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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Chain Reaction

It is the little things that can make a big difference. This is true in anything we do, yet it is often the smallest of things that we miss or leave out that matter the most. Luckily, I am yet to forget a gift on Valentine's Day, an anniversary or a birthday, although I may now be in trouble for considering these to be 'small' acts.

When considering our activities in the cold chain, it is also, more often than not, the little things that can cause us the biggest of problems. In particular, if you are involved in developing or handling thermal packaging, it is always worth thinking about why you should resist making that small, rash change to save time, simplify a process or reduce cost.

In the last 12 months I have come across a few of these instances, where a seemingly small decision can potentially have a huge, negative impact. Each one has come not from a malicious starting point, but always from one of presumed and, in some cases, proven improvement. Well, proven improvement in one area, at least.

I speak from experience when I say that there is nothing more rewarding than completing the validation study on a thermal package, knowing that you have passed every test and met every expectation, and that you have done so with an efficient design that will not cost a fortune to introduce and use.

That perfect solution will be a conclusion of, in some cases, upwards of hundreds of tests, and each component will have been critically reviewed to ensure its inclusion within the solution was necessary. Additionally, there will be a process report written up regarding its conditioning and handling.

Of course, this development of perfection takes place within the test laboratory. During the briefing and protocol phase, however, the real world environment would have been reviewed and the test environment would have adopted the characteristics of the real one, allowing as close a proximity to reality as possible.

Despite this, I am often surprised to find - sometimes mere weeks following implementation and extensive training - that innocuous pallet at the side of a packing area which holds a growing pile of a specific unused part. Often the decision to leave it out comes from a need for greater packing speed or simplicity; in some cases, it is the result of a choice to alter the configuration based on the weather of the day or an unplanned preparation process that renders the part unusable in the final pack-out.

These little things may not always result in the failure of the system, and in some instances they may even improve system performance in that specific environment. What is important to note is that often these little tweaks are necessary to ensure that a solution fits in with your world; if you have a team that is always looking at how to develop and improve, then really what more do we all need?

Just a little communication before we step on that metaphorical butterfly would be handy, as it is important that we make these changes in the correct way. Document the process and the results, and work closely with the system developers, as often they are called in after a change has caused an issue without even knowing there was a problem. It is often forgotten that thermal packaging really is more than just a box, it's a working component.

Through this increased communication and inclusion, so many extra benefits can be gained - for example, no longer needing to order that part you never use.

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Richard Harrop is a qualified structural packaging design engineer, coming previously from the FMCG sector. He has been involved in the temperature-controlled packaging industry for over 10 years. During this time he has developed and implemented several successful temperaturecontrolled solutions for many of the world's leading pharmaceutical and biotech corporations.
Richard Harrop
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