Minnesota Medical Packaging Facility Tour: See Thermoforming in Action

It was a goal of ours to welcome more people in to our facility to showcase some of the enhancements we’ve made the past few years. But, 2020 had other plans for us, so we thought we'd provide a virtual version to give you a safe, albeit fragmented, tour of our medical packaging facility. 

Located in Otsego, Minnesota, just northwest of the Twin Cities, is our 60,000 thousand square foot production facility. Here our operations prioritize medical packaging, with two Class 8 clean rooms and a certified quality managment system.

T.O. Plastics Quality Management System is certifed to ISO 13485:2016 and ISO 9001:2015 by Smithers Quality Assessments.  

Enjoy the tour!
Note: most tour videos below are sped up for brevity.

Class 8 Clean Room #1: 3,700 sq ft

In our first clean room, and first up in this video, is a Kiefel KMD-90. This is our flagship machine; it's an in-line thermoformer. As its name suggests, in-line thermoforming is completed in one continuous line. Raw material is fed into the machine on one end of the line, and finished products exit at the opposing end.

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So, here we start by heating the material in the forming station. The next order of operation is the trimming station, which you can get a glimpse of behind the monitor. This is primarily a steel rule die trim, offering flexibility and quick change overs for econonomical medium and short run products. Lastly is the stacker assembly at the end of the conveyor. Here the machine can individually place parts or create stacks, depending on packaging requirements, which makes product handling quicker and safer.

Every product produced in the clean rooms are double bagged, which you'll see here. This is for safe transfer into a secondary clean room environment. 

Lastly, in the video you'll see a smaller thermoformer at the opposite end of this first clean room. Our product packer is conducting an interweave packaging process at the end of this thermoforming operation; this is a common packaging requirement, where we place a foam or plastic sheet in between each part to protect from scratching (this is common for parts that easily nest together due to their design). 

Class 8 Clean Room #2: 1,600 sq ft

In this clean room we have two cut-sheet thermoformers: one large footprint and one small. Both follow the same order of operation, where a sheet of plastic is manually inserted into the thermoformer, heated up, and then formed. That formed plastic is then removed from the thermoformer and brought to a separate, manual trim station where it is cut to size. The cut sheet processes give us the ability to run low volumes without a large tooling cost, as well as medium volumes at at economical price point. 

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The larger machine is used in a lot of catether manufacturing. This particular machine is capabable of an incredibly deep draw. The smaller machine is dedicated to running products smaller in size and depth.

Quality Inspection

Here's a brief walk through of one of our quality inspection areas. We use a number of hand tools to conduct first article inspections as well as in-process checks of all products we manufacture; here you'll get to see two of those tools.

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The first is a MagnaMike, which measures thickness via magnetic technology, and is especially useful on intricately designed products.

Second, you'll see one of two coordinate measuring machines we have on hand. This non-contact (or optical) measurement is extremely useful for thin, flexible parts.

General Manufacturing

In this section of the tour, you'll see two separate in-line thermoformers, set up for unique manufacturing efficiencies and production requirements.

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The first thermoformer is a Brown (in brand and in color); and just like the Kiefel KMD 90, the material is fed into the machine on a roll and enters first into the oven, which is the section just behind those electrical panels you'll see in the video. Here we heat the plastic up to a temperature where is can be formed appropriately. Then the material heads into the forming station, which is semi-visible through the glass windows. This particular machine has a trim station in-line, which is not in use in this video but does gives us the ability to do a steel rule die trim when necessary. Otherwise, as you see with the product currently running through the machine, there is also a trim press option extended off to the right that uses a match metal die. Now, match metal dies are more expensive than a steel rule, but they are worth the investment for large volume production to gain extreme precision and efficiency. Finally, the last operation you'll see is the finished parts packaging, which are stacked as they exit the machine and then placed into boxes. 

The second, smaller thermoformer you'll see is currently set up to only perform the thermoforming in-line; once heated and formed, the product moves to an offline trimming station. This configuration provides the efficiency of in-line thermoforming, while keeping the tool price and set up time down. The trade-off is the manual handling required to complete the trimming.

Grinding

An extremely high percentage of our scrap is reground (pulverized into small, lightweight flakes). Regrinding serves multiple purposes - but two of the most important are (1) that it significantly reduces the amount of space required to store scrap material, and (2) prepares it for future processing. For example, much of our regrind moves into our internal extrusion department where it is made into new material for thermoforming.

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You'll see at the beginning of this video that we've outfitted our building with internal conveyers to move scrap directly from the point of production to our grinders - making this an in-line process as well. 

Warehouse

We have a robust inventory control system in place to track all the storage that takes place in our 54,000 square foot warehouse. We house customer- and T.O. Plastics'- owned tools, raw materials, and finished goods.

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In some instances we produce to order, so the full order quantity is shipped out immediately following production; in other situations, we store finished goods inventory for our customers, and ship requested quanitites as they are needed. 


If you are interested in learning more, or scheduling a tour of our facility, please reach out. Please note that during the pandemic we are following state and health department guidelines to operate safely. Tours are assessed on a case-by-case basis; but if we cannot welcome you in-person, we'd be happy to facilitate a more comprehensive, private virtual tour.

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