Although Rondo and Dividella, both companies from Körber’s Business Area Pharma Systems, have always focused on maintaining sustainable production chains, attitudes are gradually changing among pharmaceutical producers and many other industries. According to a recent study conducted by the German nature conservation organization NABU, the global production of plastic has risen over the past 70 years from 1.7 million tons to 288 million tons. In 2012, 57 million tons of plastic were produced in Europe alone. The wide variety of uses and the relatively low cost of the raw materials and production have made plastic very attractive for many applications. However, it is also estimated that around ten million tons of waste plastic had ended up in the world’s oceans by 2012. This fact shows how far the plastics sector was from sustainable development at that time. But views began to change some time ago. “A very clear trend is now visible: Our customers want to move away from plastic and use as little of it as possible. Ideally, no plastic will be used in packaging anymore five to ten years from now,” says Patric Buck, Head of Innovation at the packaging specialist Rondo. There’s still quite a way to go until this goal is achieved, especially for the pharmaceutical industry’s primary packaging, which directly contains the medication. The good news is that initial alternatives already exist. Examples include organic materials such as compostable bags, mushrooms, and certain bamboo species that are already being used in other industrial sectors to develop packaging materials. One of the many challenges that the packaging experts at Rondo and Dividella enjoy focusing on is the need to make these materials meet market requirements while also being financially attractive for customers.
lSustainable packaging is a part of our DNA. It’s never been a trendy new topic for us.r
Patric Buck, Head of Innovation at Rondo
Patric Buck is convinced that the pharmaceutical industry will be able to do without plastic altogether. That’s why he and his team at Rondo are working hard to develop suitable solutions. Rondo is based in Allschwil near Basel and supplies single-material packaging to customers from the international pharmaceutical industry. This packaging consists solely of monomaterials made from trees that were felled in the Black Forest, Austria, and Scandinavia. The company also uses sustainability criteria in its careful selection of partners and suppliers.
When you talk to Patric Buck, you quickly notice that the development of folding boxes involves a lot more than customers initially think. We ask Buck if he isn’t just working on a seemingly short-lived product for the pharmaceutical industry. Our question makes Buck smile. “Cardboard packaging is much more exciting than most people think,” he replies. “That’s because it plays a major role along the entire supply chain and thus also improves a medication’s quality. The designs and developments are often very complex.” A lot of time is invested in the design of a new packaging solution. This process extends from the first brainstorming session and the product’s development to the creation of the prototype and the finalization and production of the packaging, and it involves asking questions: How is the packaging constructed? How can it be opened? Where does it have to be folded and how? It goes without saying that the packaging developers have to be in close touch with the producers of the medications. “This enables us to develop customized packaging solutions for our customers,” says Buck. “In some cases, the packaging would no longer be innovative even if we were off by only half a millimeter.” Such a mistake would prevent the separators from securely holding the products. As a result, the products would move around within the box or even touch one another. However, many customers require that such glass-to-glass contact be prevented at all costs. The experts at Rondo achieve this feat thanks to their experience and love for experimentation. They repeatedly use new materials, shapes, and solutions that are tailored to the ever-new and often increasingly complex requirements of the pharmaceutical producers.
Supply and demand are in perfect balance here, with orders ranging from tiny batches of 200 units up to large contracts for 10,000 packages. In order to be able to operate this flexibly according to the supply-on-demand principle, the company requires highly sophisticated logistics expertise, an efficient IT department, and flawlessly interacting workflows. “We always aim to provide our customers with real added value. That’s our goal. Moreover, our creative solutions and needs-based developments clearly set us apart from the competition. All of this works because we have the right employees, who share our passion for our customers’ products and requirements and have outstanding team spirit for developing suitable solutions. Customers and job applicants who walk through our halls quickly notice that we don’t produce boring packaging here, but are instead doing something very exciting,” says Buck. The seemingly trendy topic of sustainability is therefore nothing new as far as packaging is concerned — it’s been important for decades. In fact, Rondo has always made sure that it conserves resources as much as possible. Buck: “We promote the optimal use of materials each and every day.” The biggest challenge here is how to obtain maximum quality and innovation from the minimum use of resources. “We’ve always thought about ways to save material. That’s why we are now going a step further: We want to enable people to understand how they can easily dispose of the products after use.”
lWe develop modular and sustainable solutions for the secondary packaging of pharmaceutical and biotech products.r
Stefan Ehrne, Head of Engineering at Dividella
To ensure that the company can successfully innovate every day, Buck works together closely with people like Stefan Ehrne, the Head of Engineering at Dividella. This company emerged from Rondo AG 40 years ago and is also part of the Business Area Pharma Systems. Dividella develops and produces packaging machines and machine concepts for the processing of cardboard. In addition, it creates the associated packaging solutions. Most of the flat blanks for boxes are supplied by Rondo. The blanks are unfolded and glued on the cartoning machines at Dividella. The products are then carefully placed inside the boxes and the boxes are sealed. Before the packaging systems that are designed by Dividella are shipped to the customers, the machines and the associated cartons are put through various testing, commissioning, and acceptance stages at the production facility in Grabs in the Swiss canton of St. Gall. The companies Rondo and Dividella thus form a perfect partnership for bringing together machine technology with smart product design. Their experts meet for brainstorming sessions where they regularly come up with new ideas for smart packaging, the use of new technology in the production process, and the organization of regular innovation workshops with the customers. “The objective might be to ensure that a product is carefully placed inside boxes during the packaging process so that it is securely stored in the finished package. Or that the packaging should always be as small as possible, but also easy for patients to handle. In addition, it should be easy to open and innovative in order to set it apart from the products of our customer’s competitors,” says Stefan Ehrne.
Tamper evidence features are also becoming increasingly important. They clearly show patients and doctors that they are the first ones to open a particular package. “Our customers benefit from our comprehensive range of consulting services,” adds Ehrne. “We work together with them to find optimal solutions for the secure packaging of sensitive products. The aim is to use monomaterials in order to keep the overall costs down. Moreover, we strive to create optimized packaging sizes for the cooling chain and to develop packaging that consumers can use easily.”