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Getting started with pilot tests

Once you’ve identified your goals, you should start giving thought to selecting one or more sites, lines, SKUs, vendor technologies, and trading partners for your pilot test(s).

The temptation may be to start with one line or SKU, but much can be gained from testing two different lines, at two different sites, or two different package types, two different vendor technologies, or two different trading partners. Testing two of any of the above will accelerate your learning and reduce risks associated with meeting compliance deadlines—but it will take considerably more effort!

Pre-pilot prototyping off your packaging line, using test enterprise systems, can smoke out important issues before moving to actual lines.  Many jump right to a packaging line and run into issues that delay the start of the pilot and threaten to compromise the overall test.

Site, line, and SKU selection criteria
There are several things to consider when selecting just where to locate your pilot test:

1. Site selection: The main thing here is picking a site that serves different global markets so that you can test your ability to meet multiple regulations.

2. Line selection: You will want to consider lines that can accommodate different package types (bottle vs. carton vs. blister), as well as lines that have availability during the pilot phase for running serialization tests. You may want to try to test aggregation with automated as well as manual case packing (and if applicable, aggregating with automated vs. manual palletizing). You may also want to test a high-speed line.

3. SKU selection:  A high-volume SKU is a good thing to look for, along with variations in package types, or a SKU that is available in multiple trade packaging configurations.

Equipment install timeline
Although getting the IT architecture in place for a serialization pilot can take as long as a year, the actual modification to a packaging line may be anywhere from one to six months. The detailed installation schedule will depend on plant activities, product launches, and line shutdown plans. Activities and milestones to include in your timeline are:

• Software updates to equipment already on the line to enable serialization
• Management of all subcontractors and schedules
• Changes in packaging equipment hardware and software
• Addition of new equipment to enable serialization (printing, inspection)
• System integration of all packaging line equipment to enable serialization
• System troubleshooting
• IQ, OQ / PQ
• Training of operational personnel and other site functional groups

Picking partners
While it may be tempting to focus solely on internal testing for your pilot, it’s not a true test unless a trading partner can scan your code and reconcile that with the e-pedigree data you’re sending. Identifying pilot partners is not so much a matter of willingness, since many may express interest, but rather a question of whether they have capabilities in place to receive serialized product and serialized data. They also need a commitment not only from their organization but also from their solution providers to work with you to test the process. Finally, they need to have the dedicated resources in place to be able to follow through with all of the work associated with a pilot test.

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