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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Leading the Pack

Driven by consumer trends, regulatory interest and security concerns, packaging is adapting – and with new materials and techniques on offer, the sector has high expectations for the next phase in its development

Andrew Revel from the packaging and innovation consultancy Faraday recently commented on how the consumer will interact with packaging in the near future: “Packaging will talk to us, provide us with information on its storage and tell us when it is the best time to eat or use the product. The drivers for developing unique consumer experiences are very strong and, in most cases, the technology to deliver these changes is already here or just around the corner.”

Pharmaceutical packaging has many functions to perform, including information conveyance, aiding patient compliance and product protection. Increasingly, however, the value of packaging in brand identification and protection via anti-counterfeiting technologies is being realised. The application of new techniques and technologies could aid this functionality, and also enhance the consumer experience and empathy with a brand.

Over-the-counter packs need to provide a strong consumer connection, and the first point in the process is the visual impact of a product. This is also becoming more relevant to ethical drugs as consumer choice increases. Growing competition is driving innovation and the introduction of new print finishes, and effects to create packaging that is eye-catching is growing. This can involve everything from complex print through to the use of specialist holographic lens board, metallised board or adding a micro embossed finish to a pack or label’s varnish. Several large brands have recently used these techniques to support the premium image of highvalue over-the-counter products such as toothpastes and vitamins. This has given the packs a 3D quality which provides the impression of depth and movement and helps to make a point of difference in a crowded marketplace.

New materials such as mouldable cartonboard will provide new ways of providing further pack differentiation. The board, providing a truly 3D quality to any pack, is formed by using a specialist low energy process which makes it possible to form a paperboard material into a complete range of distinctive shapes. This exciting development can help to promote and complement a brand – from tactile profile lines to replicating the distinctive shape of a bottle or jar. The material can be formed to a depth of 2-4mm which, compared to standard embossing of less than 1mm, certainly gets noticed. The depth of the embossed feature can also be achieved using standard carton conversion equipment. The result is a strong visual and tactile effect that demands consumer attention. It also has the added advantage that the material is a more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging.

Consumer Power

Consumer trends are also shaping and driving pack-related innovations. During the last few years there has been a general move to retro styles, reflecting a wave of nostalgia that has seen a surge in demand for mid-20th-century style homewares, vintage clothing and books. It seems that quality is associated with things of the past so, as well as colour and design for packaging, textures have also been important. This has seen cartons incorporate print finishes and effects that include techniques providing tactile qualities such as ‘soft-touch’ varnishes or inline reticulation processes that add prominent varnish lines.

Natural aesthetics, which have been on trend for a while, have been reflected in an unprocessed look. Uncoated cartonboards with a natural uneven finish or cartons subtlely enhanced with micro-embossing have been favourites. Micro-embossing combined with varnish techniques have been developed to produce the effects that mimic nature, such as leather, stone, feathers or snakeskin.

The type of future interactive packaging alluded to above is likely to come from developments in printed electronics. Many brand owners are exploring this technology, but market adoption has, so far, been limited. In the healthcare sector, adoption of new technology needs to be tempered by the ease of application, patient understanding and the need to always provide a fail safe and, of course, cost. Developments will come though. A printed carton containing conductive tracks linked to a product blister and integral electronics module is already possible. This will allow a pack to play a pre-recorded message that can highlight a product’s details, dosage requirements, or record the exact time when the blister pack was opened.

The adoption of such technology is likely to need a strong proof of use platform to progress, and this is one area where the link between the food and drink and healthcare sectors is strong. Many new packaging technologies that are being adopted by the FMCG sector can then be applied to healthcare. Printable barrier coatings are now being developed that can protect a product from external compounds that can migrate through the packaging, as well as environmental-related conditions such as moisture. In order to meet the ever increasing legislative and regulatory requirements of the pharma sector, there is a strong focus and desire for guidance on extractable and leachable compounds. These new barrier coatings are being developed with an eye to the future and an aim of optimising sustainability. Where possible, they will incorporate non-petrochemical renewable substances, thereby reducing the amount of plastic needed to facilitate this barrier.

Safety and Accessibility

Security features can easily be added, such as tamper evident closures and designs to make cartons child-proof. European legislation has recently dictated the application of product information in the form of Braille for an increasing range of healthcare products. Cartons provide the ideal substrate for Braille embossing – dots can be precisely placed at speed on any or all of the carton’s faces improving patient safety.

Innovation is also taking place in print technology, with digital beginning to assert its presence. Already well-established for the production of self-adhesive labels, digital technology is now becoming commercially viable for folding carton production. This has required a new approach and operational set up, but it will be ideal for small order quantities and short lead-time products. The digital route also has the potential to offer reduced inventory and write offs. Currently there is limited interest in using this technology for personalisation, promotional activity or date/batch code application due to the additional stock-keeping management this would require. However, the application of the technology is expected to expand into new areas in the coming years.

Brand owners and retailers are adopting new technologies and approaches to maximise the efficient use of their products and to enhance the emotional experience their consumers get from the product. Developments in these technologies will impact on everyday products to engage with all the senses.

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Carol Hammond, an Applied Chemist by training, entered the packaging sector through a role in plastics. Several other manufacturing-based roles followed with a technical focus in both the plastics and paperboard sectors covering quality, product development and packaging design. Currently, Carol is Head of R&D for Chesapeake – a role which has two objectives: developing new materials and processes, and adapting and broadening the application of existing processes and materials. She is responsible for a small team of science and engineering experts focused on packaging improvement and development to enhance consumer experience and add value to the packaging and product. 
Carol Hammond
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