Thermoforming Plastics for Medical Product Packaging
Thermoforming is a popular manufacturing process used to mold plastics for all kinds of products. During the thermoforming process, plastic sheeting is heated to a pliable temperature, molded into shape, and trimmed to create various parts and packaging for products we use every day. Advantages over other popular plastic manufacturing processes such as injection molding include lower tooling costs, rapid product development and prototyping, a more comprehensive range of possible sizes and shapes, more color and texture options, and almost infinite adaptability.
One sector that has greatly benefited from advances in plastics is the medical supply chain. Medical-grade plastics have enabled a combination of sterile barrier solutions, safety, cost-containment, and manufacturability that have greatly improved patient outcomes. Thermoforming is the most common production process for manufacturing packaging for medical devices and lab equipment, which require a sterile manufacturing environment.
While thermoforming is a mature and well-understood technology in the medical supply chain, there are still subtle differences in manufacturing processes that deserve attention when choosing a medical product packaging supplier. In addition to strict adherence to the various levels of cleanroom requirements published by ISO, there is a critical differentiator that enables one plastic packaging supplier to perform beyond others.
The type of thermoforming machine used affects almost every performance metric in medical product package manufacturing.
The Sencorp Ultra
All thermoforming machines are not created equal, and there is one, in particular, that stands out above the rest for its ability to deliver on a wide range of packaging requirements. The Sencorp Ultra offers superior performance in various ways that benefit both the manufacturer and the entire value chain. Sencorp calls their thermoformer the “workhorse of the industry,” and plastic packaging manufacturers that invest in this machine quickly learn why. With the ability to handle blister, clamshell, and stretch packaging, a 111-inch 42-zone radiant quartz oven, and a 115-ton trim press, this machine’s speed and versatility are unmatched. It’s easy to understand why those who spend their careers optimizing thermoforming manufacturing processes get excited about this machine.
But the real question is, “Why should medical product suppliers care what kind of machine manufactures their packaging?” There are five critical reasons why the kind of thermoforming machine used makes a difference.
Plastics and The Environment
Top of mind for everyone who touches the plastic packaging industry in any way is the environment. In the medical sector, single-use plastics are critical for delivering high-quality care to patients and keeping caregivers safe. Single-use plastics provide a lower risk of infection in the clinical environment and a lower risk of cross-contamination in the laboratory environment.
PlasticsToday has reported on past initiatives to recycle medical plastics in hospital settings, principally involving packaging and other items that were not exposed to patients or contamination. The outcomes generally were problematic. One article concluded that properly sorting recyclables in intense hospital environments was “fraught with difficulty and that the economic value was not sufficient in the current climate.”
While the issues around single-use plastics are complicated at best, there is one thing the production facility can do to reduce the amount of plastic in medical products. The Sencorp Ultra can use less plastic while achieving equal if not better integrity or strength than other machines. Its heavy-duty rail transport system allows for less material use and less waste.
There has never been a time more illustrative of the need to quickly ramp medical-grade materials than the year 2020 and the battle against COVID-19. From face shields to hand sanitizer bottles to plastic barriers for separating cubicles, the need to protect essential workers in healthcare and food service from the virus’s spread became priority number one. Shortages of these essential items hampered efforts to contain COVID-19. Manufactures rushed to ready their production lines to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and produce enough to meet worldwide demand from the multiple Coronavirus surges.
The thermoformed process is perfect for medical products that urgently need to achieve a fast time-to-market. By driving heat into the medical grade sheet, thermoforming enables a high integrity package that can pass medical validation requirements the first time. That being said, production time varies among thermoforming machines, and the Sencorp Ultra is the fastest. 40% shorter cycle times and an integrated robotic stacking system make it the go-to equipment for the fastest possible ramp of mission-critical, medical-grade plastics.
Similar to the ability to meet fast times to market is the ability to scale. If you have ever chosen a vendor that delivers the first few hundred of a new product but then fails to produce higher volumes when demand for your product takes off, then you know why the ability to scale is essential. Delivering 1000 medical device packages should be as easy as delivering 1,000,000 or even 10,000,000. And the quality and speed of delivery should be repeatable such that the 10,000,000th part produced is as good as the first.
The high throughput of the Sencorp Ultra, with Siemens S7 series PLC controls, deliver repeatable, consistent quality at low volumes and high volumes.
There is always a cost associated with every individual supplier a company needs to bring into its supply chain, and not every manufacturer can deliver both large and small size medical-grade plastics. Working with a plastic manufacturer that uses Sencorp Ultra machines allows customers to work with one supplier for the broadest possible range of sizes and shapes, textures and colors for the widest variety of products. One supplier can create one-ounce plastic bottles for hand sanitizer, face visors, and 36-inch plastic barriers, all in the same factory.
The ability to process PETG is an essential requirement for the production of medical-grade plastics. PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) is an additive for plastics that need to go through extreme heat to achieve a sterile environment. Due to its strength, clarity, surface qualities, and low cost, PETG is used to make sterile, single-use disposable containers for cell cultures and many other biomedical applications.
PETG is used with thermoforming for medical product packaging because it holds up well to heat sealing, radio frequency sealing, chemical sterilization, UV light, and other techniques required to keep products sterile and ready for medical use. Medical product packaging, electronic equipment covers, internal components, sidewalls, and even hospital room panels take advantage of thermoformed PETG to keep environments sterile and patients safe.
Tru-Form Plastics is here to serve your medical product packaging needs.
Now that you know why it matters, choose a medical product packaging supplier with the best thermoforming machines available to suit ALL your medical plastic needs. With manufacturing based 100% in the United States, at Tru-Form Plastics, we pride ourselves on delivering the most environmentally friendly PETG packaging for medical products. We provide our customers with packaging options others cannot, meeting your needs for small packaging up to 72 inches long by 34 inches wide. Our high-throughput Sencorp Ultra machine enables us to achieve the fastest delivery across North America, whether you are launching a niche product or need millions per month.