Late-stage customization

Reducing complexity - gaining agility

How pharma business and the supply chain benefit from a postponement strategy with late-stage customization

Multiple rewards await the early adopters among pharma companies developing a postponement strategy for blister packs. In all cases they significantly improve capacity utilization and therefore overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) for the blister packaging equipment. They are also able to manage the unpredictable demand volatility from individual markets in a much more targeted and agile way. In addition, inventories of both aluminum foils and finished blister packs can be substantially reduced. Late-stage customization makes a huge contribution to cutting waste volumes appreciably. “The efficient and future-proof technology required for this purpose has been available for some time and it delivers a fast return on investment,” explains an experienced expert who works for Hapa. For this reason, it’s well worth taking a closer look at both the challenges and the solution.

The shift in production profiles from large volumes with a few SKU’s to high mix / low volumes is well documented and today, the majority of pharmaceutical companies struggle to manage the complexity associated with demand volatility and a high number of product variants.

Challenges arise from jobs comprising fewer than 3,000 blisters

With ultra-small batch sizes, the complexity leads to poor utilization of the blister packaging lines because they spend more time standing still and being changed over than they actually run. A postponement strategy, or late-stage customization, is an especially interesting proposition for batch sizes of fewer than 3,000 blister packs. “That’s because, when you try to run a batch of 3,000 down a blister packaging line that operates at 600 blisters per minute, the utilization drops to a very low level,” explains the Hapa expert.

Another area which is addressed by late-stage customization is forecast accuracy. “A pharmaceutical company that produces very large batches of a blockbuster has got a pretty good idea of how many blister packs they’re going to produce for different markets in Q4. “If, on the other hand, you’re making an oncology product, which is thankfully produced in very small volumes, then it’s quite difficult to predict how many of those products are going to be required in Q4 in Peru, for example.”

This is where a postponement strategy really starts to help, because only blank blisters are produced on the blister packaging line. This allows the blister line to do what it’s designed to do. The company significantly raises its OEE with this type of production and can react very quickly to market demand. “As soon as the order comes in for that small batch for Peru,” explains the Hapa expert, “you can release the blisters from inventory, print on demand and deliver to the market within days.”

Future-proof system allows versatile configuration

The Hapa BlisterJet encompasses the technological requirements that are key to a postponement strategy. It is a blister printing system utilizing drop-on-demand inkjet technology and UV-curable inks. Thanks to highly flexible configuration it can accommodate extremely diverse production needs. Featuring a host of blister feeding options with an integrated de-curling device, it is able to cope with blisters from multiple origins, in all materials. Furthermore, the system is future-proofed by an upgrade path from one spot color to CMYK up to 720 dpi. Its unique transport mechanism ensures that the blisters are held flat during the printing and curing process, giving highest quality with spot colors or CMYK.

The camera inspection system allows for 100% quality control and security. “We’re actually not going through a teaching process, because we see that as inherently insecure,” says the Hapa expert. “With the BlisterJet’s inspection system, the PDF which is the original released artwork from the customer’s network, is the file that is used as the reference for the camera system. So we are referencing the validated data as our source for both the printing module and the camera.” Along with variable data from an ERP system, the system is capable of allocating and sending serialized data through the workflow to placeholders in the format of each blister, or individual pocket if required for HUD packs.

React instantly to different market volatility

In order to maximize the benefits of a postponement strategy, the BlisterJet development team paid particularly close attention to facilitating extremely fast changeover. Changing to a different blister size entails simply adjusting the transport system, which takes less than a minute. Adjusting or exchanging the artwork is likewise a fast operation, performed by way of the user-friendly HMI.

In a nutshell, summarizing the benefits of late-stage customization, Hapa’s expert says, “The BlisterJet optimizes the utilization of blister packaging lines.” Thanks to a higher level of agility in production, pharmaceutical companies can react instantly to market volatility. Another huge benefit of a postponement strategy is the reduction of material inventory, meaning in this case aluminum foils for different markets or indeed finished goods. Last but not least, there will be a significant reduction in the amounts of waste. With BlisterJet technology you can cut that expensive waste down to the bone.”

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