Are your packages ready for the changing healthcare supply chain?

By Daphne Allen in Standards on March 03, 2015

Healthcare product supply chains are changing. Some are getting longer, taking pharmaceuticals and medical devices further around the world to reach growing numbers of new patients in emerging markets. Others are getting shorter and more immediate, delivering products directly to patient homes or practitioners instead of the traditional destinations of hospitals or pharmacies.

Is packaging poised for change? That’s what ISTA wants to find out. The testing and package development standards body has launched its Advocate Research & Value Delivery Program for supporting ISTA research on the “evolving global environment of distribution” to ensure ISTA has “the long-term ability to develop knowledge that assists our members in their pursuit to improve the economic, social, and environmental impact of their packaging systems,” the group shares in its prospectus.

With funds provided through an advocacy program, ISTA will be collecting data on distribution environments “from more regions and modes to develop tests for emerging markets and monitor existing regions to ensure test levels are current,” it explains in the prospectus.

Ed Church, ISTA’s president, tells PMP News that data on temperature, humidity, shock, and vibration will be collected during storage, handling, and transit. Such data will then be considered as ISTA reviews its test method thresholds.

“We want to know that the package testing levels we have in our protocols are appropriate, and not artificially too high or too low, which could result in over or under packaging,” Church says. “Having our tests be as accurate as possible is a major goal. This program will identify the level of confidence really needed. Right now, there’s not enough data, particularly for international chains.”

The program is also driven by the need to “reduce waste,” says Dwight Schmidt, ISTA Global Director, and principal of Consult Schmidt LLC. “The more you know about the distribution environment,” the more this is possible, he says.

In ISTA’s prospectus, for instance, it details its plan to “eliminate over packaging” and “develop and validate a new technique to quantify the level of packaging beyond the test threshold performance required to diagnose over-packaging in the development stage resulting in initial package designs with lower material cost and environmental footprint.”

ISTA’s effort is particularly relevant for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, because many of these products will be shipped through the same e-commerce channels as other products, says Church.

And the research could expand the traditional purview of pharmaceutical package engineering. “Pharma has been heavy into temperature monitoring, but it is starting to look at shock and vibration now because the molecules are getting bigger and more susceptible to damage,” Church adds.

The initiative could also impact packaging suppliers. “The packaging supply side has a lot to gain from learning more about the shipping environment,” says Church. Schmidt adds that product shippers are “dependent on the supply side to come up with solutions that are further adapted by users.”

The research will also help inform ISTA’s Responsible Packaging by Design (RPbD) Guide program. “The RPbD identifies the history of design and testing processes and documents package designs,” explains Church. “Having enough descriptions and data on distribution environments will help in the development of testing protocols that are not artificially testing too high and leading to over-designed packaging.”

ISTA is currently recruiting “advocates” for its research, because “the cost of developing and delivering value through an agenda of this magnitude is significantly beyond ISTA’s ability to incorporate additional major initiatives into our annual budget,” it states in its prospectus. Its goal is to raise at least $2 million by the end of 2015.

Current supporters include (at the Leaders level) ABF Freight, Fibre Box Association, General Mills, International Paper, Lansmont, Packaging Corporation of America, Pepsico, SC Johnson, Sealed Air, and Westpak; (at the Partners level) Bay Cities and Smithers Pira; and (at the Sustainers level) GH Package and Product Testing and Consulting, Ring Container Technologies, and TEN-E.

“These advocates are stepping forward to make such a study happen,” says Church. Adds Schmidt: “These companies are leaders.”

Funds provided by these advocates will be primarily used to support ISTA’s long-range plan to reduce product damage while eliminating overpackaging, with specific research projects chosen by the advocates.

ISTA will also be working to improve member access to its resources through online delivery and reporting of ISTA test procedures and developing a data warehouse to ensure procedures are updated across all test protocols, among other plans.

“Members of the packaging industry and their partners in the supply chain have an opportunity to profit through increased confidence that they have developed the most effective packaging; that minimizes cost, product damage, eliminates packaging waste and lessens environmental impact,” ISTA states in its prospectus. “The knowledge delivered will allow our members to move forward with increased confidence in their package performance.”

ISTA will be covering the changing supply chain at its upcoming TransPack Forum April 7-10. Church points out the e-commerce segment, "which will be offering insight on the dynamics of that channel, how to design for it, and how it may be changing in the future," he says. "The other topics cover what’s going on in other channels that their products most likely go through at least in some form of their supply chain distribution. We find that, it really does not matter what the product is, the supply chain uses trucks, planes, and trains, and, except for some variance in cold chain distribution, the mode does not care what is the product being shipped."

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