Prent Corporation Press Release
Prent Rapidly Develops Unique Packaging for COVID-19 Test Kits
To help get COVID-19 at-home testing kits on the market very quickly, Prent Thermoforming developed new packaging for the kits in record time. What has traditionally taken several months to design and manufacture healthcare packaging was shortened to just weeks due to the urgency of the pandemic and the universal desire to save lives and get life back to normal.
In December 2020, a major healthcare company introduced a new fast-response, at-home COVID-19 test kit that would increase testing availability to the public in an effort to slow the virus. The company reached out to Prent Corporation with a big request: produce millions of custom plastic tray inserts to hold their kit components, and do it in record time. Prent, a manufacturer of custom plastic thermoformed medical packaging, jumped at the chance to have a positive impact on defeating the pandemic. The key to success was to have multiple departments working simultaneously to avoid any delays in the timeline.
Designing the trays
One day after that request, the design engineer had developed concepts for two different trays: one for kit assemblers using automation and the other for manual kit assembly. Final designs were approved in about 15 days, a process that can typically take up to 10 weeks. Tooling engineers used Prent’s in-house 24/7 automated machining center to produce the molds, cutting down the typical timeline to just 10 days. During the piloting program, the Prent team produced sample trays and conducted characterization studies to ensure they met all requirements.
Meanwhile, Prent worked with its plastic extrusion partner, GOEX, to determine the best plastic material to use. The biggest concern was procuring high resin quantities in a short time period because of a huge industry shortage in resins.
“Our biggest problem was resin supply,” said Michael Pregont, senior VP of operations at GOEX. “Usually medical packaging takes a while to be developed and validated so there is plenty of time to acquire the resins we need based on a demand forecast. We reached out to some of our suppliers to support the high volumes we needed in a very tight timeframe.”
For the clear automation tray, PET was chosen as the best material due to its widespread availability and high clarity. For the white manual tray, opaque high impact polystyrene was chosen because it was highly available, fairly easy to thermoform, and would use 30% less plastic than PET in the same footprint.
Preparing for production
While designs were being finalized, the production manager was preparing for a large demand on the manufacturing floor. Prent designs and builds its own thermoforming equipment so it could build and validate multiple new thermoformers in a new class 8 certified clean room faster than waiting for machines to be available from an OEM, which is often about eight months.
“It was an ‘all hands on deck’ approach,” said Mark Rothlisberger, senior VP of manufacturing at Prent. “Our employees worked overtime and we brought in employees from other facilities to help us install the equipment. Engineers stepped out of their usual roles to put machines together.”
The extra effort paid off. The clean room and its multiple production lines were complete in six weeks, which normally would have taken twice as long.
Over a two-week period, human resources conducted a job fair and the company hired 80 permanent full-time and part-time employees for production, inspection and packing. Soon the lines were running two shifts. There were 8 million trays produced in the first month, with millions more being produced throughout the year.
The trays were packed into one-way totes, which stack higher in semi-truck trailers than traditional skids, so they can ship twice as many trays in a single truckload. The first batch of trays was sent out to assembly sites within 28 days after the initial call with healthcare company, which is three times faster than a standard project.
In the global drive to defeat COVID-19, Prent and GOEX work closely with customers to do their part to ensure the safe and fast delivery of vaccines and test kits to people everywhere.For more information about Prent and its thermoform packaging capabilities, visit Prent.com.