RK Print Coat
Putting up barriers – protective packaging in times of corona

25.03.2020 Packaging for medical devices, for diagnostic equipment and for pharmaceuticals and para-pharmaceuticals may not be on the short list when it comes to handing out prizes and winning awards for looks. When it comes to glamour, cosmetic, confectionery and products destined for the FMCG sector and the luxury end of the consumer market will always win out with complex graphics, colour and marketing messages that differentiates one mass market product from another.

The coronavirus pandemic highlights the importance of suitable pharmaceutical packaging.
© Photo: @pasja1000 – pixabay.com
The coronavirus pandemic highlights the importance of suitable pharmaceutical packaging.

Looks of course are important but they are not everything. Given the impact of Covid-19 and shortage of many products on supermarket shelves looks are less of a concern at the moment, especially for companies supplying medical services. Functionality, keeping people safe and protecting product contents is top of the agenda.

Compliance, sterility and communication

Producers of packaging for medical items, disposables and associated goods have always tried to achieve a balance. They must deliver a product that encourages compliance; communicates effectively, addresses issues associated with sterility and ensures that the integrity of the package and item contained is maintained until opened, applied or taken. The package must protect the product from product compromisers, such as microbial growth: bacteria, yeasts, moulds, viruses and from the ingress/egress of gases, moisture, liquids, temperature fluctuations and from environmental spoilers, including light. For example, with chemotherapy formulations that are given intravenously the pack must shield contents against the damaging effect of light and UV light/energy. Flexible packs such as pouches and bags offer many advantages, they are of low weight, require less storage space and can be provided with appropriate grips and handles that enable them to be supported and hung on dispensing devices at a bedside in a hospital or care environment. In many instances these flexible structures are made from multi-web materials, extruded or custom-laminated.   

The need to see what is in the bag or pouch, how much of a liquid such as polar or a non-polar fluid remains may be critical; for these reasons pack clarity may be necessary. Where pack clarity is a requirement: options abound for both conformable and non-conformable packs with coating and laminating converting processes playing an important role. Non- conforming clear barrier webs may incorporate various barrier coatings that are combined in with bi-axially oriented polyester (OPET), a material that provides for high tensile strength, clarity, thermal stability and chemical resistance. SiOx, the silicone coatings and aluminium oxide coatings; polyvinylidene chloride or PvdC and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) may be chosen but many others, such as aliphatic polyketones (a possible alternative to EVOH?) may be up for consideration.

Facing the challenges

Packaging technologists, manufacturers and suppliers for these demanding sectors face many challenges. They need to ensure that products are fit for purpose. No one operating in these sectors, medical device/disposables, pharma and in areas of critical care can afford to make mistakes. Product/material and consumables such as the adhesives used to seal products/laminates must be evaluated, trialled and assessed over time, pilot coating/laminating systems and proven in the field systems for coating under production conditions are essential. 

RK Print Coat Instruments’ VCM coater is being used at this present time in a number of areas of industry including medical diagnostics, medical dressings and for latent imaging purposes. Each VCM supplied has been purpose-designed and built for pilot or production purposes under conditions of close commercial security and to exacting standards.

The VCM is optimised to the specific requirements of each process and incorporates high specification drives, tension and web control equipment.  The heavier structural nature of the system enables wider and heavier substrates to be processed while allowing for considerable flexibility should the customer need to expand or modify the system at a later stage.  This is a flagship system for customers with known needs.

A companion system, the narrow/medium web width VCML-Lab/Pilot Coater can print, coat, laminate on all types of flexible substrates including: paper, film and metallic foils on a reel to reel basis. The VCML-Lab/Pilot Coater can be used to for trialling, product development purposes and for determining the suitability of different coating techniques, methods of drying/curing and much more. It can also undertake small-scale production of difficult substrates, etc.,  which makes for a system worthy of consideration when processes needed to be decided upon for reason of commercial and product viability.

Written by Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments