by Melissa Donovan
Part 4 of 4
Healthcare and pharmaceutical labels must be clear and concise, and remain in place for the length of the product. Most times, one person’s prescription information is not the same as the next. This is why digital printing is so ideal in these situations, the variability of the text, barcodes, and sequential numbering is easily handled between print jobs.
As most healthcare and pharmaceutical labels vary by patient, they needed to be printed on demand. Digital printing offers the biggest advantage here.
“The healthcare and pharmaceutical markets enjoy the variable content capabilities that digital has to offer. Digital solutions also provide instant feedback as the press runs and typically produce less waste than traditional printing methods, ensuring each run is high quality and compliant with the customer’s requirements,” explains Ryan Chai, strategic solutions manager, Nobelus.
In most cases, print time is also reduced because the important information is printed in one pass. “Digital printing allows both static and variable text inline as in pharmaceutical labeling, track and trace elements including GTIN and sequential numbering, serialization, and barcodes can all be printed in one pass,” comments Lori Bitar, product manager – healthcare, FLEXcon Company, Inc.
Digital printing is a means to keep patient information secure as well. “With HIPPA laws, it is very important that patient information is secure. With digital printing like direct thermal or laser, no ribbons or plates are used, so there is no reverse image of the patient’s information,” shares Kathy Magyar, senior marketing manager, Mactac.
Speaking of security, label media addresses these concerns in other ways. “There are multilayered films that can split and single layered films that can tear and fracture, preventing relabeling onto counterfeit goods. Aggressive adhesives can remove ink and tear boxes, indicating attempted tampering. Customers can reverse print on films and back with transfer adhesive tapes to protect the ink and integrity of the printed label. Watermarks, invisible inks, holograms, and taggants can be designed into the label to verify product authentication. Other advanced technologies include sensors, RFID, NFC, and blockchain that enable full channel traceability,” says Bitar.
Key to label material in this space—as well as its adhesive—is that it adheres well to smaller, tube-like containers. This is often referred to as a “tight mandrel hold.”
“In pharmaceuticals, we see that the performance of a facestock is far more important than its appearance. Converters must consistently meet highly regulated material requirements and spec standards,” explains Chai.
Polypropylene is one option, as it offers a balance of optical clarity, flexibility, and tensile strength and are ideal for high-speed dispensed pharmaceutical labels, according to Bitar. Polyethylene films are used for labeling squeeze type bottles, pouches, and bags. Polyester films are also utilized for high-speed labeling and can serve as a barrier preventing ink migration through the label and through the container.
When it comes to adhesives, “solvent acrylic adhesives are commonly used for critical labeling applications as solvent simply outperforms water-based adhesives. Solvents typically have higher shear properties allowing the label to hold to tight mandrel containers. Solvent acrylic adhesives also contain fewer raw materials to produce as compared to water-based adhesives, and due to this fact, may be considered more environmentally friendly. Over the counter (OCT) drug labeling typically use lower cost water-based adhesives as these are less stringent applications,” notes Bitar.
The FLEXcon PHARMcal line of products was developed for multi-platform printing, including digital print, and contains polyester and polyolefin films. The films have a balance of dimensional stability for high-speed dispensing and conformability to adhere to tight mandrel containers. Solvent acrylic adhesives are more commonly used for the majority of the product line as they outperform water-based adhesives in many demanding critical labeling applications.
In the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector labels aren’t so much looking to be recycled or repurposed, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an effort to be sustainable. Here, there is an effort to use less material.
“There is a small demand for sustainable label types for OTC products like vitamins and nutraceuticals for similar reasons as that of consumer goods labels. However, pharmaceutical labels must contain more information, not less, so booklets which are not recyclable are often used. FLEXcon does offer thinner gauged films and liners, which can be considered a more sustainable offering,” notes Bitar.
Magyar explains that many new label materials are being down gauged to use less material. “For direct thermal, you just have to be careful that the thermal performance does not degrade with thinner material. Thinner liners are also being used as a way to use less material.”
Mactac is a leader in Diagnostic Laboratory Labeling with its direct thermal solutions. Adhesive performance is unmatched in the tight mandrel hold needed for small test tubes used in these applications. This paired with outstanding thermal performance in harsh test environment, make Mactac products ideal for laboratory labeling.
Out of all the sectors discussed in this series, Bitar notes that healthcare and pharmaceutical labeling is very slow to adopt new materials because of all the specifications—patient safety and security—that are involved. She suggests “as customers see value in using digital print platforms to replace legacy print methods, it’s important to work with material providers to ensure the appropriate materials are being selected for the new print process. Elements of the project may change to include newer components, but often, the label is an afterthought. Legacy label materials will need to be brought up to date to accommodate newer print methods.”
Despite the setback, it is safe to assume that the healthcare and pharmaceutical segment will eventually catch up to the others discussed in the first three parts in this series and fully recognize the benefits of digital printing.
Read parts one, two, and three.
May2023, DPS Magazine