Case Study: Sonoco Protective Solutions Develops Reusable Packaging System for Medical Blood Oxygenator
Sonoco engineers worked with a major medical device manufacturer to come up with a solution for packaging some components for their medical blood oxygenator. The resulting design was a TransGuard Stand Alone Tote that was height customized, light weight, reusable, stackable to prevent dirt contamination, universal to hold any one of three blood oxygenator components, and a lower cost option. This was one of the first applications of TransGuard returnable totes and dunnage in the medical industry, and it was a great success.
Packaging in the medical industry is subject to stringent specifications when it comes to dirt and other types of contamination as well as the need to sometimes protect extremely fragile/sensitive parts that can be very expensive. As is the case in the automotive industry, where TransGuard has really been selling well; the components in medical devices need a type of packaging that is durable and resilient; able to protect fragile, complex parts from shock and vibration; protect surface class A finishes on parts; and in many cases, protect sensitive electronics.
A major medical OEM and manufacturer of various types of medical equipment, assembles medical blood oxygenators in one of their facilities. Some of the components of those blood oxygenators are very fragile, complex, and extremely sensitive to dirt/dust. Additionally, this OEM needs to have flexibility to ship any one of three different blood oxygenator components from where the component is made to where it is assembled. These requirements make packaging the components a challenge, but with help of Sonoco TransGuard engineers, the engineers at this OEM were able to develop a TransGuard returnable tote solution for this blood oxygenator application.
The original packaging that the OEM was using for the blood oxygenator components was a hard side plastic case with die‐cut polyurethane (PU) foam inside. Figure 1 shows a similar concept, but is not the original OEM packaging described here.
The OEM eventually reached a point where they needed to replace their existing shippers, so they were open to hearing about new solutions such as Sonoco’s TransGuard line. Sonoco’s timing was perfect because they approached the OEM for opportunities right at this same time, and thus the first TransGuard application for the medical industry was born. This application is perfect for TransGuard because it is a complex part with sensitive surfaces that can be uniquely held in place by Sonoco’s custom molded EPP foam. Additionally, this TransGuard Stand Alone Tote solution is far more durable, lighter weight, and less expensive than the plastic case with PU foam inside. The PU case was protecting the components adequately, but the Sonoco TransGuard solution was a win‐win because they could still protect the parts for much less material cost and the lighter weight package means a fuel/CO2 emissions savings as well.
The final design, shown in Figure 2, has a universal cavity to hold any one of the three different blood oxygenator components, which means that the customer can buy just one packaging SKU instead of three. This tote was made out of durable 2.8pcf EPP, which ensures protection of the components. However, since the components are so small and lightweight, 2.8pcf could be used instead of 3.0pcf EPP (common in the automotive industry), to ensure protection, but reduce overall product weight, amount of material used, and thus cost.
Additionally, the tote was designed exactly to the height of the components (no deeper than necessary), which allows the OEM to fit more parts per pallet and save space, time, materials, and ultimately money. Figure 3 below, shows how the tote was designed such that 20 totes fit in a unit load; 4 totes per layer, stacked 5 layers high. Each tote then holds 12 components, so 320 parts can be shipped in each unit load. Due to the stacking feature of this design, the totes can easily nest and lock tightly to prevent debris from getting into the parts, also shown in Figure 3.
In addition to height customization, this tote was designed such that it is 1/4 of a footprint of a standard 48” x 45” pallet. Now the customer can just buy two reusable, plastic pallets with seatbelts (common in the automotive industry and easy to source) to ship their products instead of banding, stretchwrap, and other non‐reusable packaging that had to be thrown away with each shipment. If the product line changes, the customer only has to pay to have half or the tool rebuilt, which saves on re‐tooling costs.
TransGuard is an ideal solution because it is a complex, sensitive part that needs to be protected from shock and vibration during shipment. Additionally, any of three parts need to be held in place in a precise orientation to protect the surface finish and be sealed tightly to prevent dirt and other debris from getting into the electronics. The TransGuard Stand Alone Tote is the perfect solution to achieve all of these requirements as well as save space in the unit load and allow for reuse and less packaging wasted and/or thrown away.