Ideal Foams for Shipping Medical Devices

Shipping healthcare products must be an exact science. Whether you are sending life-saving pharmaceuticals that need to be kept at precise temperature ranges, fragile or static-sensitive medical devices, or bulky equipment, choosing the right foam packaging materials is critical. The right foam packaging can help reduce shipping costs and reduce breakage.  

Selecting the proper medical–grade packaging material requires significant knowledge of each foam’s properties, including: 

  • Density 
  • Porosity 
  • Durability 
  • Compressive characteristics 
  • Microbial resistance 
  • Anti-static properties 

Each application has it’s own requirements but there are some general foams that are ideal for specific categories of healthcare products. 

Packaging Foams for Temperature-Sensitive Products

Cold chain shipping requires adherence to specific temperature ranges in order to prevent medical products, typically things like pharmaceuticals, from spoiling. While refrigerated vans and trailers can maintain the required temperature ranges the products spend a good amount of time outside of those protective areas and the foam within their packaging provides the most protection from temperature fluctuations. 

Foams with heavy insulating properties are ideal for temperature-sensitive medical products. A common choice is expanded polystyrene foam because:

  1. It’s one of the best insulating foams on the market.  
  2. Its lightweight, which reduces shipping costs 
  3. It’s structurally rigid, which provides adequate protection 

Other options can include beaded polyethylene foam and cross-linked polyethylene foam. 

Packaging Foam for Sensitive Medical Devices

When shipping small, fragile medical devices, there are other concerns to consider: 

  • Fragility: how delicate the item is 
  • Abrasion: is the item prone to scratches 
  • Vibration: will excessive vibration damage the item 
  • Static sensitivity: will electro-static discharges harm the item 

Polyurethane foams are common choices for smaller, more fragile devices because they offer good cushioning and low abrasion, ensuring that the foam does not scratch the materials they are protecting. These open-cell foams also have high shock absorption and flame resistance (meets UL 94 safety standards) and can be easily fabricated into any shape to provide all-around cushioning for devices. There are two types of polyurethane foam ideal for this application: 

  • Ester-based polyurethane: a more rigid foam that has high durability and tensile strength, but can breakdown if it comes into contact with liquids.
  • Ether-based polyurethane: a more flexible foam that allows for airflow and moisture permeability. It is also softer and easier to manufacture for specific parts. 

For any medical devices that are sensitive to static, make sure to choose an ESD foam that shields against static discharges. 

Foam for Larger, Bulky Devices

When shipping large medical equipment and machinery, it is important to use foam packaging that can withstand heavy loads without too much compression. Shock absorption is critical, as it prevents damage to the devices as well as limits vibrations that can rattle delicate internal components. Ideal foams for heavier applications are closed cell because of their tensile strength and resistance to compression. These types of foam can include various polyethylene foams.  

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