Partnering Up

Contract packagers as well as materials and machinery providers are expanding their services to help pharmaceutical and medical device packaging professionals.

By Daphne Allen, Editor
and David Vaczek, Senior Editor

On average, 20% of pharmaceutical packaging is outsourced to contract packagers, while nearly 14% of medical packaging operations are outsourced. So reported respondents to PMP News’s 2006 Healthcare Packaging Survey. (For more on this survey, see, “Is Packaging Key to Good Health” in the August 2006 issue.) Because this is PMP News’s first year conducting such a benchmarking study, it may be hard to ascertain whether use of contract services is rising.

Uhlmann Packaging Systems offers full machinery rebuilds, stripping the machine down and replacing all wear parts, and upgrading safety features.

But such services can be vital for healthcare product manufacturers that are a little hesitant to expand packaging operations. These companies must “maintain profitability in the midst of stiff competition and a changing industry in terms of requirements and trends,” writes one survey respondent. Companies are “trying to do it all on a tightened budget,” writes another. And finally this from one start-up: “We may not be able to spend additional funds right away for the equipment or methods we read about.”

Contractors routinely say that by outsourcing new or specialty packaging projects to partners, manufacturers can focus on their core competencies and remain efficient, avoiding risky capital investments in machinery or facilities.

Contract packagers perform the bulk of the outsourcing work for in-house packaging professionals. But materials and machinery providers, too, are offering additional support that may ease manufacturer burden. To help you find exactly what services are available, we have compiled a Packaging Services Buyers Guide appearing on pages 30–33. And in the following pages, you’ll find corporate profiles from service providers at the ready.


Many service providers are making considerable investments in capital and capabilities in order to give customers more support and more options for innovation. In October, TestPak unveiled the Stora Enso Pharma SHR (Small-Hands Resistant) packaging system at its Whippany, NJ, headquarters. The semiautomatic carton machine is housed in a dedicated suite for which TestPak expanded production space at one of its Whippany packaging sites.

Bill Eveleth, vice president, sales and marketing, said that additional suites will be added to accommodate equipment supporting additional assembly steps for the Pharma SHR package.

Developed by Stora Enso and Bosch Packaging, the carton machine automatically forms flat paperboard into inner and outer sleeves that are ultrasonically welded in a ten-step process. Blisters are glued to the inner sleeve.

“With the Pharma SHR system, there is no need to redesign primary packaging. The carton alone provides CR F=1 performance, so it is practically a ‘plug and play’ solution. Stora Enso has successfully completed a number of clinical tests. Although the equipment was only officially launched less than a month ago, we have a number of projects already in process, and will have our first development-level sale this year,” said Eveleth.

Surefil LLC has installed a new packaging line featuring monoblock filling/capping, labeling, coding, case packing, palletizing, and shrink-wrapping.

Surefil LLC (Grand Rapids, MI), a contract manufacturer serving the personal care and medical industries, has added a new, high-speed packaging line. “High speed and dependability were key considerations in selecting the new equipment,” says Jeff Bevis, chief engineer for Surefil. The installation will add an additional 85 million units to Surefil’s current capacity. Two more new packaging lines are set to be installed at Surefil in the next two years.

The line is equipped with a pharmaceutical-grade unscrambler from New England Machinery, a Ronchi Exacta Filler-Capper Monoblock, and a case erector and a top sealer from Pearson. The filler’s sanitary design eliminates the potential for contamination and maintains a filling accuracy of 0.2%.

Sanofi-Aventis’s contract packaging operation in St. Louis is also doing much more than just filling and sealing packages. “Customers can purchase printed cartons, labels, insert and outserts, and other components from us, if we supply the entire package,” says Melissa Berner, sales and marketing specialist. “We do not actually manufacture them—we purchase them from one of our suppliers. We offer a complete turnkey service. We can design the package, order the components, package the product, and ship the finished product.” 

Some service providers are organizing seminars to enrich customers.

For instance, opened officially in April 2006, the Alcan Packaging University is a continuous-improvement initiative from the Innovation Pharma Team of Alcan Packaging Pharma Flexibles Europe. The project translates theory into practical information in order to help customers better comprehend what Alcan Packaging does in flexible packaging. The first program was held in one of Alcan Packaging facilities in Singen, Germany. The presenters are pharmaceutical packaging experts from Singen and Kreuzlingen R&D, production, logistics, quality control, along with Neuhausen (an AP technical and R&D Center) specialists and innovation team.

Subjects covered at the Alcan Packaging University include raw materials, production and printing, quality assurance, logistics, innovation processes, and applications.

Machinery providers are also in the service business. At Showcase 2006, organized by the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council and sponsored by Honeywell and PMP News, Hubert Keil and Markus Haid of Uhlmann Packaging Systems (Towaco, NJ) detailed their machinery rebuild services. Uhlmann also highlighted rebuilding at Pack Expo International, bringing a recently refurbished blister thermoformer originally built in 1991 to the show floor.

“Packagers seek line efficiency, and they get frustrated when it is below what it should be,” explained Keil at Showcase. “But what if they cannot afford new equipment?”

Fifteen-year-old equipment still has a lot of life left, added Keil. It may only need electronic and mechanical upgrades to bring it up to date with the latest in machine control and communications. “The original relays and control boards are 15 or more years old and often obsolete, to the point where they can no longer be supported in case of a breakdown. We are able to switch out the obsolete electronic components and engineer the machine so that everything is controlled by a single touch screen operator interface that can also include e-learning for operators. This helps to ensure more consistent machine operation.”

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