Packaging Operations Efficiency


Pharmaceutical packaging operations are generally labour and capital intensive and often a source of senior management frustration:

  • They can be expensive in terms of either labour or capital investment, and sometimes both
  • They can often provide non-optimal levels of service, for example long lead times or inappropriate minimum order quantities
  • They can be inflexible with poor utilisation

To offset these issues, supply chains are forced to either offer poor service levels or carry excess stock, with the associated issues of high working capital, aging stock and high write-offs.

A key underlying issue is aligning the demands of the product portfolio to be packed, with the capabilities of the packaging facilities utilised. Portfolio complexity is very necessary for many businesses and there are numerous factors that drive increasing complexity, including different legal requirements, increasing customer service demands and product differentiation.

There are three ways to balance these challenges effectively:

  1. Being clear that the product portfolio is appropriate
  2. Optimising the packaging facility design to deliver optimal service levels at minimum cost
  3. Ensuring that key attributes of the product packaging enables the most appropriate packaging solutions to be used

To operate an effective and efficient packaging operation, all three of these issues need to be addressed.

Where to start

Undertake a benchmarking exercise

We would suggest starting with a benchmarking assessment of your packaging operations. Be4ward has developed a standard packaging facility benchmarking tool across multiple pharma companies and CMOs:

  • The tool can be used for internal benchmarking or for CMOs
  • The tool permits comparison against a competitive product
  • The database has been built over the last 16 years

This assessment offers more than just benchmarking, it also:

  1. Identifies gaps and hypotheses for site validation
  2. Allows for site action plans to be developed to address actionable inefficiencies

A first step might be a pilot benchmarking activity of:

  • One site
  • One dosage form across a site
  • One dosage form across CMOs

The benchmarking tool and assessment offers sufficient flexibility for any of these approaches to be a valid way forward.

What we've learned

From engagements with our clients, there are three key learnings to highlight:

  • The product portfolio can drive different packaging requirements

It is fairly obvious that different drug formats, dosage forms and local regulatory rules define requirements for the product packaging formats and equipment, whether that be bottles, blisters, etc. These need to be considered carefully as part of product development and supply chain design to ensure the right formats are selected and the right activities are undertaken at appropriate facilities. However, product volume can have a significant effect on packaging requirements, where the required volumes to be packed are not well aligned with the packaging equipment selected, resulting in high levels of inefficiency.

  • Unnecessary packaging complexity drives waste

There are a multitude of parameters that can be varied in the design and content of packaging. The more variety, the more complexity and this drives a significant hidden factory maintaining this portfolio. It is important to consider these parameters in terms of customer value and control the variety to that which provides customer value. Other sources of variety lead to inefficiency and waste in your packaging operations and therefore should be controlled as much as is feasibly possible.

  • Solutions cannot be defined in isolation and need to involve the broader organisation

The inefficiencies witnessed in your packaging facility are often due to factors outside of that operation, e.g. product portfolio design, therefore it is rare to be able to solve them by taking action just within the packaging facility. Moreover, there are further benefit areas to be considered outside of packaging operation. It is essential to take a cross-functional approach involving Commercial, Regulatory, Supply Chain, Packaging and Technical Designing solutions across the supply chain that meet commercial and regulatory needs. Indeed, local solutions applied in the packaging facility may not optimise the end-to-end supply chain, but instead lead to sub-optimisation overall. Therefore, ensure that you consider the end-to-end design when defining improvements, placing new capabilities in the appropriate part of the supply chain and supporting with enhanced end-to-end processes.