Like most sectors, the pharmaceutical industry is looking to improve operational efficiency, particularly when it comes to packaging. Patrick Schmid, head of marketing at Hapa, discusses the benefits of in-house printing over traditional outsourcing.

From informing customers about product ingredients to expiry dates and points of use, packaging plays an increasingly central role in the global pharmaceutical industry. It’s also the subject of growing cost and regulation, being, as it is, so close to the security and welfare of the end-user. For that reason, it needs to be multipurpose and produced efficiently. Many of the same pharmaceutical products have a selection of different languages and layouts, depending on the country in which it’s traded and the point from which it’s sold.

In-house printing

For many years, outsourcing packaging production was the most common way of handling the process; but that’s changing. As pharmaceutical companies look to trim costs and improve efficiency, in-house printing has become a popular way of achieving a far leaner manufacturing practice.

"If you have high packaging variance for one product, it’s far leaner to print in-house than to use pre-ordered printed materials," says Patrick Schmid, head of marketing at Hapa. "Pre-printed material brings a considerable amount of processes into a company: you have to order it, store it and strictly follow all regulatory rules – for example, those relating to anticounterfeiting – at the same time. In-house printing allows you to work with blank material, which, in turn, allows you to cut the number of those processes by 60-80%. You eliminate reconciliation and save on storage needs, slash material waste and labour consumption, and reduce changeover time."

Late-stage customisation

One of the key ways Hapa enables a leaner manufacturing process is by printing market-specific data straight onto the blister. "You can cluster blisters by dosage, rather than by market, thus creating larger-volume runs," explains Schmid. "This way, you can produce more economically. Larger-volume runs incur fewer start-up costs and involve fewer changeover times with the machines."

The time between order and delivery is significantly shortened when the product is already packed. "Pull it from storage, print it, and get it on the shelf first," adds Schmid. This offers customers a huge competitive advantage, especially when a given product is qualitatively similar to another on the market.

"That’s something we experienced during the swine flu epidemic in particular," says Schmid. "A lot of customers asked us for a new printing solution because they found out that their competitors were faster at delivering products than they were. They realised that by printing in-house, they could dramatically change their time-to-market."

Technological position

Hapa has two different technologies for its in-house printing services: UV Flexo is a contact print that uses laser-engraved print mats for foil, cartons and other materials; UV DOD is a fully digital, contact-free technology, ideal for smaller batches or where the packaging requires more variable data. At the moment, 85% of the company’s business comes from flexo solutions, but that’s changing, according to Schmid.

"Digital solutions are certainly growing," he says. "More customers are asking for digital technology. It better suits those challenges that have been created by anticounterfeit regulations.

Hapa works with its customers to tailor the choice of technology to their needs. Over 80 years of work with the pharmaceutical industry has put the company in an enviable position on the market. With subsidiaries in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, and with a business model focused explicitly on customer needs, that position will grow even stronger in the coming years.