Experts Discuss New ‘Normal’

Editor’s note: This is the second of two columns that examines the impact of the pandemic on the sterilization sector.

In this second installment of a two-part series, we continue our conversation with representatives from the Sterilization Packaging Manufacturers Council’s

(SPMC®) member companies regarding the pandemic’s impact on their client collaborations and interactions. Members also share what “normal” might mean for sterile packaging manufacturers in a post-COVID world.

Looking back to the onset of the pandemic, sterile packaging manufacturers were in the thick of it, responding to COVID’s immediate and unrelenting impact on the health care industry.

“There were unprecedented demand spikes for the more critical components required to support COVID-19 patients’ needs,” says Dwane Hahn, chief strategy officer and vice president of sales and marketing at PAXXUS, Inc.

During those first few months, every day brought new challenges. Orders were rapidly changing; production was tempered by new safety protocols; and projections were clouded by uncertainty. Nonetheless, the industry kept pushing ahead.

“Corporations, regulatory agencies, and health care leaders banded together to quickly approve package concepts,” Hahn adds.

Adapt and Overcome

“We had to establish both a mindset and an operating routine of ‘adapt and overcome,’” says Jay Virgil, vice president of sales and marketing at Technipaq, Inc.

“There were unprecedented demand spikes

for the more critical components required

to support COVID-19 patients’ needs.”

Dwane Hahn, PAXXUS, Inc.

Adapting to the abrupt cancellation of in-person customer meetings meant the temporary halt of other projects that were in the pipeline. “Many new programs were slowed down due to the difficulty of not being able to collaborate effectively in person,” Hahn explains.

The sales process that companies relied on to grow their businesses was impacted initially.

“It quickly became very difficult to contact the appropriate personnel and nearly impossible to schedule introductory meetings with prospective customers,” says John Pearce, president at SteriPax.

Technology Prevails

Thankfully, online meeting platforms allowed companies to overcome many of these difficulties.

“Although full, in-person collaboration has not returned to normal, virtual meetings have now become

the norm, with many platforms offering screen sharing and whiteboards that have helped teams move projects forward,” says Don Alip, director of product excellence, health care at Amcor Flexibles.

Many industry leaders believe these online tools enhanced communication within their own companies, as well as with customers and suppliers. 

“We’ve learned en masse to use virtual collaboration tools,” says Amy Stewart, product development manager at Printpack Medical. “We’ve had wider audiences participate (unencumbered by travel budgets) in the packaging

innovation events, resulting in richer discussions. Combined with this new mode of working remotely, managing change has become easier.”

Pearce predicts this reliance on virtual meetings will continue into the foreseeable future. “I see person-to-person contact remaining minimal,” he says. “Project completion without meeting the customer in person might happen more often than not.”

The New Normal

As the group members reflect on what normal might look like in the coming months, they grow more philosophical. The pandemic taught everyone that a full return to the way things were can be elusive. “‘Normal’ is unfortunately still a bit subjective, so we need to continue to find ways to be flexible and innovative with a strong will to problem solve,” Virgil says.

For Stewart, Socrates comes to mind. “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new,” she says.

For sterile packaging manufacturers, this surely is a fitting mantra.  

Lourdes Pogue is a marketing consultant at C5 Communications in Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at