For 30 years Spacelabs Medical (Issaquah, Wash.), a global provider of medical patient monitoring systems, has delivered innovative healthcare solutions in the form of touch-screen monitoring solutions. Transport packaging plays a critical part of its customer service policy. Here's how the company opted for innovative transport packaging material as a way to cut its costs and take a leadership position in recyclability of packaging-material, and continue to deliver its hospital monitors undamaged.
Beginning in 2004, managers at Spacelabs decided to change its manufacturing process, which would in turn impact its packaging process. "We were searching for a packaging format that would save us space and be curbside recyclable without sacrificing quality," says Jaime Cardenas, master production scheduler for Spacelabs. "It is an absolute requirement for our products to arrive at hospitals in the same state as when they leave here."
The manufacturing goal was to efficiently produce the same number of units in half the space. Managers decided to switch from batch manufacturing to an inline manufacturing and packaging process.
The packaging challenge
The fabricated polyethylene and polyurethane foam packaging the company had been using required a lot of storage space, and it cost more than alternative packaging material. Also, the die-cut foam gave the person packing the product minimal options for placing monitors in the carton.
With its former packaging system, Spacelabs had to do its packaging in batches to be productive. The packager traveled to the storage facility and loading units ready for shipment onto a cart. These units were then rolled into a large packaging area.
Time was wasted when the packager taped together boxes and spread them in a line on the floor. Crawling along this makeshift packing line, he would insert die-cut foam into the bottom of each box, place the unit to be shipped into each box, then put another foam piece on top. Finally, a small foam tray with accessories was added to the box. Each box was then sealed with tape.
What Spacelabs required was a packaging solution that would reduce cost without sacrificing protection. Recyclability was a major issue since the company does a considerable amount of business in Europe. There, foam packaging is frowned upon because most foam materials are not curbside recyclable. These four issues—storage space, versatility, cost and recyclability—drove managers to search for an alternative packaging format.
A better way
Cardenas contacted his local packaging distributor and was introduced to Sealed Air's (Danbury, Conn.) Korrvu suspension and retention packaging formats. Using this material, the specific design of the packaging is based upon the size, dimensions and weight of the product to be shipped.
"The beauty of our suspension and retention packaging is that it is custom designed to meet the specific needs of the customer," says Gerry Stone, director of sales and marketing for Sealed Air's Special Products Group. "We had no doubt that we could design a package that would meet Spacelabs' recycling needs, while still being more cost efficient than fabricated foam."
Working with Sealed Air's packaging engineers, the company designed and tested several new packaging solutions. Throughout the process, design revisions, such as the addition of customer-friendly handles for easy removal, were made.
Today the packing process begins with the packager assembling a regular slotted carton. A Korrvu frame is then placed into the box. The packager centers the monitor unit on this film membrane and places another frame on top of the monitor unit.
When the box is closed, the film membranes stretch around the product, securing it in place. Accessories are added to the box in a Korrvu retention package. The carton is sealed and moved to a pallet for shipment.
The fabricated foam packaging that Spacelabs previously used required 20 carton SKUs to meet the different packaging configurations for its different products. Now, simply by positionsoriesing the corrugated frames differently, one suspension package can accommodate three different monitor units. Spacelabs is also able to use one retention-packaging configuration to accommodate the different accessories that are shipped with the medicaldevices. By creating more packagingoptions for multiple monitors and accessories, the new packaging material reduced the number of carton SKUs by 50%.
Since switching to the new packaging process and material, Spacelabs has reduced packaging material cost by 40% by eliminating the expensive foam packaging. Because the new packaging material stores flat, the company has also been able to reduce material storage space and increase the amount of supply on hand.
There is also an ergonomic benefit derived from the new packaging material. Spacelabs' employees no longer need to stoop or bend to use their makeshift assembly line. They are able to package each unit at the end of the assembly line as soon as the product is ready for shipment, approximately every 15 minutes.
Particularly for its European customers, recycling is now easier with suspension and retention packaging. The packaging is manufactured using a standard corrugated fiberboard frame. It can be recycled, with the film left in place, into the corrugated waste stream worldwide. Corrugated hydrapulping facilities have been designed to recycle corrugated fiberboard, which may include minor amounts of extraneous materials, such as plastic tape, and labels commonly found on old corrugated containers. The material used in Spacelab's new package design is approved for recycling with paper and meets the requirements of German recycling regulations.
Along with product protection, the four primary packaging issues— space, versatility, cost and recyclability—were all solved for Spacelabs by switching to a new packaging process and material.