Supply chain innovation and digitalisation: primary packaging as a disruptive factor


Bormioli Pharma, an international leader in the production of glass and plastic containers for pharmaceutical use, has developed a number of options to tackle the growing demand for increased traceability throughout the industry

Supply chain innovation and digitalisation: primary packaging as a disruptive factor

Primary packaging is taking on an ever-growing role in the product-end user-supply chain matrix. Facilitated by the use of specific marks and tags that complement and integrate with digital technologies, technologies that have established themselves in other sectors are now migrating into the pharmaceutical industry as well.

For some time, pharma companies have been looking for reliable and innovative ways to track products along the supply chain to both prevent counterfeiting and serialise every drug package (by assigning a unique code and identity to each dose).

Serialisation could be far more efficient, says Federico Piutti, Innovation Manager, and ensure an even higher level of safety when applied to primary packaging and combined with digital data and information to create a “virtual twin” of every single product. Bormioli Pharma is trying to do its part with an innovation process that embraces both physical and digital architecture.

We believe that serialisation and the realisation of a digital twin can disrupt the value of the primary packaging itself and produce a large amount of product-related data and information. Different business models can use all this data to generate services for everyone involved in the digital healthcare ecosystem — going beyond the pharmaceutical drug supply chain — in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Supply chain innovation and digitalisation: primary packaging as a disruptive factor

Multiple benefits could be generated by primary packaging serialisation: for instance, the packaging supplier would be able to detect anomalies in the manufacturing process, identify errors and optimise production. Downstream advantages include preventing counterfeiting, generating a direct link between the packaging element and the end user and allowing data/information collection throughout the entire lifecycle of the product.

Through product marking, Bormioli Pharma is working on the creation of non-editable, hard-to-counterfeit, technologically advanced tracking solutions that could be recognised by both by industrial systems and consumer appliances and devices. One example involves ultra-fast direct laser writing, an innovative technology that has not yet been deeply explored in pharmaceutical packaging.

The laser marking process enables the structure of transparent and semi-transparent elements to be modified with a high level of accuracy, marking the drug container with a unique code that’s able to provide multilayer information throughout the supply chain.

This technology, applicable both to glass and plastic primary packaging, can been combined with other traceability options. For example, near-field communication (NFC) technology could be added to capsules to provide — both to the supply chain and end users — different layers of information that could be read using industrial technologies and/or smartphones.

Easily applicable to plastic packaging, it ensures usability and requires less human involvement to access the data. For example, a consumer could obtain data stored in an NFC tag simply by placing a NFC-enabled smartphone close to the packaging to assess the drug’s authenticity and increase its safety throughout the supply chain.

Driven both by compliance and digitalisation, pharma packaging manufacturers are investing considerable resources in experimenting with different track and trace technologies. We are still at the beginning of the journey, says Federico, as the real breakthroughs will derive from an open approach to innovation.

Only within the framework of two-way dialogue with pharma companies will it be possible to discover more effective solutions that integrate primary packaging, data management platforms and the needs of all the players in the supply chain.