Digital Uplift

High time for a digital uplift

When it comes to blister packaging, analog processes and insular thinking cause a lot of waste and costs

If you search the internet for "trends in pharma,” the future is within reach. At the top of the list are terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data & analytics, additive manufacturing, and blockchain. But those who deal with blister packaging processes daily, may have the impression of living in a parallel world. Although we are certainly surrounded by digital technology, business in pharma is often performed with disconnected analog tools. “People are talking about a digital uplift but are still using embossing stations to print variable data onto the edge of blisters,” says Hapa’s expert with 25 years of industry experience. “It’s like using a compact cassette at a time when everybody should be using Spotify.” 

Like islands in the sea

To make matters worse, there is a certain amount of departmental thinking. Let us imagine three islands in the sea. On each island, people are living independently, developing tools and processes that work perfectly for their particular island. But what happens when these three islands are required to collaborate? In many cases, their tools don’t line up to give an efficient collaboration. If you transfer this image to pharma production, the three islands stand for three areas – production planning and artwork development, filling and packing, and distribution and supply chain. These disconnected islands are the roots of a considerable amount of waste inside the pharmaceutical industry. Even worse, such insular thinking can have serious consequences such as stock-outs.

Watch out for the stock-outs

To name two examples, there were around 800 stock-outs in the Netherlands alone in 2019, and almost 600 in Switzerland. Causes such as forecast errors, regulatory issues or manufacturing issues are among the most common reasons for this. These issues are certainly preventable. Digital transformation and integration offer solutions to this dilemma. However, it would be illusory to believe that one could simply switch to Industry 4.0 overnight. Instead, it is a process to which Hapa can contribute step by step due to its decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. This concerns both the software and the hardware side.

Let it flow

As far as software is concerned, the most important principle is linking data to the place it is needed. It is similar to water: In prehistoric times, people moved from water hole to water hole. At some point, they realized that it was more convenient to direct the water to wherever they wanted to live instead. Gradually, a functioning end-to-end-waterflow emerged and what we call the ‘user experience’ today, got a dramatic boost. "This is exactly the challenge that still exists with data flow in the pharmaceutical industry. Currently, there are too many water holes, i.e. too many media breaks", says Hapa’s software strategy expert.

Putting an end to the media breaks

Given a highly regulated pharmaceutical world, it is quite astonishing that there are still many error-prone media breaks when it comes to printing blister packs, for example. The design of the artwork, the generation of print data, and the transmission, approval, and verification of these data are often done with tools that work with different data formats. As a result, they produce far too much waste. "For Hapa, PDF as a data format will therefore be of paramount importance in the future. Its easy handling has revolutionized the workflow in the printing industry within a few years; this will also happen in the pharmaceutical industry. We will soon present solutions where everything is PDF-based." Changing everything at once is admittedly not possible, the software expert admits. "We focus on making our software as flexible as possible, to implement our solutions in existing workflows so that customers can quickly gain agility and overcome insular thinking."

How to reduce production complexity

On the hardware side, the key is to make existing production processes as agile and cost-efficient as possible with the help of digital printing technology. This step is overdue because the demands on pharma production have become ever more complex. Individual markets and niches are being increasingly targeted to generate further growth. As a result, batch sizes are becoming smaller and smaller. This in turn leads to an increase in the number of changeovers and a corresponding increase in line downtime. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) drops dramatically, and the probability of stock-outs increases. Against this backdrop, inline digital printing technology takes on extraordinary importance. “Just simply putting the digital printer into a packaging line is going to increase the agility, regardless of any digital connectivity in a broader context.” Whether it's printing variable data or the complete artwork in CMYK, there is already a suitable Hapa solution available for every challenge in this area. The expert resumes: “Hapa can help its customers to compete in a digital world by providing performance-enhancing digital technology that will connect the disconnected islands and therefore provide uplift for the production and supply chain.”

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