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Packaging: Connecting product with people


Globalisation and consumerisation have not only helped to enhance the scale of operations, but also helped in enhancing the packaging standards and transformation of supply chain operation, shares Prabir Das, Head, Pkgg Tech Services (OSD) – Mylan India

All types of materials and technologies are involved in packaging, directly or indirectly. Because of this wide material option, many different conversion processes are also involved, which covers a large section of the industry. Gradually, the world started shrinking in front of rapid evolution of technology. A large range of packaging materials, designs and processes are available for adoption, depending on the nature of the product, intended end use and mode of distribution. It ensures the product retains the same quality through its assigned shelf life, while establishing the connectivity between the product and the people. Thus, growth and success of globalisation and consumerisation is the triumph of packaging with its valuable contribution.

Consumerisation and globalisation

Apart from primary functions of packaging in protecting and preserving the product, there are many secondary functions that emerged due to consumerisation and globalisation. Many value-added features started getting embedded on packaging and labelling to comply various regulatory, quality and patient compliance to sustain and survive in the industry. While some of these features are for consumer convenience, tamper evidence and authentication, others are for product positioning, safety and security across the supply chain. With all these primary and secondary functions, packaging has now become responsible and accountable for brand building and trust building within the people. Socio-ecological drive also prompted packaging to be smart and environment-friendly to promote the campaigns on reduction, reuse and recycling programmes in order to promote disposability and bio-degradability.1

The awareness building in the industry, academy and media also took a new shape with changing scenario. Now, the little kid “Puriah” has grown up exceptionally and exponentially into ‘Packaging.’ However, still there are unexplored opportunities prevailing at different levels and sectors of the industry. While big players at top layer understood its importance, medium and small sectors are yet to recognise its full potential. They are hesitant to take risk and realise the return.

A good product may fail to get success with bad packaging, but a poor product can achieves it with a good packaging. Packaging demands equal attention and passion as the product needs. With a balanced and compliant feature embedded in packaging, it can transform the entire brand building and product positioning exercise for an organisation and this we call as consumerisation.

Over the years, a changing trend has been observed from conventional pack style to convenient and smart packaging. These are efficiently backed up by operational changes from manual to semi-automatic or fully automatic packaging lines, not only to scale it up for volume, but also to reduce variability and improve consistency in quality and compliance. Various technologies started blending to assist automation through standardisation and harmonisation of packaging designs and systems. On line processes have been designed to ensure stronger controls and compliances.2

Smart packaging

Combination of mechanical-electrical-optical engineering and introduction of digital electronics brought technological revolution in various conversion industries, including packaging. All these technologies adopted and adapted to ensure improvement in productivity, quality, stability, safety and security. With this rapid unconventional growth of the industry, a parallel threat also grew proportionately to tarnish the trust of people on successful products/brands. Many value-added features then appeared and were embedded in packaging to prevent tampering, theft, duplication, diversion, etc. On compliance front, there came child- resistant features, senior friendly features, punctuality compliant features, easy dispensing features, age-band specific designs, and many other features based on dynamic regulatory and customer-compliance needs.3a

However, the growth rate of technology was much faster than the overall growth of the industry. Only bigger progressive players could afford and adopt them based on their strength, leaving behind the weaker players. Even few bigger players were left behind due to lack of foresight and reluctance in investment risk. Few faced limited infrastructure for extension or expansion of packaging facilities to embrace changes and challenges. Newer compliance challenges emanating from statutory and regulatory guidelines from local and global agencies further brought high investment and larger space requirements to sustain and survive in the industry. Such challenges often end up with either finding the loopholes in the law or strong lobbying to bend the rulings. Such situation sometimes create chaotic business cases, obliterating all the innovative solutions to support control and compliance. 4

Moreover, there are many challenges to keep pace with this regulatory and technology-driven environment. The key challenges are harmonisation of regulations from different geographies, integration of different technologies, training and skill development of people, simultaneous development of product and packaging, strong and reliable supply chain network, backward integration of raw material and conversion industries, academy- industry-regulators networking, awareness building among the people through seminars/conferences, etc. People need to understand that a consumer gets the product in their hand only with its packaging and entire trust building happens through it.

Good and smart packaging effectively communicates and transfers the value of the product silently. We have a long way to travel with many more challenges and threats in coming days. Digitisation and communication will be two major drivers in all sectors from development to distribution. Services will be equally important as goods and consumer expectation will be as dynamic as ever along with regulations to safeguard public health. All layers of the industry need to get true professionals to channelise the resources for critical functions and allocate sufficient provision to adapt to quick changes. Unfortunately, packaging today is still considered as a non-critical service function in many organisations, which need a prompt resolution.5

The other factor is variation of packaging standards. While the importance and valuation of packaging differ within an industry from large-scale (global) organisation to small-scale (local) organisation, it also varies across the industry. People from the healthcare sector evaluate packaging on a different scale compared to FMCG sector. It also varies across geographies based on demographic conditions and practices therein. But flexibility with material and design options made it possible to meet all such variances within affordable reach of people.

Understanding it right

Packaging connects the product with the people. So, it is important to understand the product, understand what people want and understand the process – how people can easily access the product and how can packaging function help to facilitate it by applying knowledge on material and technology, rules and regulations, logistics and distribution, economy and environment. The cause of our busy-ness is the business and supply chain is the flow line or value chain of the business. It is something like our circulatory system and helps to deliver the basic needs of people – food and drinks, clothing, shelter and many essential commodities. It bridges the gap between– demand and supply. Lesser the gap, more is the efficiency of supply chain. 6

Medicine is one of the most critical essential commodity. It needs strong (efficient and effective) supply chain to ensure human health is always safe and secure. We all know a product (more precisely a medicine) is always delivered to the people (more precisely a patient) along with its packaging. Packaging not only helps to protect, preserve and idifferentiate the product but, also silently connects and communicates with the users. Other value-added features in packaging also help authentication, tamper evidence, brand protection, brand promotion, etc. The supply chain always works in the background to ensure safe and secure delivery of the product-pack to the people from the point of manufacturing to the point of use. Apart from many adverse external conditions, there are many threats during the journey–damage, spillage, breakage, pilferage, exchange, diversion, etc. The essence of this service is–right quantity at right place on right time with right quality. Basically, it is delivery of goods and services with trust– the value protector and trust builder with quality, quantity, safety, security and punctuality.

Packaging-supply chain partnership

Product-Packaging-People connectivity is an external process to ensure people are receiving the desired product intact through its effective packaging. Internally, R&D-Production-Marketing ensures the product and its packaging are designed, developed and produced as people wants it. Supply chain, at the core of the business, ensures alignment of all the internal and external functions to deliver the product in time with right quality and quantity.7a

We need to know the role of packaging-supply chain partnership which can improve the effectiveness and efficiency together. Packaging function needs to collate various information related to the product and the people while designing the pack. They also need to know how the product reaches to the people without compromising its quality. Similarly, supply chain function also needs to understand the requirements for the products, packaging and the people. Packaging and supply chain, both need to act as complement to each other and satisfy product-people requirements. There are other elements across the chain which enable and strengthen this product-people connectivity. The stronger the knowledge on KYC (know your chain), the more is the efficiency and effectiveness of a supply chain. The KYC involves content (product), container (packaging), customer (people), connectivity, communication and coordination.

There are many attributes associated with the product, packaging and people, to know and understand the entire operation. We need to know what we want to pack – the product and its process design, how we want to pack – the packaging materials and system, where we want to pack – the site and the facility design, who will do the packaging – training and skill set of people, what will be the storage and handling system– area and control, who are the intended users – destination and distribution, what will be the mode of transport– land, water and air.10

Many internal and external factors also influence the supply chain operation. Half of the battle can be won once all these parameters are considered in advance for the entire operation. Some value-added features also are available on packaging now – digital graphics and special customised design to enhance brand value, use of pictograms and mnemonics to ensure proper dispensing, use, handling, storage and disposal, tamper evidence to prevent pilferage or theft, authentication features to ensure genuineness of the product and its ownership, track and trace system to monitor movement across supply chain, to ensure genuineness and to prevent pilferage/diversion.

Dealing with threats

A little more input will also help to design the packaging and decide the supply chain strategy – intended market (domestic or export), country/customer specific requirements, techno-commercial supply agreement, rules and regulations (importer and exporter), destination and distribution network, mode of transport and number of transshipment, etc. Awareness is also required on various types of threats (damage, spillage, breakage, pilferage, exchange and diversion), external environmental conditions (heat, light, humidity, gases and natural disasters), handling and storage practices (automation, standardisation and palletisation), logistics, distribution and travel (Containerisation, land, water and air), destination and demography (geography, weather, people and practices), rules and regulations (environmental, commercial, logistical and safety). Based on these inputs, adequate precautions need to be assured to ensure an effective and efficient end-to-end solution. These include minimum open exposure and holding of the product, control and monitoring of temperature and humidity, avoiding prolonged storage under extreme conditions (use of datalogger), discouraging too many manual handling through mechanisation or automation, wherever possible, skill set elevation and training of people, proper labelling and marking on the packs and pallets, adopting security features during storage and transit, elimination/ reduction of unauthorised and unconditioned carriers, minimising number of transshipments, etc).

Globalisation and consumerisation have not only helped to enhance the scale of operations, but also helped in enhancing the packaging standards and transformation of supply chain operation. These enhancements helped to do fenceless business across geographies, which is nothing but true globalisation. Depending on the need of the product and people, different types of carriers have been developed and are being used to protect the quality of product-packaging. There are various types — handling, storage and transportation systems being followed in the industry – holding, lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, stacking, use of bins, crates, pallets, carts, trollies, lofts, racks, hangers, fork lifts, robots, etc. Handling and storage conditions also improved a lot through mechanised and automated systems to minimise damages, breakages and spillages.
Transportation is happening through multiple combinations of land, water and air, depending on destination and timelines. Different sizes of door-to-door containers with customised designs are also in services to retain the original quality of the product-packs. Temperature and humidity-controlled containers/vehicles, cold-chain carrier systems are also very effective and efficient in keeping the quality intact. Life-saving medicines/vaccines and even live organs are delivered through effective packaging and efficient supply chain, including green corridor transport systems.

A natural question now is ‘what’s next?

With rapid all-round growth of technologies, business is shaping up to sustain and survive in the competition. Patients are also becoming impatient if there are issues with authenticity, availability and affordability. Multiple technologies are now being blended together to take care of such issues through value-added features. Some of the important growth areas are significantly contributing to shape the future of business and industry. Adopt and adapt them quickly and be a winner.

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