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It doesn’t need plastic

Packaging for the pharmaceuticals and biotech sectors has to be compact, innovative, and environmentally friendly. The Körber Business Area Pharma is a pioneer in the field of sustainability and is successfully working on the plastic-free future for its customers.

The concept of sustainability is gradually becoming accepted by pharmaceuticals manufacturers and many other industries. This development was very necessary. 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’s also estimated that around 10 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. 

lResource conservation in packaging is part of our DNA. It has never been a trendy new topic for us.r

Patric Buck, Head of Innovation at the Körber company Rondo

Sustainable packaging is part of the corporate DNA

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 any more five to ten years from now,” says Patric Buck, Head of Innovation at the packaging specialist Rondo. Like Dividella, Rondo is part of the Körber Business Area Pharma. Both of these companies are pioneers when it comes to sustainable production chains. This issue has had a high priority for more than 40 years. Sustainable packaging is, in a sense, part of their DNA.

There’s still quite a way to go until the entire sector no longer needs plastic for its packaging, 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 as well as fungi 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 Körber enjoy focusing on is to make these materials meet market needs while also being financially attractive for customers.


form the basis for the materials of the packaging. These come from sustainably working manufacturers and suppliers.

The requirements for pharma packaging are complex. One of the most important - besides resource-saving production - is the safe transport of the products.

Patric Buck is convinced that the pharmaceutical industry will be able to do without plastic altogether. That’s why he and his team 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 in this way 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. “That enables us to develop customized packaging solutions for our customers,” says Buck. “In some cases, packaging would no longer be effective even if we were only off by half a millimeter.” Such a mistake would prevent the separators from securely holding the products. As a result, the products would move about 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 Körber achieve this feat thanks to their experience and love of 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.

As Head of Engineering, Stefan Ehrne is responsible for the development of innovative packaging machines and production processes. He often meets with his colleague Patric Buck for brainstorming.

Supply on demand for even the most unusual customer requirements

Supply and demand are in perfect balance here, with orders ranging from tiny batches of 200 units 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. They share our passion for our customers’ products and requirements and have an 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, Körber has always made sure that it conserves resources as much as possible. Says 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 the Körber company Dividella

A strong partnership

To ensure that the company can successfully innovate every day, Buck cooperates 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 Körber Business Area Pharma. 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 from Dividella. The products are then carefully placed inside the boxes and the boxes are sealed. Before the packaging systems 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. Both companies 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 to always make the packaging 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 develop packaging that consumers can use easily.”

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