the[PACK]out: Inaugural Event Delivers Medical Device Packaging Innovation

The new conference in Austin, TX, (May 10-12, 2022) highlighted design, sustainability, and usability, developed for and by the medical packaging community.

In the face of looming sustainability and safety regulations, many medical device manufacturers are looking for ways to update packaging and solve supply challenges.

Professionals from the medical device packaging community came together and created the[PACK]out to deliver engaging education and career development. The 3-day event took place in Austin, TX, from May 10 to 12, 2022, and offered insights into new package designs, sustainability, industry initiatives, and more.

As Oliver Healthcare Packaging’s Jenn Goff explained in the opening remarks in the river view conference room, “It takes a community to pull something like this off. We reached out to industry and asked, ‘What would you expect if you came to a new invigorating event?’ We wanted attendees to experience the caliber of event that inspires innovation, connection, and action." 

The event featured tracks for Foundational and Tenured presentations, offering options for experienced and new professionals to hear from peers about design, sustainability, and usability in medical device packaging. A seasoned nurse attended the conference and opened sterile packaging on video in a simulated field. She discussed what packaging features helped and hurt the presentation in her expert opinion. Thoughtful touches throughout the event included natural light, refillable snack containers, and opportunities for professional development. 

Shift to chaotic innovation

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Nick Webb, CEO at LeaderLogic, speaker, and med device patent holder, candidly discussing the ups and downs he’s faced in developing products. He challenged attendees to embrace the state of chaotic change that healthcare has transitioned toward, which tends to be asymmetrical vs. safe, incremental change. People don’t know where it’s coming from next, he said.

Connected packaging has an important role to play—provided that that connection delivers value beyond being a shiny new toy—such as point-of-use validation and traceability. “Packages will be connected in some form—where they are, how they’re being used. In life-critical implants, can we communicate that it’s sterile just prior to use? What can we do in connection architecture? If something can be connected, it will be connected… and it will deliver far better enterprise value and patient value,” Webb said. New offerings should be layered and dynamic—a smart phone isn’t just a phone, but a GPS, and a connected node to knowledge.

The experience economy has permeated nearly every facet of society from retail to healthcare to work life. People are now more aware of how product and package interactions feel. While asking users what they like tends to be the norm, Webb pointed out that looking at what features they hate can yield better insights.

Highlighting the benefits of design hackathons to bring stakeholders together to make improvements, he said it’s important to note that packaging doesn’t serve one monolithic person, so these events should bring people together across a variety of titles and touchpoints for the package. It may be wise to first perform an internal hackathon in your organization with people from engineering, design, production, and sales, and then hold one among users to show “how to improve across moments of engagement.”

Another aspect hindering bold innovation? The fear of failure. People are naturally concerned about their own careers and don’t want to be on the company radar screen as being the person who did that. This requires a change in organizations. Webb said, “Leaders need to create safe spaces to innovate. Nothing unsafe will go out the door of course,” but there should be an ability for employees to ask big questions and take risks in design stages. He referenced a practice at outdoor retailer Patagonia to have challenges akin to the biggest loser, talking openly about ideas that tanked.

Companies need to be innovative to retain the best talent, and learn to communicate their missions better than they do now. “Many people have had a two-year recess to explore their goals and reality, and they want their job to be part of their evolutionary journey,” he said. “They want to know what their contribution is in delivering to customers… work has become very experiential.”

The last 100 yards

Austin Liu, playing the role of a device package, journeyed from touchpoint to touchpoint in the last 100 yards in a hospital. (Image courtesy: Cassie Ladd)Austin Liu, playing the role of a device package, journeyed from touchpoint to touchpoint in the last 100 yards in a hospital. (Image courtesy: Cassie Ladd)

Attendees got to watch a “package” (Johnson & Johnson Surgical Vision’s Austin Liu) as it traveled its last 100 yards from hospital receiving to the procedure room for use in a patient case. As he journeyed from touchpoint to touchpoint in a paperboard box through stations in the conference room, the audience was asked to perform standard interactions—such as removing the outer carton and placing him on a case cart—that introduced “contamination” represented by various stickers. The demo was a way to bring the package’s journey to life in those critical last 100 yards. 

Sustainability 

Understandably, the topic permeated nearly every presentation at the show. Eastman’s Andrew Green delivered the ins and outs of molecular recycling to a packed house, discussing the promise it holds (as well as limitations) for diverting medical plastics from landfills and recycling waste not accommodated by mechanical recycling.


   Read this story on challenges in implementing eIFUs.


Community news: industry power hour

Representatives from four industry initiatives and organizations provided 10-minute overviews of current work and how to get involved.

  • For the IoPP Medical Device Packaging Technical Committee (MDPTC), Jennifer Benolken discussed, among many efforts, their goal of fostering community between bigger events and staying in touch continuously. With a focus on bringing youth into the industry, they’ve spent the last few years reformulating and developing activities, including collegiate outreach and young professionals networking. A shadow board for young professionals helps those growing into their careers and brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the community. They’ll be running a course, Fundamentals of Medical Device Packaging, at PACK EXPO International in Chicago in October—registration is expected to open soon.
  • Katherine Olson discussed the KiiP Group (Kilmer Innovations in Packaging – see our KiiP primer here). The sterility assurance initiative, which began in 2019, fosters bold innovation in medical device packaging by breaking down barriers in the value chain and solving wicked problems without owned IP. As Olson described, “Anything we’re learning, we’re sharing. It’s about progressing the future of our industry.” Another major goal is funding without bias to ensure the studies and data aren't benefitting one company over another. Get involved by joining KiiP’s LinkedIn Group.
  • For the ASTM Committee F02 on Primary Barrier Packaging, Dan Burgess invited industry members to join. “It’s a great way to connect with others in the industry and learn about what’s happening in standards and the new technologies being developed and methods that go along with them.” The Committee generally meets twice a year in the spring and fall, with smaller group meetings throughout the year depending on the committee.
  • The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) seeks to boost recycling in the industry across the value chain with collaboration, guides, and more. Nick Packet discussed the business case—there is much work to be done in recovering and recycling the billions of pounds of hospital packaging materials (trays, lids, pouches, blue wrap, and more) going to waste each year. In particular, Packet noted that blue wrap and irrigation bottles are being recycled at better rates than other materials. “The Packaging Design Guidance is a tool that was designed for med device manufacturers and packaging engineers. It outlines some practices, principles, and considerations to make your packaging more recycle-ready,” he said. Hospicycle is a tool designed for hospitals considering starting a recycling program, and Recycler Guidance is a tool to help educate recyclers and set the foundation for them to look at these materials as a valuable feedstock for their operations. The HPRC is currently in Phase 3 for an advanced recycling project, and they’re looking at improving hospital collection by performing barrier mapping in the U.S. (the EU chapter of the HPRC recently performed hospital barrier mapping in Europe).

***By the Numbers: 85% of the hospital waste is non-hazardous, meaning free from patient contact and contamination, and mostly is disposed of by landfill or incineration currently. (Source: BCC Research.)***

Honor Award: In recognition for her leadership, technical contributions, and longtime dedication to the medical device packaging industry, Jan Gates was presented with the MDPTC Honor Award. Gates is the owner and founder of PackWise Consulting, and has over 30 years' experience in packaging engineering across a variety of sectors. 

Sponsored Student Attendees: The five sponsored students went through three separate rigorous selection processes to attend the conference, said Johnson & Johnson Vision's Rod Patch, one of the events' founders. Honorees were:

  • Kayla Chamberlain – UW Stout
  • Anna Kent – UW Stout
  • Sarah Webber – UW Stout
  • Dangkamol Wongthanaroj – MSU
  • Maggie Dailey – Clemson University

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Workshops

Day 3 concluded the show with hands-on workshops presented by PAXXUS to bring package design concepts to life. 

Usability with a Disability—attendees were asked to open packaging and complete a task while operating with simulated disabilities, including limited dexterity and vision.

Design for Success involved developing effective IFUs, where participants were tasked with writing instructions to a teammate to correctly disassemble a puzzle without verbal cues.

Sorting Out Sustainability—a bit contentious at times—asked attendees to determine which waste stream a given package or PPE item belonged in. It hammered home some disagreements and how much work the industry needs to do in developing infrastructure, standardizing, and labeling for consumers and nurses to know where to send medical waste.

Said Packaging Compliance Labs' Sarah Rosenblum, “The inaugural year of the[PACK]out truly went better than we could’ve ever imagined. Seeing the sterile packaging community back together; collaborating and innovating was inspiring and exciting. We wouldn’t have been able to pull off this event without the strong support from the industry. I think I speak for all the founders when I say, we have intense gratitude for all of those that believed in this event and supported it this first year.  We look forward to the future years of the[PACK]out.” 

See the show recap video here. the[PACK]out founders supported by their companies are as follows: Jill Cinalli, Kiley Djupstrom, Jenn Goff, Rod Patch, Cassie Ladd, Karen Polkinghorne, and Sarah Rosenblum.

the[PACK]out founders (from left): Cassie Ladd, Sarah Rosenblum, Karen Polkinghorne, Jill Cinalli, Rod Patch, Kiley Djupstrom, and Jenn Goff. (image courtesy: Cassie Ladd)the[PACK]out founders (from left): Cassie Ladd, Sarah Rosenblum, Karen Polkinghorne, Jill Cinalli, Rod Patch, Kiley Djupstrom, and Jenn Goff. (image courtesy: Cassie Ladd)


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