Setting the Course for Packaging

IoPP's packaging fundamentals course helps a drug manufacturer set the foundation for educating its worldwide packaging force.


Daphne Allen, Editor

At its Global Packaging Services (GPS) facility in Collegeville, PA, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals doesn't actually do any packaging. But the facility is truly the company's central hub of packaging. According to Ed Orme, assistant vice president of GPS, it's where Wyeth designs and develops packaging and labeling for most of its over-the-counter, prescription, and nutritional products. (It works in conjunction with a sister graphics team that develops labeling for over-the-counter products in Madison, NJ.) Collegeville is also where Wyeth plans the design and layout for most of its worldwide packaging lines. "We like to see ourselves as a teaching organization," says Lenny Figorski, associate director of GPS.

But the firm needed "more consistency" across its operations around the world, Figorski adds. "We needed to speak the same 'packaging language,' and we needed to agree on the best packages for global launches."

Seymour Clark-Reynolds, senior project administrator, desktop labeling, adds that the company "wanted to standardize and have a better handle on what goes on around the world."

So, says Orme, "For about two years now, our goal here at GPS has been to facilitate and drive creation of policy and best packaging practices for the organization. Because we are doing very well with our current product portfolio, we are growing organically, but we need a common packaging platform for integrating global operations and new employees."

Naturally, Wyeth turned to education. Orme says that some of Wyeth's GPS managers had participated in an education program and achieved certification from the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP), so Orme decided to contact IoPP to see what type of program could be developed for Wyeth. "We recognized IoPP as the premier professional organization for packaging and wanted to partner with them," he says.

"When IoPP receives a request to develop an educational program, we first assess the company's needs," says Stan Zelesnik, IoPP's director of education. "IoPP has about a dozen well-qualified instructors and educational materials covering virtually every aspect of packaging technology. We select the instructor best qualified for the specific program. The instructor then works directly with the company to customize or develop educational materials and to deliver the final program."

For the Wyeth program, IoPP's instructor was Walter Soroka, who has been teaching IoPP's Packaging Fundamentals courses since 1990. Last year Soroka wrote the third edition of IoPP's textbook, Fundamentals of Packaging Technology.

"Walter interviewed us about the types of packaging we design and develop and about where our future is taking us," says Orme. "He then put together a 10-day course, customizing it rather quickly." Because Wyeth is a strong player in biotechnology, for instance, Soroka covered parenteral drug packaging more extensively than he would have for a general course. Other topics covered in-depth included package printing, materials, testing, and packaging security.

The course was split into two five-day weeks, one held in January 2003 and the other in March. Wyeth obtained the textbooks early, giving students the chance to read up before the course. "I read parts of the text over the Thanksgiving weekend last year," says Jun Li, associate director, nutrition, GPS. Attending the training were 22 professionals with varying responsibilities, including packaging, labeling, testing, documentation, and compliance and training.

No employees with degrees in packaging attended, since most had either studied such material in college or had already become certified through IoPP's program. So Soroka started with the basics. "It took him a couple of days to read us, so he started off slowly. But then he saw we could handle a quicker pace and picked it up, covering a lot of information," says Clark-Reynolds.

"I think we scared him, at first, since we had no packaging degrees, just experience," adds Li. "But we picked it up quickly. He was able to link theory to our day-to-day activities."

"It was a good opportunity for us. We got to spend two weeks with an expert, and Walter was available all the time—during lunch and after class, too," says Figorski.

In addition to lecturing, Soroka invited seasoned Wyeth packaging professionals to act as guest lecturers. "Wyeth has some very specialized areas of operation, with experts working in the field all the time," says Soroka. "So we had about six Wyeth specialists speak on topics like injectible technology for serums. These experts know the nuances."

Other topics that guest speakers covered included printing, packaging line design, and mold qualification. One such expert was Jack Barry, Wyeth's senior director of packaging technology. He serves on PhRMA's bar coding committee.

"You may ask why Wyeth didn't put the program together itself, given all its expertise," says Soroka. "But you'd be amazed at the time and cost in putting together such an educational program. We set it all up for them, and the preparation time was minimal for Wyeth."

Another aspect of the program was visiting some of Wyeth's local suppliers. Says Figorski: "We were able to visit our local strategic vendors for real-life demonstrations."

The vendors included Drug Plastics and Glass (Boyertown, IL), which blow molds plastic containers for Wyeth; Cardinal Health's carton printing operation in Pennsauken, NJ; and Mid-Atlantic Corrugated (Montgomeryville, IL), which gave the students a tour of its ASTM package-testing laboratory.

"Walter's presence was invaluable during these visits," says Reynolds.

Adds Orme: "We are grateful to these suppliers for letting us tour their operations as part of our course. Drug Plastics is even planning an additional course for us."

Twenty-one of the 22 students took the final exam of the program, and all passed, says Orme. "We all wanted to get through the program so we could move on to certification," explains Figorski.

"This course was a good basic course, serving as a stepping stone to other courses. For instance, I just took an ASTM course in drop testing," says Clark-Reynolds.

Orme says that Wyeth is planning to offer this particular course every couple of years, expanding it to more of Wyeth's hundreds of packaging professionals with related job functions. "Since there often is an overlap of responsibility when it comes to packaging and labeling, it is important that there are good relationships and good hand-offs among employees. For seamless transitions, there needs to be a good understanding of the body of packaging knowledge."

Figorski even envisions Wyeth's GPS location as becoming an educational and training center for worldwide operations, offering the same IoPP course and other related courses. "Potentially, people from other locations around the world could come to GPS."

Wyeth is also planning an advanced course, which will include more on biotechnology.

IoPP now offers its Fundamentals of Packaging Technology course with an emphasis on pharmaceuticals to other companies. It can be taught by Soroka or most of IoPP's seven other instructors. For more information about IoPP's educational programs, please visit


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