Smaller Boxes Spell Savings

3M�s and Air Packaging Technologies� air cushion packaging for Bio-Rad.

The patented 3M Air Cushion package consists of an inflatable plastic outer bag with the payload suspended within an inner bag (a bag within a bag), which is inserted into a corrugated shipping carton. The main advantage of this system, says Dick Sheehan, 3M's senior package engineering specialist, is the ability to provide comparable or better protection from shock and vibration in a smaller package. 

"For items shipped by air freight, this is going to mean a significant savings in shipping charges," Sheehan explains. Air-freight charges are usually calculated by volume (cubic feet) rather than by weight. Anoop Gupta, 3M's market development supervisor for integrity packaging, says some customers have seen 70% or greater reduction in air freight costs as a result of a switch to the Air Cushion packaging.

The Air Cushion package is also environmentally friendly. Sheehan says 3M is working with some customers to de-velop return/reuse systems. "Even if not reused, it uses a lot less material. Once the air is gone, there's just a little bit of plastic film to dispose of," Sheehan adds.

3M has an exclusive global agreement to market Air Cushion packaging, which was developed and is manufactured by Air Packaging Technologies Inc. (APTI; Valencia, CA). APTI introduced this product as the Airbox, and the company continues to supply the Airbox to pre-existing customers, explains Al Trotter, vice president of packaging for APTI. 

Organogenesis (Canton, MA) ships Apligraf, laboratory-grown living human skin for grafting, in a custom-engineered package using the Airbox, developed by Source Packaging of New England Inc. (Warwick, RI). The Apligraf first goes into a circular rigid-plastic carrier. That plastic carrier goes into the Airbox, which provides protection from shock and vibration. That Airbox, along with temperature-stabilizing materials, is placed into a custom-engineered insulated container that maintains the required temperature range for this thermally sensitive product. The canister goes into a corrugated box. Organogenesis ships only via air freight.

Protection from vibration is essential for Apligraf. "Vibration at certain high frequencies and shock can damage Apligraf," says Garry Newman, vice president of manufacturing and engineering, APTI. "Airbox protects products by permitting very little vibrational impulse and G-force shock into the product."

The Air Cushion packaging system is custom designed for each user. "It's not an off-the-shelf application," says Gupta. Pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers who elect to use this technology receive an inflation system and in- flatable cushions customized in shape, size, and level of protection.

Bio-Rad Laboratories (Richmond, CA) uses Airboxes to ship several different medical devices. When Bio-Rad came to APTI, it had a separate package designed for each of its products. "We were able to develop Airboxes that, when ISTA tested, provided better shock protection than the products they were using already. And we were also able to develop more-generic designs, so they can use the same Airbox design for several different devices," APTI's Newman explains. 

"Using the Airbox instead of die-cut foam has saved us valuable floor space in our warehouse," says Kjersha Wanlass, manufacturing engineer for Bio-Rad. "Using one size Airbox for multiple products is helping us to standardize our packaging materials. It is also easier to use and provides a clean, professional presentation of our instrument."

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