Printing pharma without any drama

20 Nov 2017
Topics: pharmaceutical

Mikko Heikkila is the latest appointment to the Reelvision team


Short run high quality carton packaging for the pharmaceutical sector would be a nightmare for most flexo printers, but Bury-based Reelvision has established itself doing just that and is running like a dream. Michal Lodej reports.

In terms of procedure, compliance and practice, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most demanding sectors that a printer could find work in, but it if you get it right then you can make it very profitable. Now imagine doing that with flexo but only for small runs. That is exactly what Reelvision has mastered.

Deborah Greenwood, sales director, said, 'Most companies printing pharmaceutical cartons will take sheeted material, print, cut / crease and strip in different stages. What we do is take a reel of carton board material, print, cut / crease, strip, emboss or Braille all inline in one-pass. All it needs then is gluing.'

The company runs a really slick operation, with a maximum changeover time of 25 minutes, something many printers could only dream of, and this is what makes the company so competitive. The company prints with up to seven colours and varnish. Some of its work load includes clinical trails for companies which come with extremely low run lengths; one job was as low as 17 units.

Flexo first

A reasonable question to ask with runs this low would be; why not use digital printing technology?

Ms Greenwood explained, 'We are keeping an eye on digital and on one hand yes digital will cut all our customers' origination costs, however digital is simply not giving the breadth or consistency of colour our customers need plus when you consider that after the plates have been made when you get a repeat order that origination cost is offset. Also, because our changeover times are so quick and there is no time wasted between jobs our speed to market is just as fast. We've done the sums here and over 90% of our jobs are repeat orders offsetting the origination costs.'

The company has two production lines, with room for a third, and is currently running two Edale presses. Reelvision knew what it needed from a production point of view and so worked closely with the manufacturer to create the inline production process that would fit the company's needs.

'Part of being involved with the design of the press was that they could ensure that it was made in a way to changeover quickly and easily, in a manual and physical way which allows us to have pit stop changeovers. That's why we don't want the mass volume we want the shorter run work,' Ms Greenwood continued. 'The machine itself could potentially be bought from Edale by any other printer, however, we often say you could have the exact same machinery as us but you still won't be able to do what we do here unless you have the culture and vision that our management and work force cultivate.'

The production is almost completely self contained, however, other effects such as foiling which have increased in the number of jobs they do are not completed by in-house as it does not make any commercial sense to do so.

Keep it clean

Pharmaceutical, personal care and health care are the three main markets the company caters for. The company operates with PS9000 Accreditation which helps to drive the high standards and quality at the site.

PS9000 is developed by the Pharmaceutical Quality Group (PQG) for manufacturers of packaging material for medicinal product including orally inhaled medicine, and it defines specific requirements and guidance for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

The updated version of the standard was revised in July 2016. PS9000:2016 is aligned to ISO 15378 (Primary packaging materials for medicinal products) and the new ISO 9000:2015 Quality Management Standard. It is also fully recognised and supported by the MHRA, and it incorporates many quality management principles in line with GMP and regulatory requirements.

PS9000 standard's primary objective is to facilitate risk management and implementation of a controlled system to eliminate these risks to ensure production of safe products to correct requirements.

It is an interactive standard that can be applied to Global, Primary, Secondary and Complex manufacturers, each with specific requirements.

'We have a strict colour standard here,' said Ms Greenwood, 'some people ask to see the light and dark versions of our colour standard, but we don't work like that. We accurately match the colour and do not see a variance throughout the production run. This is so very important to the markets we cater to, consistency of colour is essential because if a product doesn't look the right colour then consumers could perceive it as a counterfeit, fake or out of date, and simply not buy it.

Reel 2

The pharmaceutical sector is the company's main focus

'When manufacturing for pharma we need to operate with a full line clearance between each job, to ensure there is absolutely no risk of add mixture, therefore there is definitely no composite printing or job ganging or anything like that,' noted Ms Greenwood. Obviously cleanliness is of paramount importance as is traceability. If a drug is recalled by our customer, they need to be able to trace all ingredients back to the manufacturers and we in turn need to be able to trace everything back.'

While these points are a necessity to even be a contender in the pharmaceutical printing game, it is not enough to stand out, but once again it is speed which does make Reelvision special. 

Ms Greenwood explained, 'We are the fastest to market with a standard lead time of 10 working days from sign off of the PDF. Because we have a sales and commercial background we will commit what our customer needs in an emergency. We can do this because we are flexible in production as we focus on short runs and have incredibly quick changeovers, with eight or nine different jobs a day.'

More speed less haste

The background of the management has had a profound impact on the company and has embedded itself into the company's culture. All senior management worked for multi-national print companies which were getting bigger and bigger but runs were getting smaller, so the company founders broke off to do short volume print runs, with an emphasis on fast make-readies as opposed to fast printing.

Reelvision is now looking at installing another production line, the company has capital to spend and this will be invested back into the business, including extending the building, and the development of the recently acquired adjacent factory. 

The company this year celebrated its 10th anniversary, and as business continues prosper it is looking at the future with optimism. It originally started with six people, and now the company has a staff count of 33.

  'We are a youthful and dynamic company, and we have invested in a new member for the sales team, covering the south of the country to help develop London and the south. 

'The company has grown year on year, the reason it has expanded so much is because we offer a fantastic customer service and we always deliver on time, in full, with superb quality,' concluded Ms Greenwood.

So while flexo printed cartons is not unique, doing it with this level of quality, strict hygiene rules, incredibly quick changeovers and all inline, is certainly a vision to behold.

Read the full October/November issue of FlexoTech here. Subscribe to the magazine for free - register your details here.

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