Eastman helps Clemson University cultivate next-gen medical packaging engineers

Students in the Package Design and Development program at Clemson University in South Carolina learn to think inside the box. Specifically, a select group of seniors recently did a deep dive into the materials, processes and regulatory parameters that are part and parcel of designing and manufacturing medical packaging. And they applied those skills with expert guidance from Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN) and partner companies Remington Medical, a supplier of disposable medical devices, and thermoformer Tek Pak.

Eastman Clemson University project
Left to right: Kelly Doyle of Tek Pak and Haston Timmons from Remington Medical flank Clemson University seniors Greg Herran, Jackson Schickel, Morgan McClellan and Matthew Gajoch. They are flanked by Aneta Clark and Wes Peer of Eastman Chemical.

In the Package Design and Development program’s signature capstone course, a group of seniors is challenged to apply all they have learned learned during their time at Clemson—packaging design, material selection, prototyping, specifications and so forth—to a single project. It’s a rigorous learning experience that happens within the halls of academe but is informed by real-world manufacturing and marketing dynamics.

Clemson Associate Professor Robert M. Kimmel described the objectives of the capstone course to sister brand MD+DI recently. “The course provides our students the opportunity to work in a small team [of four to five students] with an industry sponsor on a specific project within the context of learning a systematic approach to managing and documenting a packaging system development project. All packaging science undergraduates take at least three design courses. All of that training gets used in the capstone course.”

Medical device packaging has not been a huge part of the program historically, but that’s changing, writes MD+DI Editor Daphne Allen in her article, “Forming Medtech’s Next Generations of Packaging Engineers.” Of the more than 150 projects Kimmel has mentored over the past 15 years, only five have involved medical products, writes Allen. However, students began expressing an interest in healthcare packaging, and some of them were finding employment opportunities in that industry, Kimmel told Allen. Serendipitously, Aneta Clark, Global Market Segment Manager, Specialty Plastics–Medical Packaging, heard about the program and reached out to the university to explore collaborative opportunities. It all came together for the 2017 fall semester, when the students were tasked with designing and prototyping rigid packaging for various sizes of hip implants with a little help from their new friends at Eastman.

The students began by conducting ethnographic research at a local hospital and then moved into the ideation phase, keeping in mind requirements for sterilization, shelf-life requirements, shipping and distribution.

In addition to its polymers and industry expertise, Eastman provided funding for the program.

“The students had fun, but they definitely felt challenged,” Clark told PlasticsToday. “The project put them in a very different place than what they were used to.” The same could be said of Eastman, which also found the exercise to be a learning experience. The first iteration of the sponsored project “was just us interacting with the students, and we learned that it would be helpful to have some partners. It would help students, as well, to see the project through the lens of a thermoformer, for example, or even an OEM,” said Clark.

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