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Evolution in packaging over the last 25 years

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Jayanti Sawant, Consultant, Pharma Packaging Development, examines the transformation that pharma packaging has undergone since the past 25 years

25 years ago, packaging technology per se never had a strong presence in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, consumer products or any other industry.

Pertaining to pharma industry, packaging largely camouflaged under the ‘packing’ operation under production and the development process would take place under the R&D, Quality Assurance and Quality Control departments. This holds true for other industries as well. There were no packaging experts, neither did packaging teams exist. The development process was merged under R&D and production in most of the organisations and packaging existed merely as a subsection.

Packaging technology, however, goes hand in hand with any new product development and supply chains. It is the first thing that interacts with a patient or end-user about to buy or consume a drug. Hence giving importance to patient compliance or consumer convenience is the most significant criteria of new product development, and packaging is an important aspect to it.

The packaging scenario in pharma gained speed following the nineties, due to growing export market, globalisation, regulatory requirements, competition and revolution in digital technology, mergers, acquisitions, growing customer needs and expectations for continuous improvements leading to innovations and stricter FDA regulations.

Thus the process of evolution started and the journey of packing to packaging technology began. The function of packing or the pack was no longer confined to simply holding and carrying/ transporting the product.

Let’s have a look at the images carried in this article to better understand how the transformation has taken place from packing to packaging technology. That being said, we cannot compare pharma packaging with the packaging methods employed in other industries. The scaling will be totally different for pharmaceuticals since it has one of the most stringent, critical, systemic bunch of processes for product releases.

Need of evolution
With globalisation and enhanced regulatory requirements, the modern packaging industry is vigorously evolving to create new products that are cost effective, to give best barriers against contamination, to create the brand image and operates as a key tool that influences channels of distribution. The re-engineering developments have expanded the job responsibilities of a packaging technologist manifold, which wasn’t the case two decades ago.

Today packaging technology is an independent cell. Years ago it was a mere day to day function of Quality Control. Today it’s an autonomous department in the industry playing a vital role in all developments.
With an enhanced role of packaging professionals, the research area grew enormously in the last two decades with more and more packaging materials in the market.

The entire process built a stronghold considering the following goals :

1. To contain the product and to avoid spillage or leakage during various stages of production and until it reached the consumer.

2. To protect a product from damage or contamination:
The product must be protected against being dropped, crushed, and against frantic movement during transit. The product must also be protected against the climate, including high temperatures, humidity, light and gases in the air.

3. To identify and present the brand – Packaging is the main way products are advertised and identified. To the manufacturer, the packaging clearly identifies the product inside and it is the packaging that the customer recognises while shopping. Thus, it helps to sell the item and create a brand identity.

4. Protection during Transport and Ease of Transport – Packaging should be designed to make the product easy to transport, move and lift. A regular shaped package (such as a cuboid) can be stacked without too much space being wasted. This means that more packages can be transported in a container. This enables the systemising of logistics and supply-chain.

5. Stacking and Storage – The shape and form of the packaging determine how efficiently they can be stacked or stored in warehouses or at distributors’ inventory.

The process of evolution:
The evolution in pharma packaging technology took place in terms of the types of packaging materials, quality of packaging materials, evolution In printing technology, improved process of vendor evaluation, digital technology like 2D codes, track and trace, the eco-friendly requirement of packaging material usage, automation process.

1. Types of packaging materials – a wide range of materials are available now with the super quality that imparts higher strength to the product.

2. With the evolution of printing technology, aesthetics have rapidly gained attention which again has helped in implementing anti-counterfeit concepts – holograms and micro text.

3. Process evolution – a simple example is FFS technology which is hygienic and provides ease of being a single-use product to customers. Other examples of process evolution are auto cartoners and bundlers which have streamlined production lines, upgraded production outputs, minimized errors in manual operations and led to appropriate packing of the finished goods.

4. Evolution in plastic technology has resulted in packs that are cost effective, light in weight and have good barrier properties.

5. Modern packaging considers design. It is essential for companies to be able to provide a product that is packaged in a well-designed pack and is appealing to the customer. This necessity has facilitated the advancement of packaging technologies.

6. In addition to the easy availability of colourful and complex designs, packaging technological evolutions have also allowed for unique and modern shapes to be easily made in plastic moulding processes. For example – caps and bottles in oral liquids.

7. Wastage during various operations has demanded more compact packaging materials resulting in less wastage and improved productivity.

8. There is a need for eco-friendly materials. The packaging industry and the end-users of packaging material have also been affected by environmental concerns. As a result, many food items now come in recyclable packaging or packaging which is made from already recycled materials. This, in turn, has influenced packaging design, as most products now come with clear instructions on how the materials can be disposed of or recycled in an environmentally friendly manner.

9. FSSAI (global) dictates rules and the divulging of nutritional information and correspondingly, FSSAI (national) dictates food packaging rules in India. These rules and regulations have standardised primary food package labelling which educates the consumer.

Mainly the package displays the name of the food or the brand name, the list of ingredients, nutritional information, declaration of the food product being vegetarian or not with the help of a logo – green logo for veg and brown for non-veg, declaration of the ingredients, permitted colours used, name and complete address of the manufacturer, customer care contact details, quantity, retail sale price, FSSAI logo and license number, batch number, manufacturing date, shelf-life, country of origin and the instructions for use. This labelling has also been followed for the Neutraceutical sector of pharma mainly food supplements, vitamins, etc.

Mistakes in food labelling and packaging can delay a product’s launch, lead to product recalls, and cost manufactureres a huge amount of money.

Government agencies across the globe have stringent regulatory policies for food packaging designs. Every time a new product is launched or the packaging is renewed, one has to make sure to adhere to these rules. The need for these rules arose out of customer need where the end-user needs to understand all that is packaged and how to use the product. The amount of calories one is gaining after consuming the food product also demands to be known.FSSAI Regulations are a comprehensive set of guidelines that all food product manufacturers and brands must follow. FSSAI decides the content architecture, the placement of content – what goes on the front or back – the sizes of different texts, typefaces to be used, and the amount of area the information should cover on all food and beverage labelling, size of logo, font, etc.

Many companies with products that look appealing to young children but could be harmful are adding child-resistant closures to imbibe the element of safety. The artwork is supposed to include all the details mentioned above.

Some Examples of evolution in packaging:
In the 90s, plastic evolution began and glass bottles were replaced by plastic containers which had high impact strength and moisture barrier and allotted great convenience for transit and supply-chain.
The growth stabilised with flexible laminated pouches, laminates, tubes, plastic bottles for oral formulations. Upgradation and evolution took place in process areas like:

1. Blister packaging – development of Alu-Alu blister, for hygroscopic products proved as a blessing with an increase in product cost. Various varieties and combinations in PVC/PVDC AND TRIPLEX films added to better barrier properties of the product and thus longer shelf-life.

2. Cartoning – cartonators streamlined, standardised entire packaging operations and delivered high-speed output, eliminated human errors.

3. Case packing – it became the backbone of supply-chain, especially for heavyweight items. It revolutionised secondary-tray packing which acts as a unit pack for logistics and supply-chain . The case packing machines and systems eliminated breakages during transit, provided protection during transit between warehouse to distribution as further streamlined distribution process.

4. Filling and aseptic FFS OR BLOW /FILL/SEAL technology – for example, eyedrops, both single-use and multidose bottles produced using FFS technology. Another application of FFS which has huge market share is STERILE water for injection or sterile sodium chloride for injection in FFS. The pack is not only aseptic but has also reduced breakages due to glass vials.

5. FG inspection systems, packaging material auto inspection systems on printing machines can identify error during process hence can prevent huge rejections in the final product. 6. Coding – DGFT barcoding and compliances, serialisation and track and trace.

7. Logistics and cold chain packaging – Cold chain packaging is ideal for products sensitive to high-temperature conditions. Vaccines, Insulin injections, anaesthesia injectables need to be stored in such packaging .Examples are insulated shipping containers, temperature monitoring tags, insulated boxes, shippers with inner aluminium lining, hot and cold gel bags.

Cold chain is required to getting the product to the destination in proper condition, retaining the quality of the product. It is called as ‘chain’ since it is a continuous, uninterrupted series of products being stored, transported and distributed in refrigerated condition, along with associated equipment and logistics, which maintain the desired low-temperature range.

The cold chain process is generally handled by QMS (quality management systems ), who are responsible to validate the cold chain process and issue required documents to release the product for shipment. Thus the system helps safe delivery of the product to the end-user with optimum shelf life.

Some measure brand evolutions through packaging

1)Insulin injection–
Patients with type 2 diabetes require insulin to keep blood sugar level normal and it’s mostly done by subcutaneous injections which the patient has to take daily. These injections are available in glass vials which over a period evolved, now these are available as prefilled syringes or as pumps.

1. Insulin injections: a) Vial pack
b) INSULIN PEN/Prefilled syringe

Vials and syringes –The patient has to withdraw insulin from VIAL with the help of a syringe and then inject subcutaneously, 2 to 3 times daily. This is indeed a painful process for the patient, also, an inconvenience to carry the pack outdoor is a major drawback of the packaging.Nowadays, an injection port has been designed that eliminates the need for multiple injections without having to puncture the skin for each dose.
Breakages of glass vials was another matter of concern while storing the vials at home or carrying along with while travelling. Thus, the inconvenience to the patient demanded an easy to carry and operate pack. Storage conditions of insulin are utmost important till consumption. Hence the innovation was a costly affair. Thus Insulin Pen was opted by many and preferred over traditional injection devices.
Ease of handling and delivering metered dose to the patient, accuracy, elimination of human error in using the equipment took over cost factor. (see reference image 2)

2) Crocin tablet–
The evolution in the product range, rather brand extensions and its packaging have been amazing. From regular 500 mg round tablet to an oval shape, slim, long tablets with brand extensions like Advance, pain relief, cold and flu -the packs belong to the same basket yet differentiate strongly from one another.
Primary pack – the blister foil is colour coated base and bears all the detailed information and statutory warning. The pack has a hanger for display on shelf. PVC used in blister for each category is different such as blue, red and yellow respectively. Thus it helps in segregating packs during production, identifies on the shelf display and creates a strong brand identity.


Various packaging of the crocin tablets

It reflects all the aspects of packaging – a selection of primary, secondary packaging, designs, all are synchronized to an appealing display. The outer cartons have OTC look and eye catching hanger type display.

3) Amrutanjan balm–
The name itself holds a huge brand image in our minds. Its journey from a glass bottle with aluminium cap, the yellow pack holds a special place in millions of hearts as a herbal balm.

With competitions, consumer demands the brand now has extensions like –Pain balm, strong, and Maha strong with unique design, colours differentiating the packs. The bottle changed from heavy glass bottle to a plastic bottle and tamper-evident cap. A simple product with great packaging which displays the brand on shelf.

Evolution of the Amrutanjan balm

Boom of the e-commerce industry:
Today’s consumers are busy, and convenience is important to them. That is why many packaging innovations are centred around the idea of ease. There are products whose packaging is smaller, single-use, closable, microwaveable, easy to pour, close and open.E-commerce requires strong secondary packaging for shipping the goods. Thus came a revolution in secondary and tertiary packs, mainly cartons and shippers. Product safety and protection till the point it is handed over to the end-user, demanded for cushion factor during transit.

Challenges have arisen in protecting products being shipped, preventing breakage, maintaining brand equity and trying to ensure that the packaging is as sustainable as possible.
Much of the emphasis in e-commerce has been on the secondary packaging required for shipping products from distribution centres to customer. Using the optimum sized packaging is important to control packaging costs.

Flexibles such as stand-up pouches and pillow pouches are becoming the packaging of choice, due to their improving barrier properties that provide longer shelf life, reduced material usage, transportation advantages and better retail display.

While flexible packaging is the fastest-growing packaging segment, the one factor limiting its growth is its recyclability. Since many of these packages are laminated structures, they cannot be recycled and end up going to wastage. Most of the organisations have to work on ways to solve this problem. Variations and nonunderstanding of recycling programs, unclear labelling, and inaccurate recyclability claims make proper recycling a challenge.There will be a time when ‘how to recycle’ process will be mentioned in the artwork.

Since the manufacturer on packaging material will only know which plastic granule goes into the package and how it should be recycled. Hence during vendor selection of packaging materials, this process will be one of the criteria for evaluating the vendor. Conclusion Undoubtedly, packaging’s challenges will grow even more complicated in the future. The booming global population, changing diet habits across the globe, exchange of culture, and need for green packaging, will increase demand for different types of packaging products.

Over the last 25 years, packaging evolutions focused on lighter, ecofriendly, protective and attractive packaging. This trend will continue in future.

Sustainability and environmental factors continue to play an important role in packaging development which will continue to demand for green or recyclable packaging that does not add to pollution problems.

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