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Preparing medical devices for the extremes in transport and use

Daphne Allen

January 5, 2016

4 Min Read
Preparing medical devices for the extremes in transport and use


Medical device manufacturers spend a lot of time ensuring their packaging can survive the worst case scenario. But what if that worst case is the battlefield?

At this year’s Healthcare Packaging Immersion Experience, organized by Michigan State University’s School of Packaging, featured speaker Kevin D. Smith will explore in “Beans, Band Aids, Bullets” the extremes of delivering supplies to combat zones.

Kevin D. Smith, Logistics Management Specialist at Headquarters Marine Corps, Installations & Logistics Department

Having served in the United States Marine Corps for 29 years, Smith is currently a Logistics Management Specialist at Headquarters Marine Corps, Installations & Logistics Department, as well as a Master Gunnery Sergeant (retired) and Military Packaging Professional. 

“Our most precious asset is our war fighter,” explains Smith. “Everything must reach the war fighter safely, especially medical treatment supplies. We need to ensure that equipment has a useful service life meeting the requirements of the war fighter. We serve the needs of a surgical unit in Afghanistan, for instance, so supplies must be in a 'state of readiness' for immediate use."

Smith has an impressive background, having earned a Master of Science in Administration from the Central Michigan University and then his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at the University of San Diego. He also accomplished his Marine Corps Logistics, Supply Chain Management certification at Penn State University. 

He has received a number of decorations and awards, such as several Department of Defense (DOD) Packaging Achievement Awards as well as the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal.

He once supervised all packaging and distribution operations in the Western Al Anbar province of Iraq, valued at over $550 million.

In his current role, Smith establishes cradle-to-grave logistics chain initiatives for supplying distributed land forces from a sea base, focusing on structure, sustainment, packaging, handling, and distribution.

Smith is currently on the Board of Directors for the National Institute of Packaging, Handling, and Logistics Engineers (NIPHLE), having served as president of the association from 2010 to 2012 and a member of the Packaging Advisory Board at Cal Poly State University.

Smith points out a number of challenges in delivering supplies to combat zones below, and he believes packaging can help:

  • Territorial borders, weather, and terrain prevent the simplicity sought to employ standardized procedures.

  • The majority of the roads are unsuitable for cross-country movement, and its poor roads are characterized by steep grades, sharp curves, and elevation.

  • Unpredictable weather conditions delay flights of resupply aircraft.

  • Vulnerable to enemy attack.

As a result, products for the “DOD system” must be packaged to survive “multiple modes of transportation, rough handling, and austere environments,” Smith says.

Systems such as bar coding and RFID are used for “tracking assets as they leave the medical logistics warehouse as well as how they perform during transit.” In addition, “labeling must be accurate and legible,” he says, and any steps taken to improve readability in “low-light conditions” would be appreciated.

“Robust is best, because products need to endure different distribution channels,” says Smith, so there is a preference toward “rigid packaging.” But not unlike the rest of the supply chain, the U.S. Marine Corps is looking for savings, too, so Smith says that efforts to optimize packaging are appreciated.

“We are looking for savings in reducing our logistics footprint, such as how we can minimize the amount of cubic space required for distribution, short and long term storage.

"But we also want the best product for the best price, and we do not want to sacrifice quality,” he says.

While barrier packaging isn’t an unusual choice for medical devices these days, “barrier” takes on a whole new meaning in combat zones. “Packaging must be designed to protect against any contaminants, and in Iraq, that includes sand storms,” he says.

Smith also emphasizes the need for versatile, user-friendly packaging. “Surgeons in combat zones are dealing with conditions unlike those in the United States,” he says. “Products are thousands of miles away in austere environments, and when they reach end-users, they must be able to function immediately. Delay is not an option. Products must perform the way they are intended.”

Even the military faces counterfeiting and tampering threats, so Smith says that any technologies that can be added to ensure authenticity would be appreciated. “Counterfeit products pose a danger to war fighters,” he says.

Smith also explains that “unmanned aerial systems are being used to carry cargo to remote sites. The use of the cargo-carrying-capable unmanned aerial vehicles has reduced cost significantly as compared with manned vehicles or manned cargo aircraft. It has also reduced exposing manned vehicle convoys and cargo aircraft to enemy ground fire.”

At HCPIE, Smith will explore the product’s journey from the warehouse to the war fighter, sharing photos and videos of land, air, and sea transport. He also plans to share how “appreciative” he is of what the medical device industry does to support such a journey. “Injured war fighters need sterile products immediately, and products are packaged for the worst case scenarios,” he says.

While the combat zone may not be exactly the environment you think of when it comes to worst-case use, packaging your products to meet such needs may well serve those in today’s fast-paced, stress-filled emergency departments and operating rooms. For more details on the Healthcare Packaging Immersion Experience held October 2-3, 2013, visithttps://www.msu.edu/~hcpie/index.html.

--Daphne Allen



About the Author(s)

Daphne Allen

Daphne Allen is editor-in-chief of Design News. She previously served as editor-in-chief of MD+DI and of Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News and also served as an editor for Packaging Digest. Daphne has covered design, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and regulatory issues for more than 25 years.  Follow her on Twitter at @daphneallen and reach her at [email protected].

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