People worldwide donate blood plasma daily to aid trauma and organ failure victims. Machines speed donations and help save millions of lives. A leading medical device provider saw the opportunity to phase out an older plasma donation machine when newer options became available.
The release of these machines also presented an opportunity to design a more efficient packaging system for a next-generation product. The company partnered with NTT DATA improve product protection and increase sea container density with packaging optimization.
The company saw room for improvement on several fronts. To avoid disruptions during regular business hours at donation sites, the installation of these machines usually occurred overnight. This necessary constriction limited the time available for unboxing and installation.
Packaging for the outgoing units had been over-designed, resulting in a time-consuming unpacking process and a troubling amount of packaging material waste, with facilities reporting an inordinate amount of leftover trash generated by unboxing.
The company had previously evaluated alternative packaging for domestic distribution, which used a method that eliminated much of the protective materials to reduce waste. Damage and product return rates skyrocketed. Any new packaging solution couldn’t sacrifice protection in the effort to reduce waste.
- Doubles sea container and warehouse density
- Reduces use of foam by 15,000 pounds annually
- Reduces corrugated use by 200,000 pounds annually
- Reduces damage to legacy units
- Waste at customer sites cut in half
A new plasma donation machine line became an opportunity
An additional opportunity for the project revolved around the replacement of older machines. When a new unit was shipped to the customer site, the older unit was returned for refurbishment. This reverse logistics loop hadn’t been considered from a packaging perspective.
Because it was a different shape, the older model did not fit into the packaging materials for the newer machines. Often these to-be-returned machines were loaded — unpackaged and unprotected — directly onto pallets. These were stretch-wrapped and sent via a less-than-load (LTL) shipment to the corresponding refurbishment facility. Returned unit damage was predictably and needlessly high.
As COVID-19 swept the world, sea containers became increasingly expensive, and prices approached all-time highs. This trend continued, driving the need for greater container density and reduced shipping costs.
The manufacturer knew that proactive action was necessary to address current issues and forestall unforeseen consequences. The packaging system for the new generation of machines presented the ideal opportunity to achieve all these goals.
Tackling the issues with one coherent system
To start the project, NTT DATA audited and mapped the anticipated supply chain of the new machines and the return of the older, to-be-refurbished products.
The pandemic complicated matters as lockdowns meant that onsite visits — for supply chain mapping, direct inspections of packaging, shipment facilities and other evaluations — weren’t an option. Instead, a revised mapping process allowed the isolation of hazards and opportunities throughout the supply chain.
Initial designs were developed in SOLIDWORKS and prototypes were assembled at NTT DATA’s packaging development center. Pre-qualification tests in the packaging lab found a need for an additional packaging component to stabilize the product during impacts. The protective packaging was custom designed, allowing for a standardized configuration that could adequately protect older machines during the return process.
A final round of testing followed, using materials obtained from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) packaging suppliers. No issues were found, and the design moved into the production phase. Assembly documentation was developed, and international alignment meetings were held to explain the straightforward assembly process.
Due to the need for greater shipping density and the dimensional limitations of sea containers, the size of the product and standard pallet sizes, the team optimized the final packaging to suit a pinwheel four-pack on a 45×45 pallet design.
Initial container deliveries arrived two months later than anticipated. Despite delays and exposure to in-transit forces, all packaging and products arrived undamaged.
The project’s achievements exceeded all expectations in waste reduction, cost savings and product damage control.
About the case study
A medical device provider uses packaging optimization to improve product protection and reduce packing materials.