Metsä Board to develop secure pharma packaging

Paperboards and simulating packaging designs used for protecting vaccines

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Metsä Board, part of Metsä Group
Metsä Board, part of Metsä Group

Ensuring that vaccine vials and their potentially life-changing contents remain safe, sterile, and identifiable throughout their tightly controlled supply chain is no easy task, and taking risks is not an option. However, with the new extended 360 Service offering, Metsä Board, part of Metsä Group, tests the paperboards and simulates packaging designs used by pharma manufacturers to package and protect vaccine doses, providing absolute confidence that the materials are up to the task. 

COVID-19 and other vaccines are typically stored and transported in extremely cold conditions, which can be as low as -70 degrees celsius, before being thawed out ready for administration. Therefore, the secondary paperboard packaging must be able to withstand these temperature extremes and protect the vials throughout the entire process. 

Massive testing and simulation capabilities of Metsä Board

When a converter produces packages for cold-chain transportation, they must be 100% certain that the materials they are using are appropriate. This is where Metsä Board’s in-depth testing and simulation capabilities are extremely valuable for the pharma industry.

 Markku Leskelä, VP Research and Product Development, Metsä Board
Markku Leskelä, VP Research and Product Development, Metsä Board

Paperboard for pharma packaging needs to retain its specified thickness, mechanical strength, and water absorption properties regardless of the conditions it faces, and it must not affect the primary packaging in any way. Any changes in dimensions could cause curling or bulging, which could pose a risk to the integrity of the packaging and, therefore, the safety of the product inside. We are able to test paperboard and packaging samples in both extremely cold and extremely humid conditions, and develop packaging strength simulations to demonstrate how a package will perform in the real world,” Markku Leskelä, VP Research and Product Development, Metsä Board, says.

At its Excellence Centre in Äänekoski, central Finland, Metsä Board can test the performance of paperboard and pharmaceutical packaging samples across a wide temperature and humidity range. The conditions can be varied according to the specific needs of each case, and it is also possible to program different cyclic temperature and humidity changes to mimic the real-life conditions faced by vaccines as they travel along the supply chain

“With the help of a local partner, we can test packaging samples down to -70 degrees Celsius and combine transportation tests with board conditioning tests,” says Leskelä. “This kind of thorough research provides our customers with the confidence that the paperboard they want to use is appropriate for the application in question. And if the results show that it is not, we can recommend an alternative.” 

Metsä Board’s simulation capabilities include finite element (FEM) simulation, where it is possible to take a 3D design drawing or measure the dimensions of an existing package sample and use this structural data together with the strength data of the paperboard to calculate the strength of a complete packaging design. “With powerful computers and skilled personnel at our disposal, we can perform this kind of simulation within a single day to help speed up the process of getting a critical drug to market,” Leskelä highlights.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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