuts with the more flexible material also meant that Plastic Ingenuity could address the end-user needs more effectively for certain applications. The undercuts kept devices in place, while the flexibility of the foam PETG allowed for easy product release.
Addressing the need that medical devices must be recognised quickly, the color stability of the material meant that the packaging was easily recognised even after exposure to ethylene oxide and gamma sterilisation. As an added bonus, the material had a nice clear glossy finish, helping devices fit the desired sterile aesthetic for medical environments.
Through taking end-user needs into consideration and working to identify the best material options early in the design process, Plastic Ingenuity went beyond traditional medical device packaging capabilities. Now, Plastic Ingenuity is creating work in process (WIP) trays, long catheter trays and trays with pouches — all addressing the industry needs outlined above.
With some simple considerations, experienced collaborating companies and the right materials, medical packaging designers can meet industry needs, allowing medical professionals to shine.
Eastman Chemical Company worked in conjunction with Jim Banko, Pacur, and Jason Crosby, Plastic Ingenuity, on this piece.