Developments in Healthcare Packaging

I seldom write about medical and pharmaceutical packaging. The reason is simple. In my some 45 years of experience in the packaging field, I have been mainly engaged in packaging technology for food packaging and only sporadically and intermediately in non-food applications. Furthermore, and I know a lot of my readers will disagree, I find food packaging much more fascinating and its solutions more complicated, than non-food packaging. Of course pharmaceutical, medical and cosmetic packaging are also very demanding, but their demands arise from rules and regulations, counterfeiting and the like and less from the product requirements.

In the March issue of Packaging World I read an interview of Jim Butschli, Features Editor with Richard Adams, head of Pack Graphic Design at GlaxoSmithKline in Raleigh-Durham, NC/USA. One of the questions struck me: “What are you looking for from packaging suppliers? Do you rely on suppliers more today than in years past?”
Richard Adams answered: “In a word, innovation – innovative materials and packaging solutions to meet the diversification efforts within our company. The variety of products and requirements of those products coupled with market regulatory constraints forces pharmaceutical packaging to be more creative in a rapidly evolving space. We rely on suppliers bringing more value to the table. We simply do not have the time or resources to understand what is available and new”.

So let me help him a bit to accommodate that answer and highlight some interesting developments in pharmaceutical packaging here. We start with “Talking packaging is the future”.

The Talking Packaging
The global healthcare packaging market is a complex market. And a large one, as Visiongain calculates that the global healthcare packaging market will reach USD 93.9bn in 2012. The varied factors affecting the drug demand and consumption as well the development of medical practices determine the packaging, as the manufacturer is constantly challenged with evolving trends such as the increased use of disposable medical products, ageing population, influence of regulations, child-resistant/senior-friendly and tamper-evident packaging.

It is one of the packaging sectors that need to supply more information to the consumer than any other. And above all to the “handicapped”, don’t get me wrong on this word, as I mean the consumer, who is in one way or another physically or mentally handicapped to use all his functions 100%. And let’s be honest reading a Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) with instructions can cause a headache. Electronic packaging addresses the fact that one third of us have difficulty reading instructions in ever smaller print.

Burgopak's Chrysalis Carton, a permanent drug packet and patient leaflet combination presenting a number of benefits, besides the primary patient convenience function

The answer might be found in the talking packaging. There are two developments in talking packaging at this moment (as far as I know). The “TalkPack” from Wipak Walsrode GmbH in Germany, a system, which can be invisibly integrated into any printed image on any packaging material, but needs a special scanning pen and the result of a recent development by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland using tags with NFC (Near Field Communication) based technology connected to NFC-enabled mobile phones to download text, audio or web page product information, which can be played back on their handset.

Note Update: Wipak informed me that, due to legal problems, they had to change the name of the Talking Packaging they developed into: “Self Talk”.

Let’s have a quick look at the TalkPack and after that at the VTT research results.

Wipak Walsrode's TalkPack

With the TalkPack special codes store information of all kinds and can be invisibly integrated into any printed image. A scanning pen can render speech, music or sounds audible and thus the consumer can obtain information on the manufacturer, brand, shelf-life or other information.
The method used by “TalkPack” is not limited to the packaging material but can be used by any printed material. No other composite elements are used which could influence the recycling qualities.
A special pen-shaped reader is used to retrieve the stored information and to replay it as audio files. Talk Pack does not require any RFID or microchips; the dot code is simply printed on top of images and texts using a special varnish. This technology can be used with all printing technologies and package types.
However the requirement to use a scanning pen, means that the “TalkPack” can only be activated in shops.

Speaking medicine packaging-demo. When touched, this provides spoken dosage instructions and other important information

NFC (Near Field Communication) tags used by VTT Technical Research Centre can be added to any packaging so a consumer could touch the code on the packaging with their NFC-enabled mobile phone to download text, audio or web page product information, which can be played back on his handset.
In an example from the research, data stored on a NFC tag on a medicine bottle provided spoken dosage instructions from pharmacy staff, to aid a visually impaired or blind person.

Currently, the number of mobile phones with NFC technology is limited but VTT believes that it is a growing market.

The medical and pharmaceutical industry could use the technology to display detailed information and instructions in a small area.

VTT led The HearMeFeelMe research project and believes there are “many possibilities to use NFC technology in services which improve people’s everyday lives”.
Scientists at VTT believe that people would also be more motivated to find out information about the product if this information were easily available. Arguing that, it is already possible that your mobile phone can show you a video about how to use a new product by just touching a tag with your mobile phone.

Identification labels are glued to an identifiable package

Both systems have pros and cons. The weak point in the Wipak-system is the scanning pen, the strong point, of course, is that it simply can be printed into any packaging material, any image printed onto a packaging. For the VTT-system the weak point is the necessity of a tag, but the strong point is the availability to a NFC-enabled mobile phone. I think a combination of both systems could lead to a perfect solution.

I said in the beginning of this article I have several developments in healthcare packaging in my portfolio, so I safe them for a following article. Come back a next time.

11 responses to “Developments in Healthcare Packaging

  1. What about bi-dimensional bar codes? It seem an interesting alternative solution, doesn’t it?

    • Yes, basically you also can use a 2D code and QR/AR codes. However there is a big BUT….. 2D, QR and AR are just directing you to a website, they don’t hold info themselves. That’s the difference. The VTT and Wipak systems are basically electronic chips incorporated in/on the packaging surface. You don’t need an internet connection to receive the info, just your NFC-phone.
      You can imagine many places in the world (holidays, travels etc) where no internet connection is available or very weak/slow, and you are there and want to read the instructions of your medicine. Furthermore there is no chance of 404-failure or wrong website.

  2. Good comparison and a good aspect to make use of those techniques in the medical sector.
    But please let me mention that the name of the Wipak solution is “Self Talk”!
    We had to change it after finding the old name already in use.

    If you need further info or have any contact being interested for more details please feel free to contact me directly at

  3. Hi, I am looking for a plastic that can be heated and cold for a medical product. This product will contain a gel that is also heat and cold sustainable. Is this something that your company can assist me with?

    Mary Bray

  4. Pingback: Developments in Pharmaceutical Packaging « Best In Packaging·

  5. Thank you Mr.Steeman for this article. It contains a brilliant info which i was looking for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s