What's Next In: Packaging - Pharmaceutical Technology

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What's Next In: Packaging


Pharmaceutical Technology


Packaging will be more interactive.

Nanotechnology, printed electronics, and RFID will provide on-package tools that alert consumers if a product is out-of-date or has experienced tampering or temperature abuse. With greeting cards that play music or record personal messages for later playback already on the market, the commercialization of low-cost talking packages seems closer to reality than to science fiction. Packaging with this type of communication ability could provide information about product side effects or interactions, as well as reminders about dosage times.

Packages will carry Braille information to help sight-impaired consumers worldwide.

The European Union (EU, Brussels, Belgium) already requires drug packaging to carry tactile information about product name, dosage, and expiration date to help sight-impaired consumers (EU 2001/83/EC). It's only a matter of time before this requirement spreads beyond the EU. Embossing is one way to provide this information, but a glue dot dispensing system can apply 0.5-millimeter characters on any substrate. One compact system includes an adhesive melter, three-module dispensing gun, and Braille code pattern controller, capable of interpreting multiple languages into Braille. It integrates easily into existing packaging lines and can handle line speeds up to 98 feet per minute. The adhesive used for Braille dots must be customized to the package substrate, e.g., aluminum, glass, or paperboard. It also must dispense precisely and dry to a non-tacky finish. Dots of clear adhesive do not obscure package graphics and also do not deteriorate over time (Braille adhesive application system featuring e.dot® gun technology, Nordson Corp., Duluth, GA).

A proliferation of inhaled drugs will drive development of new inhaler concepts.

Despite the apparent commercial failure of Exubera inhaled insulin, this drug delivery method has too many advantages not to succeed once healthcare decision makers, caregivers, and consumers become accustomed to the concept. Future designs should benefit from the knowledge gained from pioneers like Exubera and thereby reduce dispenser complexity and cost.

The industry will be reaping benefits from the adoption of sustainable packaging practices.

During the next 30 years, the industry will experience a couple more cycles of intense environmental concern, similar to what is being seen today. As a result, by 2037 packaging will rely less on non-renewable resources and contain more recycled content. In addition, clever designers will find ways to protect products using less packaging material.

Packaging made from biopolymers such as polylactide (PLA) is already on the market. When used to make rigid containers or film, the compostable material offers many of the same attributes as its hydrocarbon-based relatives like polyethylene, polypropylene, or polystyrene. PLA also may provide energy savings since it typically seals at a lower temperature than polyethylene. Although it's typically derived from corn, it may be possible to replace corn with a nonfood crop or agricultural waste like bagasse (from sugar cane).

Perhaps more likely is the production of polymers like linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) from renewable resources. A facility being built in Brazil will use sugar-cane-derived ethanol to make LLDPE that is molecularly equivalent to the LLDPE derived from hydrocarbon-based feedstock (Braskem, Sao Paulo, Brazil).

Recycled content also will assume a growing role in pharmaceutical packaging, particularly for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and film. Major brand owners like Coca-Cola Co. (Atlanta, GA) have made increasing recycled content a corporate priority and are working to boost recycling rates. Today, a number of recycling processes produce food-grade resin from recycled containers. Increasing recycled content means less energy is needed to produce new containers. This holds true not only for PET, but also for most other materials including aluminum, steel, and glass.

Pharmaceutical packaging also will see action in source reduction, or lightweighting. This material minimization effort is rampant right now in the beverage industry where short skirt caps are proliferating. These designs not only require less material in the cap itself, but also in the neck finish of the bottle. In some cases, the combined savings adds up to a couple of grams of resin per container.


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