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Late-stage customisation improves agility in pharma manufacturing

Late-stage customisation is vital due to comply with the latest serialisation legislation worldwide. It can also be an opportunity for finding a solution that can handle both serialisation and the production of small batch sizes without any loss of operational effectiveness.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers must now ensure that labels printed at a late stage contain all of the data required for compliance. This includes customising product labels for certain markets, customers or products by adding variable data to labels or packaging. This avoids the need to stock individual packaging materials for each variant.

The flexible production of smaller batch sizes has also introduced new requirements for automatic and fast changeovers. If you’re a pharma manufacturer, how can you implement a tamper-evident, flexible solution for low- and medium-volume production?

A generic image showing how serialised medicines can benefit all stages of the supply chain
Pharmaceutical companies are required to have certain security features on prescription medicines, including a 2D-Datamatrix code and an anti-tampering device

Serialisation in Africa and abroad

Governments worldwide have developed regulations to safeguard patients and consumers by preventing false or counterfeit medicines from entering the supply chain. This includes medicines with fake packaging, the wrong ingredients, low levels of the active ingredients and those that infringe trademark law or don’t comply with intellectual property rights.

In emerging markets like Africa, pharmaceutical products must be labelled and packaged according to each country’s requirements. Counterfeiting can be reduced significantly using product serialisation and a system to track and trace medicines throughout the supply chain.

Serialisation of prescription medicines is now mandatory in EU countries and many other regions across the world. Pharmaceutical companies are required to have certain security features on prescription medicines, including a unique identifier (UI) for each product in the form of a 2D-Datamatrix code and an anti-tampering device (e.g. a seal on the folding box).

These security features are verified by a system that identifies the product and guarantees correctness and a minimum labelling and sealing quality. Manufacturers must upload serial numbers to a database after production; and physicians, pharmacies and hospitals etc. must verify the packages before giving them to a patient.

Changing market requirements

Greater flexibility and efficiency in the supply chain are also needed. Packaging lot sizes are becoming increasingly smaller and manufacturers must be able to respond immediately to changing market requirements. Small lot sizes can lead to lower productivity and overall equipment effectiveness. Downtime for format changes reduce the efficiency of a packaging line and increase the cost per unit. New processes, using the latest digital printing technologies, are needed for packaging even the smallest lot sizes.

The benefits of late-stage customisation include less storage space, lower costs (with logistic warehouses replaced by one centralised warehouse), a reduction in stored material value and less rework and re-packing due to errors or changes in regulations.

Combined elements for cost and production efficiency

Under new regulations implemented worldwide, all pharmaceutical products will need a unique serial number. By combining serialisation and small batch sizes and integrating both digital printing processes into one step, late-stage customisation can result in compliance and cost-effective production.

There are several options for late-stage customisation. Serialisation and customisation can take place at a contract packaging facility, in logistics centres or on the packaging line. Primary packed materials can be shipped to decentralised packaging depots. The information (e.g. translations, specific market information and traceability data) may be printed digitally when an order is placed. Late-stage customisation could also include over-labelling or applying date labels (e.g. for clinical trials).

There could be a need for shipping small lots with specific components for different markets, or various product strengths and numbers of products per carton. Material can be shipped in bulk and fed to a packaging line. All market-specific data can then be printed, inspected and moved onto the next supply chain step.

Late-stage customisation can involve different technical requirements, for example, serialisation might involve using only monochrome printing of text and symbols. Individual colour markings could be added without serialisation; or you could use large-scale colour printing with symbols and serialisation. An ideal solution must enable fast changeovers of both data and format.

If serialisation and late-stage customisation take place directly before packaging, considerable savings can be achieved in storage and logistics costs, along with more versatile production and the easier supply of small batches.

Finding a flexible, tamper-evident solution

If you need an easy and adaptable tamper-evident solution for late-stage customisation, especially for low and medium volume production, Omron recommends a flexible serialisation station. This is a packaging machine that combines manual feeding, robotics, printing and sealing. This can handle manual feeding and can automatically separate the products and transfer them to the printhead for customisation with variable data, such as product codes, serial number and refund number.

You can prepare orders and load the master data from the serialisation database or ERP system. Set-up can be carried out via a menu, including loading the variable data print profile and the position of the tamper-evident seal (applied to the carton by a robot). The station includes a robot-guided machine vision system that checks the label presence and print quality, validates text, and checks the datamatrix code. The system will reject products with poor print quality, incorrect printing or insufficient seals.

The serialisation station can include product weighing and can be operated via a large, intuitive industrial touchscreen. It’s a safe option even for breakable primary packaging such as syringes. It can generate all the reports, including a production report, error reports, the status of the serial numbers used, and an Audit Trail Report. A full audit trail, which is part of the regulatory requirements, assures record integrity and security.



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