Mr. Gerbold, what trends can be observed in pharmaceutical packaging? What changes has COVID-19 brought to the market?
Konstantin Gerbold: There is a major trend in pharmaceutical packaging toward faster processes – and in more ways than one. The dynamics and speed of change in the pharmaceutical industry were already increasing in recent years, but COVID-19 has increased this enormously. There are greater fluctuations in terms of demand, faster changes to requirements and new products, so our customers – pharmaceutical manufacturers and contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) – need to be prepared for this.

How are pharma manufacturers and CMOs reacting to the increased dynamics of the markets?
Konstantin Gerbold: Decision-making processes are accelerating. It used to take several months, sometimes even years, for a contract to be signed. Recently, decisions have become more short-term and delivery times now play a more important role. We accommodate our customers in this with our cycle assembly. This enables us, for example, to deliver the BEC 300, a high-performance combination of blister and cartoning module, within five months – in the standard version including two format sets. For a number of projects, this has already proven to be the decisive factor for the purchase.

Is this acceleration also affecting the packaging process?
Konstantin Gerbold: I have not observed any direct correlation with the machine speed. This is still chosen to suit the products and the production organisation. What has become much more important, however, is flexibility. On average, batches are getting smaller – a trend that has been going on for years and which will continue to intensify as a result of dynamic markets. For the producers this means more product changes, more cleaning, more documentation and therefore more unproductive time. This is where packaging machines like the BEC blister line that can be easily cleaned and have quick changeover times come into play. With the BEC 200 and BEC 300, for example, a complete format change takes a maximum of 30 minutes.

We deliever the BEC 300 within five months – in the standard version including two format sets.

Konstantin Gerbold has been Product Manager at Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & Co KG since 2016. There, he is – among other things – in charge of packaging lines for small and medium-sized solid dose batches.

How are your customers reacting to the increase in product changes?
Konstantin Gerbold: To compensate for the loss of productivity due to the many changeovers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and contract packagers are working hard to increase OEE wherever possible. This puts the focus on simple and fast maintenance, preventive maintenance, the reduction of unplanned downtimes and the reliability and stability of the lines. We are also seeing the increasing importance of spare parts management and service contracts such as ServicePlus, where a service technician is on-site within a specified period of time.

What developments do you expect for the future?
Konstantin Gerbold: I am not anticipating everything becoming calmer and more predictable again! For us, the high dynamic is the „new normal“ that everyone will have to adjust to. I also wouldn’t rule out further acceleration and therefore higher demands on flexibility, performance and reliability. Supplemented by suitable services and digital solutions, packaging lines such as the BEC 300 will be in greater demand as a result.