Prabir Das, Pharmaceutical Packaging Industry Expert shared insights to Prathiba Raju, Elets News Network on how digitalization is adopted at each level of operations in packaging, and segment’s contribution towards the product protection and distribution, irrespective of the pandemic.
Q How has the pandemic impacted the pharma packaging segment?
The pandemic situation was an exception to the conventional. It is easier to encounter an opponent or a situation when it is known and visible. Initially, during the outbreak, it was all about uncertainty. Within few months, the entire world was under its cover. Packaging being an integral part of the product and considering need of a global level coverage within a short time, it was a big challenge. The end-to-end supply chain from raw materials, packaging materials to the finished product was not equipped for this kind of emergency. There were many hurdles like the restricted movement of people, skeletal transportation system, scarcity of essential support systems, etc. Nevertheless, Packaging has a noble role to support product protection and distribution, irrespective of external situations. The only difference was quick optimization of the available resources and consolidate them to support the demand. R & D, Manufacturing, Packaging, Quality, Supply Chain, and all other major support functions got aligned to respond to the pandemic.
Q Can you tell us how the pandemic has promoted innovative packaging solutions and their future impact?
Innovation in Packaging has three distinct categories – Material innovation, Design Innovation, and Application innovation. Material innovation, particularly the primary packaging materials, is a long-term process, involving compatibility & stability study, extractable & leachable study, migration & permeation study, including clinical and bio equivalence studies of the product and transport worthiness of the finished product packaging. Considering the emergency, design, and application innovation got priority for development and adoption. However, the process of material innovation got momentum and many studies are continuing with different formulations at different parts of the world.
Q In pharma packaging can all single-use plastics be replaced with eco-friendly materials like agro-waste materials. Do you think this model is realistic?
In today’s world plastics, in various forms, are part of the product packaging system. It is not easy to replace them overnight without adequate backup study and appropriate backup data. However, its judicious use and controlled disposal can definitely improve the situation we are worried about. Replacing plastic with wood-based material will create another crisis, which we are already experiencing now.
Q In your assessment, how the segment is set to improve supply chain workflow?
When the right quantity of a product is delivered with the right quality at the right place at right time through a seamless end-to-end internal and external coordination and communication, then we can consider the supply chain is working efficiently. This is possible when automation & digitalization is adopted at each level of operations along with other hybrid technologies using track & trace, blockchain, wireless communication, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, etc. Connecting end-to-end material suppliers and solution providers is very crucial at this juncture to consolidate all the efforts to make the supply chain strong.
Q When it comes to sustainability in packaging what are the challenges faced? Elaborate.
Sustainability is mostly challenged by the timely availability of the input materials, manpower, and disruption due to the transport system at both ends. Else we have all resources and capabilities to meet the challenges, which we have already proved during the relaxed period before this pandemic 2nd wave started. The other part, availability of alternate formulation/material/design/ application is also in progress and they will be coming soon to support and sustain the business flow once study and data are available along with necessary regulatory approval. We are highly optimistic to prove our prowess.
Q How will a patient centric innovation help packaging? Can you tell us about the role of technology particularly AI, IoT, and Blockchain in patient centricity?
Most of the innovation happens only with the help of contemporary technologies. Hence natural expectation is the use of currently available technologies which can easily make a hybrid solution for a common cause. Automation, digitalization. Use of AI, IoT, Track & Trace, Block Chain, Interactive Packaging, Augmented reality, Wireless communication, Web portal services are many such tools that can enhance the intended end use of the product through its packaging.