All the latest packaging trends for life sciences, all at PACK EXPO East
Explore new packaging solutions for life sciences, all in one convenient location at PACK EXPO East, March 18 – 20 in Philadelphia.

Wanted: Suppliers offering packaging material innovation and expertise

Hard-pressed to do more with less, manufacturers rely on suppliers with industry knowledge, with an eye on sustainability and validated processes.

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What are pharmaceutical, medical device, and healthcare manufacturers looking for from packaging materials/components suppliers? "In a word, innovation," says Richard Adams, head of Pack Graphic Design at GlaxoSmithKline in Raleigh-Durham, NC.

He elaborates, "Innovative materials and packaging solutions to meet the diversification efforts within our company. The variety of products and requirements of those products coupled with market regulatory constraints forces pharmaceutical packaging to be more creative in a rapidly evolving space. Yes, we rely on suppliers bringing more value to the table. We simply do not have the time or resources to understand what is available and new."

Ben Miyares, president of the Packaging Management Institute, adds, "As pressures increase to 'do more with less,' packagers, including pharma/medical device packagers, have experienced packaging staff reductions and a loss of 'greybeard' experience on staff. At the same time, technology advances have added disruptive capabilities to the portfolios of venders whose core competencies are, after all, the advancement of their products. The net result is that competent packaging management must rely on the supplier community."

The Internet makes life easier for life sciences manufacturers to search for packaging material solutions on a global basis, points out Packaging Hall of Fame inductee Edward Bauer.

"It has also opens the door for suppliers to better understand what is available, what their competitors are offering, and how to better serve their customers," he says. "Packaging material suppliers must view themselves as problem solvers for their customers. Most often, they are close to their customers and know many of the problems the customers are trying to solve. Suppliers must look at themselves as partners in the business or product they supply materials or components for, and must treat that business as something to be nurtured, grown, and sustained."

Sustainability a growing factor

Sustainability continues to grow as a key factor for manufacturers in packaging materials. An anonymous "Voices of Leadership" respondent says the company she works for "is looking for suppliers to help us meet our goals for sustainability. We have control over what kind of raw materials they use. When we select suppliers they have to meet our material requirements for pre- and post-consumer percentages. However, for some of the materials that come in direct content with our products, like desiccants, bottles, and barriers, we have to use virgin materials.

"The things we can control," she continues, "are cartons, inserts, case shippers, and pallets. On these, we know the process capabilities of our suppliers and we normally try to [incorporate] a high amount of post-consumer components. If we make a change in materials it may impact the product, but we do try and use the best materials for the environment. For example, certain laminated materials for pouches are harder to recycle, and there is no recovery."

Philip Dahlin, senior manager of sustainability for the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, notes, "In our current goal set, all of our strategic suppliers are required to do a materiality analysis in regards to sustainability issues. They are required to analyze where their sustainability impacts are and which ones are most significant. Then they are required to determine what areas they will they focus on, and how will they measure progress. We leave it up to them, but by 2015, they need to set at least two sustainability goals, measure progress against them, and report on them publicly. We also encourage all of our strategic suppliers to participate in our Carbon Disclosure Project."

Sustainability measurement is also part of the supplier equation, according to Jason Strachota, packaging development engineer II with Smith & Nephew, Inc.'s Advance Surgical Devices Div., Memphis, TN. He notes, "Smith & Nephew suppliers are expected to have a robust and validated process for the materials and components they supply, and also the equipment on which their materials are produced. We expect our suppliers to align their performance with Smith & Nephew's sustainability objectives. For example, we currently monitor suppliers' performance with respect to environmental, social, and regulatory compliance, including on-site visits. We recently have begun to implement a global supplier sustainability questionnaire that requires suppliers to provide evidence of their sustainability commitment on a wide range of subjects. We intend to deploy this questionnaire globally in 2012."

Strachota adds, "Smith & Nephew values partners with a shared interest in helping us achieve our packaging goals. We rely on our suppliers for products that are defect-free and have minimal variation from batch to batch. We also expect our suppliers to actively increase the efficiency of their internal operations so that we can effectively manage manufacturing costs."

Supplier operational efficiency is also important to Chris Bagozzi, manager of sterile packaging development at Medtronic Spinal and Biologics. He points out, "We look for suppliers having the capability to validate their own processes. When their processes are validated, that correlates into more consistent packaging components. And that equates to less rejections, to shipping savings, and to less environmental impact. It's also critical that suppliers have access to the latest advancements in material science. Medtronic is also a member of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition that works to encourage and recognize the sustainable efforts of suppliers."

Chuck Taylor, principle packaging/manufacturing engineer with Covidien Surgical Solutions Group, says, "We are looking for source-reduction opportunities on all levels of packaging that can meet the utility and protection requirements of the system. I believe suppliers can play a large role in educating and assisting with implementation, be it through stability data and/or validation requirements."

PackWise Consulting owner Jan Gates says she and her clients "look for good technical assistance" from packaging materials suppliers. "Purely sales people bow out quickly," she states. Gates also says clients require, "fast sampling, consistent quality, and on-time delivery."

The "wish list" from packaging material suppliers from Jon Wiesman, president and CEO of HR Pharmaceuticals, was succinct: "We look for three things, and not in any given order. One is quality, two is price, and three is service after the sale. As long as purchasing can support the rationale to the acquisition based on the above, I will never argue. In this economy, everyone is looking at price, although the other factors quickly become the differentiators when a problem arises."

Excerpted from Healthcare Packaging's February 2012, "Voices of Leadership" issue.
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