For years, Boston Scientific Corp. (BSC) has employed closure strips on its shelf cartons, allowing the medical device manufacturer and other stakeholders to identify which items could be restocked for later reuse. (Restocking is a common occurrence in the industry, often the result of customer over-ordering.)
After receiving user complaints related to its existing closure strips, BSC began searching for a better design. Amie Marshall, Packaging Engineer II, assembled and led a cross-functional team to develop a new and improved design—one that ultimately resulted in significant savings for BSC. Led by Marshall, BSC’s Interventional Cardiology and Peripheral Interventions (IC/PI) Packaging Engineering Sustaining team worked closely with AWT Labels & Packaging, resulting in the new Tear Tab Closure Strip, which was recognized with a 2014 AmeriStar Award from the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Marshall was also a finalist in the 2014 Visionary Awards' Development & Design Category, a program organized by Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News and Packaging Digest.
BSC’s original closure strips required great care in the packaging process to ensure the strip was correctly aligned. The original design also required users to initiate a tear by sliding their fingers into the carton opening and then across the closure strip. “We were getting complaints about the closure strips being challenging to apply, align, and remove, so we wanted to design something different,” explains Marshall.
In February 2012, Marshall assembled a six-person team to develop the next generation of BSC closure strips. Consisting of colleagues from across regulatory affairs, manufacturing, marketing, and sourcing, the team conducted extensive “voice of customer” studies. In the end, the new design needed to allow users, whether healthcare practitioners or internal employees, to answer the question, “Is this product as manufactured?”
The solution needed to be “invisible to customers until it was time to open the carton,” Marshall adds. It also needed to be obvious to inventory managers that the carton would be OK to restock,” she says.
BSC also wanted to use the same materials and adhesives that were used in the existing closures in order “to avoid having to redo material qualifications,” explains Marshall. “So we focused on the shape. We changed the orientation and focused on label application, including manual application. After coming up with eight or nine permutations, we then narrowed the options to two or three Tear Tab designs.”
Throughout the whole development and manufacturing process, Marshall and her team worked closely with Dave Olson, vice president, technical sales for AWT, and his team. “The term ‘partnering’ is often just business jargon, but in this case, we did,” says Marshall. “I couldn’t imagine a better company to work with, and it was critical to have someone there to understand our concerns about how to make our customers’ jobs easier — and our ‘customer’ could be our manufacturing colleagues, users pulling products off the shelf, or distribution center personnel.”
AWT used magnetic tooling to produce prototypes for testing. The approach involves the use of a magnetic cylinder with a thin steel die, and a magnet holding the die in place. “It is great for small runs and prototypes,” says Olson.
Adds Marshall: “AWT is right next door, and that gave us the flexibility to be able to see their processes and understand them. It was critical.”
With the prototypes in hand, BSC then “sent samples to our sales staff and customers,” reports Marshall. “We also tested them in BSC’s User Experience Research Lab (UERL), which serves as a mock catheter lab initiated and developed by Ross Christianson, Senior Packaging Engineer. The UERL allows users to interact with our products, allowing marketing, packaging, R&D, and other professionals to identify customer needs. (Christianson was also a finalist in the 2014 Visionary Awards.) “We tied the two projects together and came up with 120 data points from customers,” explains Marshall.
Olson says that such effort demonstrates Boston Scientific’s appreciation for the “voice of the customer.”
“They wanted to do more than just fix the design and follow competitor designs,” he says, “some of which consist of a circle that needs to be opened with a thumb or a scalpel.”
BSC settled on a design featuring an anchored tab that enables one-handed opening, says Marshall. As users tear the tab, it pulls the carton tuck flap out for easier carton opening, she says. The design also features side notches to guide application during packaging, and it allows for more variability in placement.
“What once was a business tool allowing us to simply restock items has become a tool that provides benefit to the user,” she says. “This design sets us apart from our competitors.”
The new Tear Tab was subjected to BSC’s typical internal component verification process, including design validation.
The Tear Tab can be used on about 90% of BSC’s products, and it will eventually replace existing closure strips. While the design was driven by the IC/PI team to satisfy concerns specific to that division’s products, Marshall says that all divisions within the company, such as urology and women’s health, are also using the design in their product lines.
By Daphne Allen