Recent developments allow boosting productivity and making medical products more traceable with print-n-pack systems that combine printing, bar coding, and packaging. For instance, relatively new bag-on-a-roll products are a way to streamline packaging operations especially when they involve medical-device kits with components that must be accurately packaged and include traceability. To select the best packaging equipment for your operation, consider these five packaging elements.

Clear or opaque? Will a clear package enhance the product's identification and brand value, or is opacity required for privacy? When marketing devices to medical practitioners or end-use customers, a clear package makes it easier to identify the product. In this case, there are many new clear-plastic bags that are strong, durable, resist tears, protect against static, tell if they've been tampered with, and protect their contents. Improved multi-layer plastic films also offer opaque packaging with the cost-savings and convenience of poly bags. Yes, traditional paper and cardboard packages can also protect contents, but the materials can be more expensive options.

Manual, semi-automatic, or fully-automatic packaging? When product volumes exceed 20 packages/min, consider semi-automatic or fully-automatic load and seal packaging systems. There are many different packaging options available. Simple one-step baggers, for instance, let an operator first hand-load items into a printed, pre-opened bag-on-a-roll before the machine seals the bag. More complex systems include conveyors that bring together products and bags for high-speed hand or auto insertion along with automatic printing and sealing.

Consider a few printing and labeling possibilities. Traditional label printing is being replaced by higher efficiency inline printers that place product information and bar-code-verification data directly onto filled packages. Built-in scanners can verify the bag contents as it is being inserted, print end-use customer information directly on the bag, and then provide traceability back to a network data center. Bags-on-a-roll can be ordered with the low-cost option of being preprinted with one through six-color graphics. Improvements in bag materials and printing have resulted in impressive visual graphics.

Include storage and shipping costs in ROI calculations. Case studies show that bag packaging often has the lowest overall cost because bags cost least to ship and they store in little space. For example, 5,000 bags on a roll store in a lot less space than 5,000 boxes. Bag packaging is ideal for master packing in which multiple bags go into a larger carrier bag.

In addition, many new poly-bag materials are intended for mail-order fulfillment. These have several layers that provide a tough, durable outer layer with good printing characteristics, combined with a smooth, seal-friendly inner layer to protect the contents.

Plan for the future. Packaging has become an innovative area for the medical-device market with opportunities for streamlining operations. Technology continues to yield better plastic-bag materials along with machines for improved printing and packaging.