While some may think ‘tape is tape,’ the truth is that not all tapes are created equal.
While pharmaceutical companies may invest hundreds of hours in planning and developing primary packaging for their products, far less time is typically spent designing or even considering secondary packaging.
However, having the right secondary packaging—from shipping cartons to a secure case closure—can help enhance the security of pharmaceuticals as they make their way through the supply chain, potentially protecting product from tampering, contamination, damage, and theft.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers may face several risks throughout the supply chain—with issues starting as early as the packaging line.
During the packaging process, packaging tape is often used for carton closure. Here, improperly taped cartons or loose tape seals can increase the risk of damage and contamination to pharmaceuticals.
A secondary issue related to the packaging line—and bottom line—is inefficiency stemming from costs due to labor and rework to fix issues on the packaging line, as well as downtime, damage and other issues related to palletizing operations should problem cartons reach this part of the packaging process.
A second risk involves storage and transit. Because of their potentially high value, many pharmaceuticals are at a high risk of theft either while in transit or from warehouses and storerooms once they have reached their destination. A study by the University of Texas School of Pharmacology found that more than half of pharmaceutical manufacturers experienced theft of more than $100,000 in product in the last five years.
The study also found that companies spent an average of $4 in indirect costs such as lost sales, new product shipments and customer dissatisfaction for every $1 of lost product. Having the right secondary packaging can help deter thieves by concealing contents, making the package harder to open, and providing visual evidence that a package has been tampered with.
A third risk is inherent in how cartons are opened at their final destination. Using a knife or other sharp object to open cartons can lead to damage and contamination.
Addressing Packaging Line Issues
When packaging contents, the goal is a reliable and secure case seal achieved through efficient case packing and palletizing processes. Unfortunately, many manufacturers have accepted a status quo in which they plan for a certain amount or percentage of issues, including tape waste, production downtime, rework and more.
One common misconception is that there’s no better way. There’s been little innovation in the case sealing industry for the past 25 years; however, newer innovations in the market are driving reliability and throughput in case packaging and palletizing operations, as well as security of sealed cases. Each directly impacts the bottom line for manufacturers.
Through these innovations, manufacturers can achieve consistent case sealing performance, find material savings, and increase overall equipment effectiveness—or OEE, which is a reflection of machine availability, performance and quality—on their packaging lines. But, these efficiencies are contingent upon having the right equipment in place, including picking the right packaging tape.
While some may think “tape is tape,” the truth is: Not all tapes are created equal.
There are many tapes available, so it’s important to consider factors such as the sealing environment and carton type when selecting the right tape for the job.
Temperature, in particular, can impact the reliability and performance of packaging tape. Many pharmaceuticals require cold temperature sealing and/or storage, so a specialized, cold temperature packaging tape may be necessary.
While the adhesive on their “everyday” counterparts may become brittle in freezing and subfreezing temperatures, cold temperature packaging tapes are specifically formulated to adhere—and stay adhered—in the cold.
The surface to which tape is applied can also impact the reliability of the case seal. For example, while cartons made from recycled materials are becoming more popular, the cardboard has smaller fibers, which may require a specialized tape designed for sealing highly recycled cartons to achieve a secure seal.
Box coatings like ink and wax may also impact the adhesion of the tape and require the use of a heavier grade of tape to achieve the proper hold. Tape grades can range from light to extra heavy duty depending on the thickness of the backing and amount of adhesive applied to the backing. In general, the thicker the backing and adhesive, the higher the grade of tape.
Increasing Content Security
Another critical element to a secure case seal is proper application of packaging tape. Tape essentially serves as a last line of defense in keeping contents safe from damage, contamination and theft.
Think about a loose case seal—the void can allow dirt and other contaminants into the box and increase the risk of theft as it’s easy to slide a hand in to remove a few items without notice.
Whether a manual or automated process, properly applied tape can create a secure seal that prevents these issues. Here, wipe-down force is critical, particularly when using pressure-sensitive tapes, which require some type of force—or wipe-down pressure—to create a bond to corrugated cartons. This pressure drives the tape’s adhesive into the surface, creating a stronger bond and visible fiber tear that alerts recipients that the seal has been damaged or tampered with.
Tape application can also be impacted by overfilled and underfilled cartons. Overfilled cartons, where the major flaps of the carton are bulging due to the amount of product inside, can add undue stress on the case seal, increasing the risk of the tape popping open while in storage or transit.
Underfilled cartons, on the other hand, lack the needed resistance during the case sealing process, which can lead to loose seals that can easily be pilfered. Proper training of employees, use of appropriate void fill and carton size, and proper application of tape can help eliminate potential issues.
Another common problem related to improper tape application is over-gauging tape and using too much tape to achieve secure carton closure. Manufacturers waste considerable material and money when they don’t choose a packaging tape suitable for their specific application or when they use more tape than is necessary to close the carton.
With proper application and achieving the right amount of wipe-down pressure, manufacturers can right-size, or choose the right gauge of tape to suit their case sealing situation, as well as lightweight, or use the minimal amount of tape needed to create a secure seal. This reduces the amount of material needed to do the job, as well as the amount of material wasted.
Eliminating the Knife at Delivery
If not careful, the most common way to open a box—using a knife, box cutter, or other sharp instrument—can yield unforeseen damage and harm.
One unfortunate result of using a sharp instrument to open cartons is product damage. Once a product’s packaging is compromised, it is likely to be considered unsaleable.
A second unfortunate result of using a knife during the unpacking process is personal injury due to cuts and lacerations. The costs associated with those injuries can be high.
With costs that can add up from product damage and personal injury perspectives, eliminating sharp instruments is a welcome preventative measure.
Today, there are technologies available that can fold the edges of packaging tape as it’s applied to create a secure, ready-to-open carton seal that doesn’t require a knife or other sharp instrument to open. Instead, there may be a dry edge that allows the tape to be removed by hand, reducing the risk of product damage and worker injury along the supply chain.
An additional benefit of an edge-folding technology is increased reliability from a process perspective. Folding the edges of the tape can address—and eliminate—potential issues as tape is applied, resulting in better consistency and productivity in the case sealing process, as well as stronger, more reliable case seals.
While not all risks can be eliminated, some, like tampering, damage, contamination, and theft, can be managed with a little planning, particularly around secondary packaging.
Among the critical components is a secure case seal, one that is achieved using the right combination of packaging tape and tape application method, which can provide an added layer of defense to keep your products protected from the packaging line to their final destination.
About the Author
Bradley Dunlap is Product Manager, Packaging, at Shurtape Technologies, LLC. The company, headquartered in Hickory, NC, has offices in North Carolina and Arizona, as well as in Mexico, South America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Dubai, and China, with distribution centers in North Carolina, Arizona, and Oklahoma in the U.S., and Ontario in Canada.