Zen & the Art of Medical Packaging Innovation

To move forward, a good place to start is in the past. That was the thesis of John Merritt, who led a session devoted to medical packaging innovation at MEDTEC Europe in Stuttgart, Germany, last week.

 Norbert Sparrow

Industry conferences tend to be forward-thinking affairs, so it was a bit counterintuitive, but also refreshing, to be told to go back to the future to jump-start innovation.

Merritt, the president and founder of the Shanghai consulting firm Merritt, Meyers Inc., has a deep background in medical packaging, having worked at Oliver Medical Packaging and Tiromat, among other companies. He began his presentation with a brief history of medical packaging, which was illuminating in its own right. It's easy to forget that sterile medical packaging as we know it is a fairly recent development whose origins date back to the 1950s. By flipping through the milestones, he said, we may discover "opportunities for innovation right before our eyes."

One aspect of the product development cycle that is ripe for change is packaging's place within that cycle. "It's frustrating that packaging is often the last thing medical device companies think about when it is, in fact, an integral part of the sterile device system." It ensures sterile delivery of the device from distribution to storage and into the hands of practitioners. Nevertheless, "quite often, it is approached in a manner similar to toy packaging."

As is to be expected, technological advances have been developed to address deficiencies. Coatings were formulated to compensate for wide operating parameters, and digital sealing controllers reduced the need to source "more forgiving materials." How can you innovate with the tools that are in front of you today? Merritt didn't provide any specific answers, but he suggested a path to follow.

For example, sourcing overcompensating machines or materials to make up for shortcomings has often been a workaround for the industry, but it typically is not a cost-effective solution. "Consider all your options, and don't follow the crowd. But whatever you elect to do, it must be proven, effective, and validated. Good process validation is a must." 

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Norbert Sparrow, Editor in Chief, UBM Canon

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