The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will rise from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060. Such change impacts all industries, but presents a particular challenge for pharmaceutical companies and suppliers of packaging. These companies not only need new methods of hermetically sealing pharmaceutical products to maintain integrity of the product and provide tamper evidence—they also need to ensure that these packages are simple to open for elderly consumers, who may lack strength and suffer from dexterity loss or other impairments.
The consequences that difficult-to-open packaging can have on the independence of a mature or disabled person are severe. In a recent survey, market researchers found that two thirds of people get frustrated—or suffer “wrap rage”—when trying to get into everyday packaging, while a staggering four in ten people said they have hurt themselves while trying to open a package. A quarter of those surveyed also said they regularly need help to open packaging, which is especially worrying as a considerable number of elderly people live alone with little help.
In addition, difficult-to-open packaging can affect purchasing decisions for many products and could, ultimately, cost businesses dearly in lost customer goodwill and therefore revenue.
Tamper-evident peelable seals on containers, such as pill bottles, are among the packaging that is especially challenging for elderly people to open. Seals that are tough to peel off or that fail clearly to mark the point from where the seal should be lifted are highlighted as particularly troublesome for consumers with dexterity issues and visual impairments. With so many vital products featuring this type of seal, it is essential that packaging companies continually develop products to ensure they provide enough protection for the goods while maintaining the usability of the container.
Peelable seals are normally applied using an induction-heating process. The optimum conditions can be achieved by using the correct measure of pressure, heat, and time during induction sealing, together with the correct choice of lining material. Too much pressure—or cap-on torque—between the liner and bottle neck finish, excessive heat to activate the liner seal surface, or extended dwell time under the induction coil will leave users with a seal that cannot be removed with ease, while too low a level of heat, pressure, or time will result in leaks or the ingress of contaminants.
The optimal operating window settings depend on several key factors and can be determined by running a trial on the production line under typical conditions. Start by setting the induction unit to approximately 25 per cent power output and run a series of containers, gradually increasing the power output by 5 per cent each time until the desired result is produced.
Closure application torque will also need to be adjusted during trials to determine the closure torque required for the best seal and easiest opening for the consumer. Ensure the power output and torque settings are marked on each container so the operating window can easily be identified during inspection following cooling and repeated for future processes.
The choice of induction seal is also critical to ensure easy to open packages. Reputable liner manufacturers are constantly developing products to match the ever-evolving needs of the consumer. There are hundreds of different seal types available to meet an application. Those liners with an easy-to-grip tab are an ideal choice across a wide range of applications. Selig's Lift 'n' Peel induction seals, for instance, feature an easy-open half-moon tab designed to be ergonomic, flexible, and extremely strong. They are engineered specifically to maintain product quality while being easy for the consumer to peel. In addition, they can be printed with a customer-specific design or logo for brand support.
Given the trend of an aging American population, the packaging sector must ensure its products constantly evolve to accommodate the elderly and remain relevant by removing restrictive designs. By selecting the most appropriate lining material and optimizing the induction heat sealing process, it is possible to create packaging that is easy to open while also providing product protection and tamper evidence for a positive consumer experience.
John Brown serves as vice president, global marketing, for Selig.