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Process to package: Identity crisis for pharma?

Terminology disconnect could mean some companies miss out on ways to increase throughput and maximize OEE.

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Five years into covering the pharmaceutical packaging market, I still have to scratch my head over the disconnect we find with some companies and readers—but not others.

We stop by a booth at Interphex exhibiting machines that fill, cap, and label vials, then load the vials into a tray. The sales manager tells us they do not do packaging! And their customers do not buy packaging machinery, won't go to Pack Expo Intl., and won't read Healthcare Packaging.

Fill, cap, and label shampoo, beer, household cleaners, etc., and you're in the heart of packaging. But vials, syringes, etc., are processing.

These functions, of course, are what packaging pros outside of pharma would call primary packaging, but they are called processing in the pharma community. But not everyone even agrees with this distinction. Some pharma people do call it primary packaging. So even this disconnect is not universal.

Some of these pharma processing people actually look down their noses at packaging as end of line, packing boxes on a loading dock. “After all, it's only packaging,” said one somewhat ironically at a recent industry event.

Chuck Reed of Weiler Engineering and chairman of the Intl. Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering's (ISPE) Packaging Community of Practice, has related the same disconnect to me. He will be in a meeting with a dozen professionals who package pharmaceuticals, and half will have processing titles, half packaging.

Heck, we even changed the way our circulation department calls up offering the magazine to new readers. We don't lead with the title of our magazine. Instead, we ask if they would like to receive a new publication that covers Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), anti-counterfeiting, validation, compliance, etc. (And many say yes because these are their job duties, regardless of titles!)

Why is this a problem? Because packaging machinery builders, and their controls suppliers, have come up with great solutions for increasing throughput and maximizing OEE. But if these processing engineers do not read packaging titles, or attend shows like Pack Expo, how will they be exposed to these solutions?

This topic is so important to the folks at Pack Expo Intl., they are putting a heavy emphasis this year on getting the word out to the process community (food, beverage, and pharma). Further evidence of this appears in this year's event logo, which reads, “Packaging. Processing. One Powerful Show.”

-By Jim Chrzan, Publisher
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