Designing Products with a Sharp Eye on Safety and Sustainability

Dec 11, 2019

By Katie Schur, Corporate Communications


When we develop life-changing medical technologies, details matter. Thoughtful design and engineering are integral in every step of the process—including packaging. Tim Mlsna, R&D Director who leads the global Packaging Council at Boston Scientific, explains his role and why it’s an exciting time to be a packaging engineer.


Mlsna, a Boston Scientific employee for over 27 years, leads a team that designs packaging and labeling for over 13,000 medical solutions. “We are responsible for considering the unique requirements for each product type and the needs of the healthcare professionals who use it, all while minimizing our environmental footprint,” says Mlsna.


Packaging is a complex process that factors in product protection, product size, usability, color, labeling and even temperature. Products such as LOTUS EdgeTM Valve System SPACEOARTM Hydrogel and certain drug-eluting stents must be shipped and stored under specific environmental conditions. “Quality and safety are critically important,” says Mlsna. “Seconds make a difference when a patient is hospitalized with chest pain and other cardiac symptoms. Nurses and technicians must be able to select the right product and size quickly. We’ve conducted studies to determine which colors and package designs are easiest to recognize on hospital shelves. That’s one of the key reasons that packaging for the SYNERGYTM Bioabsorbable Polymer Stent, and other products, have the colors they do.”   


The Boston Scientific Packaging Council brings packaging managers together from different sites and business units to share best practices in developing, testing and verifying package design and performance. The council also considers the impact of packaging for the planet. “For the last several years, we’ve had a strong focus on building packaging solutions for environmental sustainability. We’re innovating to create packaging with new, environmentally friendly materials, and we’re reducing waste by designing for the smallest footprint possible. Boston Scientific is working with key suppliers on sustainability programs, and we’re making huge strides in this effort,” says Mlsna.


In Neuromodulation, a project team consolidated trays in the packaging of implantable pulse generators, preventing over 24,700 pounds of waste from reaching landfills. In Electrophysiology, another team redesigned a 58-inch catheter tray into a two-piece part and found a way to source the components near our Costa Rica manufacturing facility, eliminating the shipment of over 47 pallets annually. “Across all divisions,” says Mlsna, “we’re finding new opportunities to reduce or recycle and make sustainable changes, while still delivering continued performance and quality.”


The council’s efforts are paying off. “In 2018,” Mlsna explains, “Boston Scientific eliminated over 120 tons of packaging waste from being dumped in landfills, and we estimate reducing 300 tons by the end of 2019. Last year, our efforts saved 350 acres of forest, and we’re working hard to help save over 750 acres of forest in 2019. In 2018, we also kept 2,500 truck delivery trips off the road, and we’re aiming to double that impact by the end of this year. These are just a few of the ways that we’re making improvements to ensure we reduce our company’s environmental impact.”


So what’s next? The company is focused on moving more aggressively toward electronic labeling (eLabeling) in 2020. Regulations require us to provide Directions for Use (DFUs) with each product, which in many cases is a paper insert.  Due to recent regulatory changes, we continue to define new opportunities for the company to provide electronic DFUs (eDFUs).  “Our customers want us to move in this direction when possible,” Mlsna explains. “We’ve defined a big opportunity for the company in eDFUs.”


eLabeling is a big opportunity for both Boston Scientific and the healthcare industry.  It will give healthcare professionals instant access to a digital resource while making a positive, sustainable impact on our planet. DFUs can be 80 to 100 page documents, shipped with each individual product—that’s a lot of paper that ends up thrown away. “It’s not something that you hear talked about every day, but it’s an exciting time to be a packaging engineer. We are making changes today that will benefit both patients and the environment well into the future.”