Medical packaging design has a long list of essentials that it needs to address, such as compliance regulations, ease of use by patients and caregivers, and ongoing compatibility with progressing sterilisation methods. For all medical packaging design, it is essential to provide support for the following priorities:

  • Resistance to physical damage, both on-site and in transportation
  • Ease of opening especially for products which may be used by the elderly or infirm
  • Compatible with sterilisation processes and regulations which may be subject to updates on a regular basis
  • Aseptic opening methods
  • Maintain a sterile containment until the moment of use
  • Provide a barrier to microbial penetration and hold out bacterial spores and test particles

Types of primary pharmaceutical packaging

Blister packaging for pharmaceutical products

Used to package solid doses such as capsules or tablets, blister packs are pre-formed plastic made from a thermoformed plastic which is then sealed or lidded with aluminium foil or a plastic film. Blister packaging provides very effective packaging for medicines protecting them from external factors, such as contamination and humidity.  

A variety of blister packs, called Clamshells are one-piece containers, consisting of two moulded halves, joined by a hinge, which fold over on to each other and clip together. Often made using transparent plastics, Clamshells have the advantage of the product being on display while remaining sterile.

Blister packaging machines normally use heat and pressure in the pocket formation process. However, recent developments and improvements in cold forming have allowed for steeper cavity depths to be formed. This enables a reduction in the amount of raw material required to form one sheet of blister packaging and a can help to lower production costs and the environmental footprint.

Due to its heightened protection against moisture and oxygen, blister packaging is becoming more and more popular and has now started to outstrip bottle packaging as the most common method of pharmaceutical packaging on the market.  

Bottle packaging in the pharmaceutical industry

Often used for tablets, capsules and pharmaceutical liquids, bottles provide an excellent packaging system due to their effective barrier properties and their resealable qualities. Probably the oldest means of packaging, bottles have been used in medical packaging since the 19th century.

Bottle packaging is made from glass or plastic and is generally tinted to help protect the contents from ultraviolet light which may potentially affect photosensitive contents. The transparent nature of bottle packaging is also advantageous since it allows users to check the remaining quantity of the product inside.

The different levels of pharmaceutical packaging

Pharmaceutical packaging is a highly regulated industry, involving strict adherence to a large number of industry standards, including patient safety, assurance of the efficacy of the product right through the intended shelf life, uniformity of the medicine through different production lots, thorough documentation of all materials and processes, control of possible migration of packaging components into the product, control of degradation of the medicine by oxygen, moisture, heat, prevention of microbial contamination, and sterility.

Pharmaceutical packaging involves the entire packaging process from production, through to distribution channels and to the end consumer. This involves three levels of pharmaceutical packaging.

  • Primary packaging

This is the first level of packaging, the one which is in direct contact with the medicine or the pharmaceutical equipment in question. Primary packaging needs to ensure there is no interaction with the external environment and that the product remains absolutely sterile and uncontaminated. This level normally consists of strip or blister packages.

  • Secondary packaging

This is the consecutive covering or package, and the one which groups the individual blister packs together. These cartons or boxes are what the customer sees and chooses on the shelf.

  • Tertiary packaging

This final level is for the bulk delivery of the products to their point of sale or distribution. This level often consists of containers or large boxes.

Pharmaceutical packaging at the PPMA TOTAL Show 2019

The PPMA Show plays host to a number of exhibitors from the pharmaceutical packaging industry. So for your chance to see the latest development in the world of medical and pharmaceutical packaging, visit the PPMA Total Show 2019, and we’ll see you at the NEC, Birmingham, UK.