Packages representing significant technical accomplishments in the medical or surgical fields are always among the winners in the Flexible Packaging Assn.'s annual awards competition. This year is no exception. Medical/surgical winners include a multilayer bag for intravenous solutions a pressure-formed foil-based package for a catheter cap and a flexible package that replaces a rigid tray for surgical devices. (For coverage of other FPA award winners please see p. 30 and p. 78.) The rigid tray replacement so impressed FPA judges with its environmental benefits they honored it with the fifth annual Green Globe Award for environmental achievement. Winning the prestigious award was Rexam Medical Packaging (Vernon Hills IL) for a pouch produced for Cincinnati-based Ethicon Endo-Surgery Inc. a division of Johnson & Johnson. Ethicon began using the pouch last October for about 30 different devices including its Endopath® surgical trocar and Proximate® skin staple extractor (1). Ethicon ships these devices worldwide either through distributors or directly to hospitals. The devices are sold in a thermoformed/filled/sealed pack in 3"x6" or 3"x10 1/2" configurations. Each unit is then packed in a paperboard shelf carton. Cartons go in corrugated shippers that are sterilized by radiation before shipping. The forming web for the new package is Integra® Form C film supplied by Rexam. The 12-mil three-layer coextrusion consists of ethylene vinyl acetate/ionomer/EVA. Lidstock is a coated 1073B Tyvek® from DuPont (Wilmington DE). The two materials are united on two new customized Mahaffy & Harder Engineering (Fairfield NJ) tf/f/s machines. During the process a male plug descends into the heated web of film. Below the film is a flat aluminum plate. Vacuum is drawn from above the film pulling the film up and around the male plug which is manufactured to precision tolerances for each of Ethicon's products. The film takes on the shape of the male tool. By using these custom male plugs Ethicon can perform changeovers much more quickly than it could if female cavities had to be exchanged. After forming the products are placed in the cavities and sealing follows. This is done four-up across the 12 1/4"-wide film web. Ethicon had used a 35-mil premade rigid tray before making the change to the film structure. "We wanted to reduce the amount of packaging waste" says Peter Herrmann a staff engineer for Ethicon. Herrmann who works at the company's Albuquerque NM plant where packaging is done confirms Rexam's claim that the switch to the flexible structure saves approximately 80% by weight with as much as 350 lb/yr of material that no longer needs to be landfilled. "We wanted to reduce our costs and provide packaging that was more appropriate for our products. The impact on our company from the switch has been phenomenal" Herrmann says. "There are significant savings both in material and labor costs compared to using the trays." With trays operators hand-filled the surgical devices then placed die-cut lids on top using a shuttle-type sealing machine to seal lids to the filled tray. By using flexible film rather than rigid trays Ethicon's customers also benefit. "Hospitals often have to discard this packaging as medical waste" Herrmann tells PW. "That's very expensive for them to handle. I've heard of hospitals spending in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for medical waste disposal. With film the reduction in weight provides them with a significant financial benefit. "We've received a very positive customer feedback to this package" he adds "though it would be difficult for us to attribute additional sales to the package change at this time." Beyond the obvious cost savings the switch to the film is a source of pride to Herrmann. "If you look at the packaging for other industries particularly for consumer products it has changed quite a bit. Soda bottles for example have been lightweighted to use less material. "However in the area of medical devices" he contends "packaging has been a little staid. If you took a package from 10 years ago and compared it to one today you'd see little or no difference. It's a little unusual for surgical devices like these to be packaged in a flexible film material. It gives our products a point of differentiation."