Over recent weeks, the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector has been working relentlessly. The dramatic rise in demand for medicines has put intense pressure on the supply chain to ensure they reach those who need it, when they need it.

For businesses involved in the packing and distribution of these vital products, they have had to step their operations up a gear at a time when their own workforce is diminished as a result of staff needing to self-isolate. It has all the makings of a perfect storm and brings into sharp relief the importance of building a packaging operation that is both resilient and agile.

Drawing on the experience and expertise of the Antalis Packaging team, here, we look at the measures businesses working in the pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain can put in place to ensure their operation is best placed to be able to flex in line with rise and falls in demand.

Choosing a reputable partner for your packaging supplies

Because the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector is highly regulated, it is important to work with a packaging supply partner who understands its specific needs. A good packaging partner will not only offer a range of high quality packaging products, they will also offer flexibility in terms of supply and support services. This is especially important if you are looking to expand or diversify your product portfolio or are perhaps a logistics business entering the sector for the first time.

Managing packaging inventory

Managing packaging inventory can be challenging at the best of times. But how does a business manage stock levels when faced with the extremes of demand? Upping storage capacity now could leave you with redundant stock eating up valuable space and budget when packaging needs change. Void fill and cushioning materials are especially challenging. But there are ways to manage these issues that mean space can be put to more productive use:

• Stock-holding
A good packaging supplier will offer stock-holding and next-day delivery services, which mean you can pay for your packaging upfront to secure the best price and then call off stock as and when you need it. There will probably be a minimum order and delivery threshold, and it may not be available for all products, but it offers significant advantages over stockpiling packaging materials on your own shelves.

• On-demand void fill and cushioning
Creating void fill and cushioning materials on-demand can bring a high level of efficiency and flexibility to both warehouse storage and packing lines, especially if space is at a premium and staff are under pressure. It is available in air and paper options, both of which are environmentally friendly. Taking up minimal storage space, the air sacs are inflated on demand by an easy-to-use mobile kit. For the paper option, layers of Kraft paper are passed through a converter that turns them into a variety of void fill and cushioning products.

With sustainability continuing to be an important consideration even in the current challenging climate, the packaging industry is constantly developing new and innovative ways to create packaging materials that provide optimum protection with minimal environmental impact. One of these innovations is on-demand 100% sustainable paper-based thermal insulating pads that can be used to pack temperature-sensitive items.

Another significant advantage of on-demand packaging is that packing staff don’t need to continually replenish their stocks of void fill and cushioning materials thereby minimising movement around the packing area and making it easier for staff to maintain social distancing and keep productivity high.

Keeping up with demand without losing quality

When the pressure is on to get goods packed and loaded onto delivery vehicles, the quality of packing can begin to fall. Depending on the nature of the operation, this might include too much or too little void fill and cushioning being used, cartons not being sealed properly, or pallets being inadequately wrapped – or a combination of all of these. And it’s even more likely when staff levels are low and they’re working under social distancing restrictions.

Automating aspects of the packing process can increase efficiency significantly and ensure that staff are able to stay safe and socially distance. Packaging machinery to consider includes case sealers, carton erectors, pallet wrappers, strappers, and the on-demand void fill and cushioning kit mentioned above. Understandably, many businesses, particularly smaller operations, might be reluctant to invest in equipment. Fortunately, some packaging suppliers, Antalis included, offer flexible payment options to make machinery much more affordable. This means you can add significant momentum to your packing operation when you need it, and create an agile operation for the future.

Managing the environmental impact of your packaging

Finally, it’s important to bear in mind that with the growth in demand for products and materials to pack them comes an inevitable rise in packaging waste. When our attention is focused on more immediate concerns, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture, but there are ways to scale up your operations without scaling up your environmental impact:

• Choose packaging that is recyclable and or has recycled content
• Minimise pack sizes – in using less material, they will also be cheaper to transport
• Consider bespoke packaging – carefully thought through, it can be designed to address a wide range of criteria to reduce environmental impact, for example, reducing pack assembly time, optimising product protection or minimising the number or volume of materials used. Although it might be more expensive upfront, it can save a lot of expense elsewhere in your operation. To enable customers to continue to take advantage of its packaging design service during the current social distancing requirements, Antalis has set up its Smart Packaging Centre in virtual form. The Virtual SPC means our team of packaging technologists are still available to discuss ideas, develop solutions to your challenges and run live demos of pack designs.

For more information and advice on how to build a resilient and agile packaging operation, contact our experts now.