Printing for Pharma in the Age of Automation

by Ryan Szporer

Do you print for pharma?

Adding a digital element to and automating the proofreading process is considered a major efficiency advantage in most industries. When it comes to pharma, it’s practically a necessity.

 

The Automation Advantage

Digital proofreading solutions have been proven to help eliminate errors on packaging by catching them early in the pre-press stage and even during the print run itself. Manual proofers are susceptible to factors like fatigue and human error, which leads to actual errors.

So, by going digital, printers can keep themselves from unnecessarily wasting resources and time. If they were to only discover mistakes after the job is done, they’d be forced to start from scratch instead of moving forward by sending the shipment back to the customer.

In one of several worst-case scenarios, they may even send it out without discovering the mistakes at all. That would strain the relationship between the two. Worse yet, the error(s) may end up in stores, hurting the print-shop customer from a brand-equity standpoint… and financially with a recall. It also potentially hurts their customer, the end user, from a physical standpoint.

 

Recall-Proofing Your Packaging Workflow

Recalls, especially due to packaging errors, are kryptonite to what might otherwise be an invincible brand. After all, they can single handedly stain a reputation.

In pharma, where recalls were up strongly to start 2018, that goes double. Text has to be 100% accurate considering the importance of dosage and ingredient information on packaging. Something as small as a misplaced or missing period can cause serious damage and negatively impact the health of consumers who could have just been following instructions as they read them. In fact, as of the fourth quarter of 2017, mislabeling was the second-leading cause of pharmaceutical recalls in the United States at 17.4%.

Featuring unique requirements like serialization and other brand-protection features, printing for the pharmaceutical industry and automation simply go hand in hand. There’s no reason a printer shouldn’t take advantage of automation for the purposes of packaging quality control too, as they are clearly benefiting at other stages of the packaging development process already.

 

More than a Trend

The benefits of automation in pharma have been well-documented. In fact, its role within the industry is growing. To illustrate to just what degree, it was predicted in a 2014 study by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, that robots would handle 34% of primary pharmaceutical packaging operations in North America by 2018.

Unfortunately, now that we’re in 2019, an update on the accuracy of that specific prediction is unavailable and probably will be for some time. However, as recently as late 2016, another report from PMMI revealed three out of five (so, the majority of) American pharma companies are using robotics for “palletizing, primary packaging, product handling, and cartoning.”

It’s obviously not a direct comparison, but it does reveal the industry is at least continuing to ramp up the automated aspects of its supply chain, generally speaking. As automation has already left its mark on labeling and packaging, proofreading is the next logical foothold in the industry to take.

As Jarrod Medeiros of R&D Magazine writes: “Organizations need to use the tech available to them to automate specific processes and ensure security and compliance.” That’s just logical, to benefit from tech that’s readily available. If you don’t, you lag behind.

Furthermore, as compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations extends to text accuracy, the move to digital proofreading would be dual-purpose. In effect, automating the proofreading process is no more a trend than any other shift in industry standards. It’s not the future as much as it is a reality in the here and now.

The question is, “Are you printing for pharma as efficiently as possible?”


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