Pharma Packaging Print & VCM Converting Accuracy

By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments

Packaging is used to contain and protect a product during transportation or shipment and during the critical consumer pick-up, carry home, store and use stage of the packaging life cycle. However, in today’s highly competitive industrial and consumer world packaging generally has to do much more than just contain and protect.

Astute brand owners, marketers and packaging professionals know that their products must be recognisable when on a crowded retail shelf and that there is a need to stand out from others – consequently packaging presentation is vital. Shape, colour and graphics as well as texture and other visual enhancements are high on the agenda, but so too are printed on pack informational content, coupons and other promotional elements.

The requirements of packaging and presentation can vary greatly depending upon the product sold and to whom the product is being targeted at. For instance, a low cost item primarily for children such as sweets or candy that needs to be sold in high volume to generate profit may be sold in a brightly coloured flexible pack or something similar.  On the other hand a high value item or one aimed at the professional or cash rich consumer might be more restrained in the approach to graphic/colour and material presentation.

The packaging of pharmaceutical products is to some degree different from many other segments of packaging. Certainly it is the same as other consumer and industrial segments in that in its broadest sense it’s still very much about containment and it’s very much about identity and about communicating.  However, leaving aside matters such as packaging design, materials and graphic representation for the moment, the packaging professional has many practical, environmental, legal, safety and performance issues to contend with. 

Measures must be in place to combat counterfeiting and tampering, encourage patient/consumer compliance and ensure that packaging is elderly and infirm accessible. The pack or container must also be as child proof as possible and contain enough information to meet legislative and other requirements. 

For many pharmaceutical items the primary pack is directly in contact with the drug. Consequently package material and components such as ink, coating and laminates are chosen for their unique properties such as barrier resistance and in the case of inks and coatings/laminates carry a minimal risk of chemical migration from pack into product. An example of a primary pack is the familiar blister strip.

The package presentation or brand/product identifier role is largely the preserve of secondary packaging, the carton and box.  Print and other value added processes must be undertaken with extreme care to minimize any risk of selection or dosage errors on the part of consumers, pharmacists and hospital personnel.

A third category of packaging associated with pharmaceuticals, which will not be covered here in any detail is so called tertiary packaging which encompasses overwrapping, palletising/containerisation and the bulk handling, shipment and distribution of products.
Regardless of whether primary or secondary packaging is under consideration, quality dependent application sectors subject to ISO accreditation and vigorous validation processes, such as pharmaceuticals, inconsistencies and flaws of any type must be spotted and rectified prior to shipment.

Shipping an out of compliance product in simply not an option. Packaging producers, printers and converters operating in this sector are subject to penalty clauses if products are out of spec, reworking and the revoking of contracts or even litigation if things go badly wrong. For instance a hickey or an out of place dot on dosage instructions could result in someone being dispensed with/or taking the wrong dose of medication.

Pharmaceuticals is a product area where quality control and product monitoring is in place every step of the way. Printers, converters, substrate providers and consumable suppliers that are engaged in any way with this sector of business utilize product monitoring and product development equipment and systems such as test rigs, colour communication or sophisticated proofing devices, and pilot coating, printing/laminating machines.  Other monitoring equipment worth mentioning and having in place includes automatic defect detection systems.   

Pharmaceutical packaging companies and their supply partners are often at the forefront of packaging and technological innovation. Success in this market is very much about meeting challenges and overcoming them. Developing and integrating anti-counterfeiting and tamper resistance within the pack and the increasing involvement with electronic and smart technologies frequently requires a more lateral approach to research and development and to issues such as determining how ink and substrates interact.  

In many situations a standard machine such as a pilot coating, laminating or printing machine provided off the peg from a commercial machine supplier may not suit the specific needs of the customer. To address the requirements of converters and others operating in demanding sectors RK Print Coat Instruments have developed and are supplying the customised VCM or Versatile Converting Machine. Each of the systems so far supplied are completely different form one another, but all share a commonality in that they made to tight tolerance and incorporate process components that are at the cutting edge of technology.

Pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical packaging is an industry, which requires a high degree of commercial security, countless millions are spent on bringing products to market and companies need to protect intellectual and process interests. Suppliers are of course required to provide system solutions under conditions of confidentiality.

The versatility of the VCM allows customers to select the process and technology appropriate to their specific application.  Almost two-dozen different printing and coating systems may be selected from. Drying options include hot air, infrared or UV curing and wet or dry lamination is available. Web path is selectable and systems can be configured for clean room and for flameproof operation.  Coating/print technologies available include: hot melt, reverse roll, meter bar, rotary screen (printing & coating), gravure-offset (printing & coating), reverse gravure coating, knife-over-roll and flexographic printing, etc.

Many areas of pharmaceutical development are co-dependent upon advances made in packaging and converting technology. The increase in self- administered therapies is a driving force with regard to the development and implementation of package imbedded product tracking and authentication devices (remote identification of out of date drugs and notification of re-stocking) as well as the formulation of patient friendly injectable drug and blood delivery products. With self-administered packaging and the need for more robust filmic materials there is an increasing need to trial new substrates, systems such as the VCM or sister system, the Rotary Koater materials and formulations can be trialled. Both the Rotary Koater and VCM are also able to undertake the small-scale production runs.

Briefly returning to the subject of package design and graphic representation. The need for accurate colour reproduction, graphics and text is as stated earlier as critical for pharmaceutical packaged products and labels as it is for other product sectors. Colour communication, sampling or proofing devices such as the FlexiProof 100, FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof LED UV for users and producers of flexographic inks are able to determine issues such as printability, gloss, durability, scratch and rub resistance and flexibility; enabling users to assess ink/substrate interaction, trial unfamiliar materials and consumables, computer colour match and ensure that colour meets agreed standards.

Colour communication devices are also available for multi-print processes, for gravure, gravure-offset and even for the preparation of wet or dry laminating samples.

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd
Litlington, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 0QZ

Source: RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd