Recently, Design Development Engineer, Will, Discussed the sustainability shift in Medical Device Development. Whether it be within or, outside of the medical device sector, sustainability isn’t new news.

With an initiative to continue enhancing our approach to circular and regenerative solutions at HD, the team have been undergoing various training and have built a network of expert consultants in the field. This has allowed us to enhance our service offering to include specific services in the area such as Design for the Circular Economy and product sustainability reports.

Single-use products, medical devices and the packaging they come in contribute to immense amounts of both general and medical waste.

Over the past months, the first batches of soft tooled prototypes for two of our current projects have arrived. We have assembled 10 samples of each of the two devices, began testing against design requirements, packaged, and shipped them to our customer in the U.S. for evaluation. It is the packaging phase of this process that has got us thinking…

Once in the industrialisation phase, the quantity of devices expected to be manufactured is high. Due to the volume of devices that will be shipped from the UK to the US, using sustainable packaging alternatives for shipping has been of high importance to us at HD. Due to this not being an active device, we have had a slightly easier route in terms of regulatory requirements but nevertheless, it has been a great opportunity to consider sustainable alternatives when packaging and shipping devices.

While our primary aim is to help users lives, it’s important that we help the planet where possible too. We asked the team about some of the challenges faced as well as their discoveries and process for packaging these devices…

1. What have been the main challenges with designing the packaging for this project?

It was fairly easy to opt for sustainable packing to ship the devices as there is now such a variety of sustainable alternatives readily available in all shapes and sizes. It’s great to see that sustainable options are so readily available, and at a good price in comparison to more conventional plastic packaging alternatives (non-healthcare specific).

2. What solutions have you tried & why?

We researched sustainable alternatives to plastic bubble wrap, of which there is a lot of choice. Plastic bubble wrap would have been the first choice of packaging for the requirements of these devices, so finding a close, sustainable alternative was a priority. On occasions where we have needed to use plastic-based packaging due to certain parameters, we opted to reuse packaging that we have received parts in. While we appreciate that this isn’t necessarily an option when packaging active devices, re-use is always a first port of call where possible in our shift from a linear to a circular approach. We tested a number of solutions by collecting samples from a variety of suppliers to ensure various requirements for the packaging were met.


3. What solution did you arrive at for this project?

We settled on a using two different types of sustainable packaging. First, a bubble wrap alternative which was a thin, flexible corrugated carboard roll. This was used in the same way that bubble wrap would have been used to wrap and interweave in between the devices within the box. We then opted for a recycled brown paper to act as a void filler and to provide sufficient impact protection.

4. What tools and / or resources did you use to help with the process?

We spent some time researching various sustainable packaging supplier’s websites and browsing through their catalogue of products to identify suitable options. One of our team has recently completed a course with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which has also been a useful source of insight and information when transitioning from a Linear to Circular approach.


5. What has the process taught you?

There really is no need to continue using single use, usually plastic, packaging (certainly in the instance of this project) as there are so many sustainable alternatives readily available that are just as good, if not better, and affordable too with more variety than I ever thought! I think it’s a common misconception with sustainable packaging, that there isn’t much choice, or its expensive, however in reality its quite the opposite and is set to continue improving. We have high hopes that this will apply for regulatory compliant alternatives in the years to come too.

6. How will you approach packaging design (in particularly considering sustainability) for future projects?

In future, I will always opt for using sustainable packaging over non-recyclable plastic packaging where possible. I would hope as more awareness is raised about the effectiveness and environmental impact of using regenerative packaging solutions, the consensus will change in the favour of using sustainable packaging. This being said, we appreciate that packaging active medical devices sustainably will require further consideration to meet regulatory standards although we have come across a number of existing solutions through our research. Hopefully incentives for companies to switch will also continue improving.

7. What advice would you give to others who are considering making more sustainable decisions as part of their process?

Go for it! There are number of sustainable options out there that compete with previously conventional options. You have to start somewhere, and small changes have an impact too. Considerations span from environmentally friendly materials and processes to efficient and cost-saving transportation, education programmes and recycling (and that’s just the packaging alone!).

If you would like to learn more or discuss how Haughton Design can help with your Product or Medical Device development, please get in touch.

Phil Sampey 6 August 2021


Get in Touch with Phil Sampey

Senior Design Development Engineer

Phil graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Automotive Technology. Since joining HD, Phil has primarily been working on a number of medical device projects, supported by his wide range of experience from prototype manufacturing, plastic injection moulding and CNC machined parts, to designing bespoke gearbox systems for various industries. Phil also assists with the management of our ISO 13485 & ISO 9001 QMS and network of approved manufacturing suppliers.

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