Conforming to Patients, One Shipment at a Time

Switching from rigid to flexible is not a new trend in medical device packaging, but companies have struggled to find flexible formats that can secure several different components in place. A flexible package from Beacon Converters Inc. (www.beaconconverters.com), however, provided one company such an alternative, folding up to eight heavy and sharp components within a wallet packaged in a chevron pouch. The package has been honored in awards programs for its design and sustainability by the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) and by the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP).

The ConforMIS Drill and Pin Kit Wallet has garnered FPA’s 2011 Highest Achievement Award along with the Gold Award in Packaging Excellence and the Silver Award in Environmental & Sustainability Achievement. It has also been recognized in IoPP’s AmeriStar Awards in the Medical Device category. Reducing packaging volume significantly, the package uses a 100% HDPE wallet instead of two thermoformed trays. The wallets are flat, not formed, and can be stacked and shipped densely, with no loss of packaging volume in air space, explains Alison Tyler, technical director for Beacon.

“Historically, you wouldn’t expect to find this product in anything other than an inner and outer tray,” Tyler notes. “The company had sought to distribute the products in small shipping cartons to hospitals for specific patients, but the smallest tray that could be made to hold all kit items was still too big for the shipper. A much smaller footprint was needed.”

The kits needed to contain components with sharp points and would have required a significant amount of tray space to accommodate draft angles and component separation, Tyler says. The company even explored using a thermoformed tray insert, she adds, but still could not get the size down. “The product was never commercialized in a tray, although that was the first design option.”

Beacon worked with designer Gregory Dahl of Dahl Packaging Associates to determine whether Beacon’s die-cut inserts could be used inside a pouch. “Instead of laying them side by side in a card, we decided to stack them in a fold-over wallet, and it worked,” Tyler says. It is the first time Beacon has manufactured cards for a wallet concept.

Dahl developed two wallets similar in design: one for pins and the other for drill bits. “The designs minimize the packaging footprint while still preventing the components from abrading each other and from puncturing the pouch,” Tyler explains. The wallets were designed to hold every possible combination required to fulfill hospital orders. They were also developed so that nurses could easily present the items in aseptic surgical theaters.

Dahl adds that “the form and function of the wallet die card enables it to hold a variety of different geometry devices in a smaller footprint of a package than you could achieve by laying them out in a tray with individual cavities.” In addition, “the die card enhances the ability to protect the devices in both pouches and thermoformed trays,” he adds. “Die-cut inserts are used inside of trays as well. They just have different capabilities and can in some cases complement each other.”

The project took about two to three months, including distribution testing according to ISTA 2A to ensure adequate product protection. “Because these packages were to be shipped within a larger kit package in the single-parcel overnight supply chain, the performance testing was pretty aggressive,” Tyler reports. “The wallets passed the test.”

In addition to meeting ConforMIS’s shipping requirements, the system reduces the volume of packaging components by more than 93% when compared with the trays that would have been required. “The fully recyclable wallet requires less space through out its lifecycle, to store, warehouse, truck, deliver, and dispose,” Tyler says.

The designs also amount to a more sustainable packaging system. “Because the tooling uses so much less material for a die-card than that for a thermoformed tray, there is a big impact there in cost and materials used. Finally, the process of manufacturing die cards uses less energy than thermoforming as it is not a heated process.”

The ConforMIS Drill and Pin Kit Wallet was honored in March during FPA’s 2011 Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards, and it will be recognized by IoPP during the AmeriStar and IoPP Honors & Awards Dinner in May.

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