4 Keys To Unlocking Packaging And Labelling Success

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Creating and producing packaging and its artwork for pharma products has become an increasingly complex process. A whole range of challenges – from increasing numbers of SKUs to human error – can hinder the process and lead to delays, compliance issues and unnecessary cost.

But what about when all these challenges are overcome and everything goes to plan? What does the ideal picture look like? What is the scenario that pharma companies should strive towards?

There are four keys to unlocking success that we will cover in this article: PASS – Process, Assets, Supply chain, Speed. We will examine what success looks like and how to go from a fail with your pharma packaging artwork… to a PASS!

P is for Processes

Outdated manual processes are a critical source of errors. Too often there are process gaps and inconsistencies, systematic errors which occur when the design of the business processes are incomplete or conflicting, ultimately leading to errors in the content of the artwork. Indeed, 50% of packaging and labeling related product recalls are attributed to human error. This also presents challenges for pharma companies to stay GMP compliant.

So what is the ideal picture with processes? Well, companies would certainly have a reduced number of them, without any waste or superfluous activities. Ultimately the less you have to interact with a project the more that it’s automated, the less risk and the less cost will be associated.

Technology – in the shape of a digital packaging management and asset management platform – can help to deliver automation of current manual tasks to reduce manual intervention. Efficiency would be optimized; using a graphical definition and tracking user interface that permits rule-driven automation reduces complexity and boosts efficiency and throughput.

Almirall – a company based in Barcelona producing medicines and medical equipment – has been working with digital platform WebCenter since 2010 and the tool is now integrated into the workflow and a fundamental part of the multitude of processes used.

“We have doubled our volume of work in the time since we began using WebCenter but have the same number of people dealing with the management processes,” says Agustí Mercè, Almirall Product Operations Planning Manager.

But first the areas of inefficiency within the processes must be identified. Tools exist – for example the lean practice of value stream mapping – that will allow you to document the current situation and areas for improvement. Companies like Esko can provide consultancy services and perform value stream mapping activity on every step and phase in every process to identify redundancies, duplications, dead ends and potential inefficiencies.

A is for Asset management:

Many pharma companies have too many assets stored in too many different places being emailed to too many people; it can be difficult for companies to stay on top of.  

So what’s the ideal situation? Certainly a company would have full control and visibility of its assets (including images, text, movies, logos, etc.). This enables pharma companies to track performance of brand-related content throughout its entire lifecycle: from brand ideation to development and brand maintenance.

Why is it so important? Well, the ownership and management of assets is used by many pharma and life sciences businesses to develop a mission-critical system of record for product-related assets and the digital platform for review and approval of pharmaceutical promotional materials, not just from an editorial standpoint, but also from a medical, legal, and regulatory standpoint

Bringing that control and ownership in-house also removes the challenges that companies who have outsourced content creation face. Online digital asset workflow solutions allow pharma companies to easily collate all assets and maintain visibility on them.

“The process is simple: a new request is created in the system, followed by a briefing stage where all the information and assets necessary for an artwork are collected centrally,” says Agustí Mercè from Almirall. “Once all the information is collected and verified, the new artwork is created, followed by a coordinated review and approval process. The WebCenter workflow engine is linked to the entire production workflow. It includes all job information – including assets – needed for implementing the process and for enabling monitoring and follow-up, fundamental requirements for saving time and getting to market faster.”

Another benefit is being able to share assets from region to region or country to country, giving the ability to leverage assets that have been created in other geographies and are effective in those places, and to customize them for local markets.

S is for Supply Chain

The supply chain is a complex environment – pharmaceutical and life science companies are under pressure to ensure initial packaging and documented changes on existing pharmaceutical packaging are properly managed and coordinated, globally.

“I think it is both about how people are designing their packaging and also designing their supply chain to cope with that complexity,” says Andrew Love, packaging and artwork management strategist and VP at Be4ward Ltd. 

Designing the ideal supply chain means removing the silos that exist within many companies or between different companies in the supply chain. All participants would be performing flawlessly under extreme time pressure with the flexibility to adapt to changing drug regulations.

By leveraging a pharmaceutical packaging management solution, you can enable proper coordination across stakeholders, increase visibility to the process, and decrease cycle and production time.

“Being able to see the information and having it completely up to date and shared with everyone who needs it, in real time, is one of the great benefits of the system,” says Mercè. “It provides us with an entire data series that helps us plan for the future, a fundamental necessity for decision making. If something is not going well, you know immediately whether you can correct it or not, and you can change course to solve the issue in some other way. That is a tremendous advantage.”

In addition, integration with up- and downstream systems such as a PLM or document management solution will further reduce risk and complexity, increase collaboration and ensure improved efficiencies.

“With such a system, going upstream to design, I have visibility of where the design process is currently, what they are using, what assets they are using, who is doing it, what is the delivery date and where that job is going to be printed downstream,” says Kevin Karstedt of Karstedt Partners, a consultancy focusing on helping those in the packaging supply chain to get products to market more effectively. “I can therefore give visibility of that to the designer so they design it properly up front.” 

S is for Speed

The consequences of delays for pharmaceutical products can of course be significant.  Every day that a product is delayed is another day eaten into the limited patent protection time. The cost impact can be substantial.

What’s the ideal situation? With all of the above process, asset and supply chain solutions in place, speed to market should be much improved.  Once the label text has been agreed with the Regulator, the packaging components should be able to be completed in good time. 

Ultimately all these elements combined mean pharmaceutical companies can achieve their business goals better, cheaper and faster. You will have increased productivity and visibility into any bottlenecks that may arise; you will capture feedback into a single place from both internal and external stakeholders; you will optimize your spending by automating tasks and eliminating duplication of data. All of which will improve your speed to market.

What is required to PASS?

In a 2015 report, technology research company Gartner concluded that “Companies successful with label and artwork management software will have fewer labeling and artwork errors, and are less likely to be noncompliant with labeling regulations in different markets. They also save time and cost when changes to products necessitate revisions to artwork and labeling content, such as graphics, nutritional information, safety information and color schemes.”