Producing pharmaceutical products for the global market is hugely challenging and complex.

When a drug is set to be sold in multiple countries, it needs to be packaged in a way which accommodates the regulatory requirements and specific artwork demands of each distribution jurisdiction.

The variability in batch sizes and the corresponding impact on packaging line efficiencies is an accepted norm throughout the pharmaceutical industry. Lengthy changeover procedures coupled with small batch sizes have a negative impact on KPI’s designed to track and improve inventory, throughput times, OEE and costs.

Demand volatility is driven by numerous factors, and many businesses struggle with forecast accuracy which often results in the need to overstock and overproduce. Holding vast amounts of pre-printed blister lidding material in inventory is neither efficient nor cost-effective and leads to high levels of waste and a negative impact on profitability and the environment.

Many pharmaceutical companies are looking to digital technology

For batch sizes of 5000 blisters or less, solutions such as Hapa’s BlisterJet, the IMA POD or Mediseal’s LSC allow for blister packs to be produced as brite stock on the blister lines. This removes packaging complexity from the line and allows it to operate with significantly improved levels of operational effectiveness. With blister production decoupled from packaging, the process of customising and supplying product quickly and efficiently is assured. The digital printing system prints the exact number of sealed blank blisters in line with the market demand and the benefits are felt right through the supply chain.

Speaking to Pharmaceutical Technology, Hapa sales and marketing director James MacKenzie gives the example of a drug supplied to 40 different countries in three different strengths. This leads to the need for 120 different variants and thus 120 different locations in inventory. The result is logistical complexity, poor asset utilisation, delivery delays, waste and much more.

Using Digital technology as part of a ‘postponement strategy’ means that SKU proliferation is far easier to manage – neutral blisters are the leanest form of pack. With the complexity removed from the blister line, the utilisation of the assets improves significantly.

Companies can be more eco-friendly with late stage customisation

As well as reducing the number of production lines needed and simplifying the SKU process, late stage customisation drastically reduces the time it takes to get a product to market. The leaner production process leads to increased flexibility and the ability to produce multiple product variants without overcomplicating the production process, cutting down the time and energy it takes to deliver product to the pharmacy/patient.

Also, the positive ecological impact is significant. The process of producing aluminium lidding material is extremely energy intensive with a correspondingly high CO2 emission level. Waste therefore has a both a financial cost and an environmental cost. Late stage customisation eliminates the waste associate with pre-printed foil. Furthermore, the waste created by overproduction and expired product in the supply chain can also be eliminated.

Runners, repeaters and strangers

Still, that’s not to say it’s all bad news for traditional batch production and pre-printed foil. The key to understanding the best approach is directly connected to average batch sizes and coding requirements.

  • Use of pre-printed material is more cost effective when packaging high volumes of product ”runners”
  • Hapa’s range of inline printers can be used to print foils for medium volumes ”repeaters”
  • Postponement provides the perfect solutions to batches under 5000 ”strangers”

MacKenzie says: “Hapa are in a unique position to offer different technologies that cover the complete spectrum of production requirements. Systems such as the Hapa Web 4.0 and BlisterJet can all be used for this purpose.

“With small batch volumes, pre-printed materials are creating a lot of set up waste, high inventory levels, handling and costs. For nano batches, late stage customisation is the best approach.”

Hapa is the leading supplier of inline printing systems for pharmaceutical packaging, with partners utilising their technology across the globe. Since the founding of the organisation in 1933, more than 10,000 of its systems were installed worldwide.