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Pharma

No plastic needed

Packaging for the pharmaceutical 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 pharmaceutical 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 for plastics and the relatively low cost of the extraction 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’s never been a trendy new topic for us.r

Patric Buck, Head of Innovation for Packaging Material at the Körber Business Area Pharma

Sustainable packaging is part of the corporate DNA

But views began to change some time ago. “A very clear trend is now visible: The customers of our Rondo Solutions want to move away from plastic and use as little of it as possible. Ideally, no plastic at all will be used in packaging any more five to ten years from now,” says Patric Buck, Head of Innovation for Packaging Material at the Körber Business Area Pharma. In combination with the range of packaging machines offered by Dividella Solutions, this makes us a pioneer for sustainable production chains. Sustainable packaging has been part of our DNA for more than 40 years.

It will probably still take a while until the entire pharmaceutical sector can do without plastic in packaging. A lot of work will be required especially in the area of primary packaging, which directly contains the medications. 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 how to make these materials meet market needs while also being financially attractive for customers.

monomaterials

form the basis for the materials used for packaging. These monomaterials come from sustainably operating producers 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. Through Rondo Solutions, Körber supplies packaging manufactured exclusively from a single material to customers from the international pharmaceutical industry. The basis for 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.

Packaging design is the work of experts

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, as the 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. 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. “It enables us to develop customized packaging solutions for our customers,” says Buck. “In some cases, if we were only off by even half a millimeter, we would no longer have any innovative packaging.” 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 absolutely. This isn’t a problem for the experts at Körber: Thanks to their decades of experience and zest for experimentation, these experts are forever using new materials and shapes that are tailored to the always 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 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,” says Buck. “All of this works because we have the right employees, who 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 — what we are doing is actually something very exciting.”

The seemingly trendy topic of sustainability is therefore nothing new as far as packaging is concerned — it’s been around for decades. In fact, the Körber Business Area Pharma 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,” says Buck. 

lWe develop modular and sustainable solutions for the secondary packaging of pharmaceutical and biotech products.r

Stefan Ehrne, Head of Engineering for Packaging Machines at the Körber Business Area Pharma

A strong partnership

To ensure that the company can successfully innovate every day, Buck works together closely with people like Stefan Ehrne, the Head of Engineering for Packaging Machines, who also works for the Körber Business Area Pharma. The Dividella Solutions encompass the construction and development of packaging machines, machine concepts for processing the cardboard, and creating the appropriate packaging solutions. Most of the flat blanks for boxes are supplied by the colleagues from the Packaging Material unit. The blanks are unfolded and glued on the cartoning machines, where the products are then carefully placed inside the boxes and the boxes are sealed. Before the packaging systems that are designed by Körber 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 Körber Business Area Pharma perfectly combines clever product design with machine engineering. Our 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 the products are carefully placed inside the packaging during the packaging process so that they are 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. These packaging features 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 easily handle.”

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