It’s a pleasure to share a few thoughts at the invitation of my Oliver Healthcare colleagues on the PackTalk blog. For those who don’t know me, it makes sense to start with a brief background of how I arrived where I am today, as Principal Packaging Engineer for Medtronic in Plymouth, Minnesota.
If I count my packaging engineering degree program at Michigan State University, I’ve been working as a packaging engineer for more than 30 years. For so many packaging experts, that’s where it all begins, with green and white! (MSU is the #1 packaging science program in the US). From those first classes to my first job creating thermoform cups and bowls for the food industry, and now today, I have always known this was the right field for me. In fact, I think packaging engineering really is the best kept secret. Not only is it a degree that you can take anywhere, but as a packaging engineer, you literally touch every function related to a product as a part of your role. I think this is one of the only jobs that interact with every team and aspect involved in getting a product to market.
I was recently asked what I love most about my work at Medtronic. I responded that the best thing about my job is the results. I’ve been here for more than six years now. Probably the two biggest differences in medical device over my previous work in food and automotive are the enormous amount of documentation involved, and impact of the actual results. It’s a good feeling to know that what we create impacts people’s lives every single day for the better. Our ClosureFast device or radiofrequency ablation is a great example of that.
Recently, I was pulled into a project where some enhancements were being made to the RFA device. I started by looking back to where the packaging for this specific device started, much like I always do. The original packaging system featured a larger polyester tray with lid, pouch, and HDPE card. Once it was opened, it was adequate, but the contents were not very well-contained, and there was significant opportunity for improvement.
As a large company, Medtronic recognizes that it is always easier to do what’s been done before. It takes a lot of people agreeing that it is worth it to look at other options, or to try something else. Working with Oliver on the packaging side, we were able to take the very traditional packaging and explore how its functionality could be enhanced while also accommodating the device upgrades. This brings to mind another aspect of my job that I love, going through the creative process with creative people.
We faced some interesting challenges along the way. During the time we were making the device enhancements and revisiting its packaging, changes were under way with the EU MDR that affect use instructions. Since our product is marketed globally, the changes were something we had to anticipate. Specifically, a previously small information insert would now be more like an 8.5” x 11” magazine. That was just one of the requirements we had to address. Ultimately, we navigated a two-year project that we will launch very soon. It is ongoing industry changes like this that keep us on our toes and make every day so interesting.
Our work on the project took on special meaning when it was announced at Pack Expo Las Vegas that we won the IOPP People’s Choice award in addition to winning an IOPP Ameristar medical device packaging award. Awards and recognition aren’t the motivation to do your best work all the time, but they are a gratifying reminder that going the extra mile or kilometer is always worth it.