Technipaq Produces Packaging for a Purpose
Whether it’s an emergency room, ambulance or general doctor’s office, those in the medical field must work swiftly and accurately in a highly unpredictable environment. To do this, seemingly countless devices, tools and drugs are stored at their fingertips, allowing them to react quickly when a patient comes through the door.
These potentially lifesaving products need to function properly when called upon, undamaged, easily accessible, and in many cases, completely sterilized. Ensuring the device is ready for action is largely a function of its packaging, which in the medical field, faces different requirements than its consumer goods counterparts. For more than 30 years, Technipaq, based in Crystal Lake, Ill., has been serving this industry by converting challenging substrates, developing innovative packaging to meet sterilization methods and printing essential text and graphics.
“At the end of the day, that device can’t get to market without that packaging,” says Brian Rosenburg, Technipaq’s VP of sales and marketing. “We know we’re part of the integral process of those devices reaching the patient, and in a lot of cases, those are life and death situations.”
An Evolving Industry
As the medical field has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, so too has the packaging that serves it. For example, Rosenburg says that not too long ago, most medical packaging just required basic line copy, with a focus on the instructions for use.
But, as technology has improved, packaging now plays a much larger role. Instructions for use may now be accompanied with graphics, extending beyond the text. For wound care products such as gauze, the packaging often features a grid that can be used to measure the wound. And in some instances, color plays an essential role for medical professionals working at high speeds.
For example, Rosenburg says a device like a tracheotomy tube comes in many different sizes and each size could be printed in a different color. This color-coding makes for a swifter process, allowing doctors and nurses to know that a blue package may be for a child, or the red for an average size adult, rather than taking the time to locate text on the package.
“When you’re making quick decisions in the field, color, graphics and those instructions for use all play into the actual use and the functionality of the device,” Rosenburg says. “The package is also an extension of the device graphically. So at a glance, I know I’m grabbing the right one when I’m working at high speeds or in an emergency type of situation.”
In addition to using graphics to assist with medical professionals in the field, Rosenburg explains that as a producer of sterilization packaging, Technipaq also uses print to demonstrate that a package has gone through the sterilization process.
By implementing specialized inks that change color once the sterilization process is complete, Rosenburg says this allows for easy visual recognition that a package is safe for use in a medical environment.
“It’s another simple, but good, built-in visual indicator to show you’re dealing with a device that has been sterilized,” he says.
To keep on top of graphical requirements, Technipaq has continued to improve its printing capabilities as the market’s needs have evolved. Beginning by installing a two-color flexo press after the company was founded in the mid 1980s, it eventually expanded to a wide-web six-color press in 1989. However, as the industry evolved, Technipaq made the move to eight-color printing, adding a VisionG flexo press from Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC), which is the press the company continues to run.
In addition to printing on the PCMC press, Technipaq’s manufacturing capabilities also include three slitters, three laminators featuring Nordmeccanica equipment and 11 custom made pouch machines.
Due to the markets it serves, Rosenburg explains that Technipaq primarily prints with water-based inks and only uses FDA approved inks and consumables.
He says the company also frequently implements reverse printing or trap printing, as opposed to surface printing. This ensures that ink transfer to the device is avoided, along with potential ink bleeding if the package is placed in an area where there may be alcohol or other solvents.
Though Technipaq may not be seeking out ways for its packaging to appeal to consumers at the retail level, specializing in the medical market does provide some unique challenges. For example, breathable materials that are often used in medical packaging can be challenging to print on because of inconsistencies in the substrate.
“It might be as high as 50% gauge variation across the sheet,” Rosenburg says. “As you move from line work to process work, we’re trying to maintain print quality and reproduce a dot size across a sheet that has 50% gauge variation. A lot of challenges are raw material-based, as far as being able to print the type of quality we want — and the customer will demand — on less than perfect substrates, in most cases.”
Additionally, he says, due to the high stakes nature of medical packaging, there are several checkpoints that need to be assessed, which can often slow down production, compared to flexo printers in other markets. But, in a field where text and graphic quality cannot be sacrificed, this decrease in speed is a small price to pay for the needed print quality.
“In order to maintain the level of quality we want and that our customers expect, even though the press is capable of running at 1,000 fpm, we may be able to only run at 400 to 500 fpm,” Rosenburg says. “This is in order to make sure if we’re printing on a material that does have those types of variations, we’re not getting bounce or anything that’s going to add to the already sensitive material we’re working with.”
Phil Rosenburg, Brian Rosenburg’s father, founded Technipaq in 1984. The elder Rosenburg had some prior packaging experience, having co-founded Delta Packaging, eventually leaving that company to launch Technipaq.
Brian Rosenburg explains that during his father’s time working as a consultant, the medical packaging field became one of his specialties. When Technipaq was ready to get off the ground, Rosenburg says the decision was made early on that this would be its primary market.
“The primary focus from the beginning for the company was medical,” he says. “We thought it would be a good differentiator.”
Though Technipaq does maintain some accounts in the food and industrial markets, medical still accounts for more than 90% of its sales. While many converters are constantly seeking to expand the markets they serve, Director of Sales and Marketing Kyle Vlasak explains that by establishing itself as a specialist, Technipaq is able to differentiate itself from the competition.
“It leads to [our ability to produce] small runs and very customizable packaging,” Vlasak says. “It lends itself to having conversations around new product launches. Food packaging companies might say, ‘Those are volumes we don’t get into.’ But we love it. We help them design it and we encourage it.”
Before Technipaq can create a pouch or run a job on press, a new package must go through a very intentional design process, which is another area where Rosenburg says Technipaq excels.
The first aspects to consider in the design process, Rosenburg says, are what the device’s functional requirements are and what is necessary to ensure it can properly travel through the distribution process, reaching the field in the manner it is supposed to.
In many cases, the packaging is designed with presentation of the device in mind. These types of packages include a chevron pouch, which Rosenburg explains is designed with a V-shaped seal at the top. This allows the physician to easily peel the package apart, revealing the device in an aseptic manner.
“A lot of the packaging designs from a chevron pouch, to a corner peel and even the header bag, where it’s got a peelable vent at the top, are designed for that aseptic presentation or sterile presentation of a device into an operating field, emergency field or whatever it might be,” Rosenburg explains.
In addition to the shape of the package, Technipaq must also strongly consider what materials it should use to construct it. For example, on the less complex end of the spectrum, Rosenburg says items like gauze or surgical gloves can be packaged in thin, flexible materials. Surgical papers or a thin gauge film, he says, can handle the sterilization process needed to package these items but provide more cost effective choices.
However, a more complex item, such as a catheter or an implantable device, may require packaging with rigid components, scalability or more three-dimensional elements. It is still important that these packages provide easy peelability and quick presentation into the field, but they must have additional durability characteristics and be able to withstand sterilization.
The key, Rosenburg says, is finding the most cost-effective solution that still functions well for its intended purpose. For example, he says, basic gauze is not likely to be packaged in a 25-cent pouch, whereas for a catheter that costs $1,000, that 25-cent pouch might make the most sense.
“Functionality always has to be No. 1; but from a company perspective, we need to find a way to be the best total cost supplier by giving you that functionality,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking at through that whole process. How do we find the lowest cost item that maintains functionality for you and works for that device?”
Rosenburg explains that because of the more stringent quality control required in the medical field, the Technipaq manufacturing staff is always operating with an elevated duty of care.
He says the company maintains a policy of accepting a job only if it has zero rejects and rejecting a job if it has one defect. Because these are the standards that Technipaq follows on a daily basis, Rosenburg says its customers can be assured their expectations are being met.
“That’s the day-to-day here versus other places where they may have a little more leeway,” he says. “Regardless of the job we’re running, we’re following that quality plan to accept on zero and reject on one.”
Additionally, as a medical packaging converter, Rosenburg explains that Technipaq must maintain a stringent cleanliness regimen. He says positive air pressure is used throughout the facility, air curtains are placed on overhead dock doors and employee entrances feature double door entry systems.
Setup technicians and inspector packers also all wear anti-static smocks and uniforms. Hairnets, beard covers and gloves are worn in the converting operation.
“We’re essentially at the same level of cleanliness as a lot of the filling operations would be in our manufacturing environment,” Rosenburg says.
Aside from controlling dust and debris, Rosenburg says Technipaq also strongly focuses on its pest control procedures, working with an outside service provider to monitor and repel these unwanted visitors. It’s especially important, Rosenburg adds, to understand how these patterns change with the seasons so the company can stay one step ahead in its pest control.
“As we hit spring and get into environments when there’s going to be a higher presence of bugs, flying insects and things like that, we’ll actually up the level of treatments to the exterior of the building,” he states.
He explains that this laser-focus on quality control is a deeply entrenched aspect in Technipaq’s day-to-day operations and is something highly valued by the staff. While Technipaq’s staff may not be the medical professionals out in the field saving lives, Rosenburg says medical packaging plays an essential role in that process.
“We always think about the level of quality of service we want to provide to the customer,” Rosenburg says. “At the end of the day, you have to think about where that device is going to end up. It’s going to be used on somebody’s mother, sister, son or daughter.”