Decades of innovation
Navigating the transformation of healthcare packaging with inline printing
Efficient inline and on-demand printing solutions for healthcare packaging are more in demand today than ever before. The focus of developments is always on two goals: reducing the high complexity in the packaging process and realizing significant efficiency potential. The Swiss company Hapa AG has more than 50 years of experience in this segment.
In view of the company’s 90-year anniversary, we took a closer look at some important milestones.
The triumph of pharmaceutical blister packaging, which began around 60 years ago, is closely linked to another innovation: with the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1960, the search for an easy-to-control dosage over a defined period of time had become necessary. When the first blister machine was introduced two years later, the course was set. Within a very short time, this packaging format developed into a standard. Pharmaceutical companies very quickly used its advantages for other medicines as well. But how could these blisters also be flexibly labelled, marked and coded? Hapa was the first company to provide answers and subsequently acted again and again as an innovation leader.
From patents to printers
Today’s Swiss machine manufacturer was founded in 1933 in Zurich by Curt Bäbler. The original purpose of the company was to “trade in patents”. The name Hapa was derived from this (German: “Handel mit Patenten”). One of these patents was used for a machine for coding cartons in 1953. Hapa sold several thousand copies of this Druma printing machine. It was Hapa’s first entry into printing technology.
Printing technology in the healthcare sector
When the new blisters appeared, Hapa recognized the special need for printing technology early on. Not to mention what advantages could result if the printing process took place inline and be practically integrated into the blister production process.
When the Hapamatic was presented in 1970, it was the world’s first inline printing system for printing aluminum foils for blister machines. The groundbreaking system convinced users immediately. Of the 2,500 units sold worldwide, hundreds are still in operation today. At the same time, the solution laid the foundation for an arguably unique understanding of highly flexible printing solutions in the context of pharmaceutical packaging. Today, the Swiss company, which moved its Headquarters to Volketswil near Zurich in the early 1990s, where it still lies today, employs around 175 people, is the international technology and market leader in inline and on-demand printing solutions for healthcare packaging.
Step to high-mix-low-volume packing
Up until the early 1990s, most blister lines were used primarily for high-volume blockbusters, as the number of market variants and thus small batches was much lower than today. The challenges posed by the increase in production of high-mix-low-volume products were met by Hapa with the introduction of two different inline technologies: UV flexo printing systems were joined in the late 1990s by an early form of digital printing technology based on risographic UV technology. This secured Hapa a leading position in the industry for printing solutions and cemented its reputation as a technology leader.
From the mid-1990s onwards, the expert’s know-how was suddenly more in demand than ever. Pharmaceutical companies no longer wanted to maintain costly warehouses with ready-made blisters and packaging materials. They started to order at short notice only when a need became apparent in their markets. In addition, countries and regions increasingly issued individual regulations on the type of information that had to be placed on the primary blister packaging. And finally – with the introduction of more medicines for specific target groups – batch sizes became smaller and smaller.
Keyword Lean Production
The impact on pharmaceutical companies was dramatic: the combination of small batch sizes and a growing number of complex changeovers had a highly negative impact on metrics that evaluate pre-printed material inventories, lead times, overall equipment effectiveness, material usage and costs. Most pharmaceutical companies are still struggling to manage this complexity today. The buzzword, “lean production” was soon on everyone’s lips and so were Hapa’s solutions.
Thanks to decades of cooperation with leading pharmaceutical companies and blister machine manufacturers, the specialists at Hapa immediately recognized the two central tasks that needed to be solved: How could blister orders with relatively small batch sizes be printed inline reliably, in high quality and with the shortest possible set-up times, ideally including all variable data? And how could it be possible to individualize pre-produced identical blisters in large quantities subsequently, i.e. with downstream printing?
The key was to push innovation in the field of digital printing technology. From the beginning of the new millennium, the company therefore actively devoted itself to researching reliable and efficient drop-on-demand (DOD) printing solutions. The UV-curable inks used in this process proved to be extremely durable and abrasion-resistant, delivering a razor-sharp print image of even the smallest characters and codes. To ensure validated inline printing, especially for systems integrated into packaging lines in a GMP-compliant environment, this became the most efficient and safest method in the pharmaceutical sector.
Tailored to the healthcare market
Hapa technology proved superior in on-demand printing, not only on aluminum foils. In quick succession, the company, now part of the Coesia Group, presented groundbreaking innovations: in 2007, the world’s first fully digital DOD printing system for inline printing of blister foils was presented, followed by solutions for carton, labels, and individual blisters. Today, the portfolio has evolved into a whole range of solutions specifically tailored to the needs of the healthcare market.
For example, the redcube plus printing module, first introduced in 2015, can print up to six spot colors or CMYK plus white. The following year, Hapa introduced late-stage customization for blisters in full-color printing: The BlisterJet CMYK prints neutral blisters with text and graphics in four spot colors or CMYK. Shortly afterwards, the BFS-JET was launched, which prints directly onto blow-fill-seal vials.
However, digital printing is not the only way for Hapa to decisively move the overall process effectiveness forward. Through the introduction of the new evo+ family and Web 4.0 in 2022, Hapa ushers in a new era for inline and on-demand printing systems. Whether hybrid, flexo or fully digital technology, the digital transformation is enhanced via the introduction of a simple digital process from PDF to pack that cuts out multiple steps in the graphics chain. This PDF-based workflow and the OptiMate HMI from Coesia Digital make processes extremely efficient and reliable. The operating concept of the HMI has won several prestigious design awards since 2015. In addition, integrated image processing software increases product and patient safety.
Today, with the industry moving towards Pharma 4.0, Hapa is your partner on the path towards digitalization and automation. The new Priiotize Make Ready software solution, for example, offers a flexible, future-proof and efficient solution for integrating artwork into the customer’s IT and OT systems.
By closely listening to your questions and challenges, we can provide the best solution for you.