Risky Business



Any discussion of healthcare invariably brings up cost. Everyone from patients to insurance companies to doctors to hospitals (from payer to payee to practitioner) is struggling to get a handle on spiraling costs.

Our annual look at key healthcare packaging trends is no different. Cost control is cited by a number of packaging professionals re­sponding to our annual trends survey. Even packaging suppliers are watching their budgets. The good news is that as these vendors strive to control their own costs, they will be passing the savings on to you.

"High raw-material and energy prices, along with cost pressures in a competitive marketplace, are among our challenges," reports Michael Rubenstein, president of Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaging. The company's goal is to "be agile and flexible and adapt more quickly to ever-evolving markets.

Specifically, Alcan Packaging–Medical Flexibles is facing "resin obsoletions, increased raw-material costs, and increased energy prices," says Jesse Blake, marketing manager. In addition, "increased healthcare costs for our employees have had an impact on our manufacturing costs."

Innovation and resourcefulness could counteract these forces. "Our business has made a concerted effort to tighten our control over raw-material supply," he says. "We are self-manufacturing materials whenever possible." For instance, Alcan installed a new three-layer blown film line in Marshall, NC.

Pliant Corp. is looking to high-yield films that facilitate downgauging for pallet applications. The firm's 42- and 45-gauge Stratos films are "a great tool for controlling palletizing costs in an unprecedented era of volatile energy and resin prices," says Fred Wampnar, vice president and general manager of Pliant Stretch films.

On a global perspective, Klöckner Pentaplast's approach is to invest and support pharmaceutical companies wherever they produce, says Daniel Stagnaro, pharmaceutical films business manager. "Having local manufacturing and supply allows customers to purchase films using local currencies, avoiding duties. It makes products more cost-competitive. And companies have just-in-time inventory and don't have to wait for vessels."

This year, Klöckner Pentaplast announced expanding capacity: a new coating and laminating line that will come on-line in Brazil later this year, a new plant to be built in India to be up in early 2008, added capacity in Thailand, and added capacity in Russia.

Randy Troutman, technical director, Oliver Medical (Grand Rapids, MI), says that efforts to meet new ISO 11607 "converter validation requirements are driving process improvements." However, these initiatives have to be viewed as opportunities to improve critical processes while documenting validation efforts, he says. "Taking the simple documentation-of-an-existing-process approach does not provide the cost benefit required to execute these projects," he adds. Oliver Medical found that it was not cost-effective to further invest in or validate certain existing product lines, so it is classifying them separately from standard product offerings, which are fully validated, or discontinuing them all together. In addition, "given the heightened awareness, the costs and barriers to market entry to bring innovative products to market have increased," he says.

Perhaps it helps to know that just as you are grappling with meeting your budgets in an era of increasing material and energy costs, so are your vendors. Your attempts to reduce waste and streamline processes won't surprise them. They are hoping to do the same.

Daphne Allen

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)