Artwork is designed in-house to customers’ specific blister, sachet or stick-pack filling line specifications and a qualified packaging technologist provides online technical advice.
‘Our highly-experienced production team implements all protocols guided by ISO 9001:2015 and PS 9000:2016 because they understand that doing it right the first time saves time and money,’ says sales manager, Suzanne McRobert. ‘Ensuring short start-ups and job changeovers, and minimising waste during set-up and printing are important components of our quality management system. In addition to regular customer audits, we constantly check our conformance and ensure that our quality systems speak to what we do and what our customers need.’
New and expanded opportunities are a priority, Suzanne points out, against a backdrop of 35 years’ excellence in printing blister foil for the South African pharmaceutical market. The team regularly conducts market viability research when identifying opportunities for additional services for existing customers. The latest basket-enhancing offering is supplying forming films (PVC/PVDC) for the bottom of the blister to smaller-volume customers.
Blister foil packaging production has remained pretty consistent for the past 30 years because no substitutes match its excellent barrier properties. ‘There is a constant switch between bottles and blister packs, with each claiming to be the cheapest,’ she states. ‘Experience shows that blister packs are cheaper, all costs considered.’
Blister foil printing has, however, expanded to UV inks and to digital printing for large-volume products internationally. According to Labprint, both options are expensive, but digital printing for aluminium blisterfoil isn’t viable for South Africa in the short term, as the cost is more than double that of flexographic printing. ‘The local pharmaceutical industry is relatively small,’ Suzanne explains. ‘Many large customers are either printing the foil or are printing and blistering abroad and then doing the final packing or distribution locally. This drives down costs and helps to negate local annual price increases, which aren’t implemented by international printers for larger-volume customers.’
Labprint values the qualifications, experience and enthusiasm of its 14 employees, who have a combined 150 years’ experience in blister foil printing. Teamwork is key to the company’s success – it prioritises training at all levels to improve quality, effectiveness, service and productivity. The management team of Eric Juncker (MD), Marlis Arkcoll (financial director); Chantel Vermaak (GM), Suzanne McRobert (sales & quality manager), Wally Hattingh (production & technical manager), and Dayi Shivuri (production supervisor).
Sachets and stick packs
Sachet and stick-pack filling has changed quite significantly because converters have moved from five- or six- to ten- or 12-lane filling machines, resulting in much wider material printing. Labprint can’t print 1.2m wide materials on its presses – its maximum width is 900mm.
Cosmetic and pharmaceutical marketing departments are also demanding more complex designs with numerous colours and eye-catching finishes, which can only be printed digitally. Brands want to stand out from competitor products and catch consumers’ attention, especially when they don’t have secondary packaging.
Brands wanting to appeal to environment-conscious consumers currently face barrier property challenges with more environment-friendly substrates as they offer a shorter shelf life. Many material manufacturers are currently working on solutions to this problem.
In 2021, Labprint hopes to expand its stick-pack and sachet offering for food, cosmetic and sanitising product manufacturers. The company keeps artwork and colours simple because its flexographic presses accommodate a maximum of four colours. It can print on paper/poly, paper/foil/poly, BOPP or Teabag materials.
Pandemic powers pharmaceuticals
IN the six months before Covid-19, the local pharmaceutical and healthcare markets were in a slump, with customers ordering only essential printed packaging materials to curtail unsold inventory, reports Suzanne McRobert, Labprint’s sales manager.
The pandemic, however, reversed this trend with the demand for multivitamins and painkillers spiking, and new players launching nutraceutical products. The result was a 1.5-ton monthly increase in blister materials supplied by Labprint. With raw material lead times increasing from 12 to 18 weeks – depending on shipping availability plus port and customs delays – and customer volumes multiplying beyond forecasted levels, Labprint used up its buffer blister stock and had to airfreight in two tons of material. ‘Operations normalised at the end of November because our staff were like warriors, committed to doing everything in their power to support the essential services offered by the pharmaceutical industry,’ Suzanne notes. ‘Our suppliers understand the importance of what we do and play an important part in ensuring that we deliver the best possible quality packaging on time.’
The Labprint team expects demand to continue in 2021 as consumers keep self-medicating to strengthen their immune systems.