Packaging Complexity Management: Part 6

Packaging Complexity Management: Part 6

Stock Keeping unit (SKU) and packaging component portfolio control is a critical activity for organisations. Ensuring the correct balance between a commercially advantageous portfolio, whilst minimising unnecessary pack and component variants is a challenge faced by many healthcare product companies as they grow their product range and expand into new markets. Therefore ensuring there are decision making processes in the organisation to manage required levels of complexity is a key aspect of effective pack management.

In this blog series I will describe key features of a complexity management capability in an easy to digest format. I hope you find this information useful. We are always searching for ways to improve our work, so if you have any feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me at

Packaging Complexity Management Tip 15: Packaging design

Have you designed your packaging to maximise the opportunities to deal with complexity?

All of the different techniques we have discussed in these tips offer opportunities for dealing with low volume products and managing complexity but they may not be feasible with your existing packaging designs. It may therefore be necessary to revisit some of the structural or artwork elements of the design to exploit specific techniques. These can include:

  • Changing component artwork to make it standard across multiple countries (or even removing all market specific information).
  • Grouping all market specific information on certain areas of the artwork (like the EU blue box concept).
  • Providing space on components and artwork for on-line printing requirements or application of labels.
  • Reducing colours to make on-line printing easier.
  • Changing component size to provide more printing space.
  • Providing pockets or flaps on cartons for attaching leaflets and booklets.
  • Standardising sizes, platforms, layouts and templates.
  • Using colour coding, poke-yoke and pharmacodes or data matrix codes to aid control of assembly operations.

It is therefore important to ensure that a holistic approach to packaging design is taken, ensuring effective design for manufacture.

Packaging Complexity Management Tip 16: Build flexibility into packaging equipment

Have you got the right type of packaging equipment that provides suitable levels of flexibility?

It is often tempting when specifying equipment to specify the fastest packaging lines. Indeed, due to being pressured for ever increasing levels of efficiency, most packaging operations would love to be producing high volumes of few variants as fast as possible.

However, as we have discussed, the healthcare marketplace is increasingly not like that, as volumes are decreasing and complexity is increasing. It is therefore important when specifying packaging equipment to ensure that the correct criteria for how the portfolio needs to be supplied are defined and agreed.

Trends are driving this to much more flexible machinery that can be easily changed for different pack formats, with the ability to insert specific modules when required (e.g. serialisation printing modules), or the ability to split fill and pack lines to permit part packing.

Due to the capital costs required, it is unlikely to be feasible to re-equip packaging facilities at a later date. Therefore, making the right choice of equipment to support your expected portfolio and supply strategies is a critical strategic decision.

Packaging Complexity Management Tip 17: Reduce line change-over time

Have you maximised your opportunities for fast changeover?

Line change-overs are non-productive time and in a world of increasing complexity and product variants, the amount of changeovers increases and so lines can spend significant amounts of time not producing product. This reduces capacity and increases cost.

There are three parts to a changeover; clean-down, set-up and start-up, and all can be improved through the application of operational excellence techniques and product and equipment design. There are four steps to consider and many opportunities with each:

Eliminate non-essential operations: for example standardise component sizes, reduce the range of tooling, equipment modifications like adjusting only one guard rail instead of two.

Perform external setup: for example have all of the change-over materials and equipment ready before you start, use pre-assembled modules.

Simplify internal set up: for example use quick couplings, scribe marks, jigs, hand knobs rather than nuts and bolts.

Measure and improve: continue to look for opportunities, hone your process and keep training. A changeover should be like a racing car pit stop.

This is the sixth of a series of 7 blogs giving a view of methods to deal with packaging complexity. Should you have any questions about this or any of my other blogs, or would simply like to request a copy of my booklets, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly on my email.