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10. Next General Packaging Materials

Heidi Keeling


Project Director, Global External Sourcing (Previously Packaging Strategy Lead) AstraZeneca

Leader, Next General Packaging Materials Workstream (App D)


We narrowed our focus over time to three strands of work.


Our first we called ‘Agile Packaging’. We wanted to explore how the latest augmented reality technologies might be used in some of the processes we use in manufacturing. Working with Microsoft, using their Hololens technology, we successfully digitised five work instruction SOPs, doing the complex coding so an operator can wear a headset to see instructions projected in front of them while looking through the screen at the equipment concerned. When we then used it to help operators threading long reels of material through a machine, we cut the time for this intricate daily operation from 12 minutes to three.


We found a peripheral opportunity, using this technology in a different way, for factory acceptance of a piece of equipment where four people were able to examine it virtually in a room in the UK without having to travel to Italy.


Our second strand we called ‘A New Forming Material’. We use an aluminium material called Cold Form a lot to make metallic pliable blister packaging. We were offered a replacement which, on paper, was the same material but, because it was manufactured differently, didn’t split and tear when its footprint got too small. Under ReMediES, we were able to introduce new tooling and a new set of experiments to demonstrate that it behaved in the same way as the previous material, but better. And it is going to result in phenomenal cost savings. Just for the UK AstraZeneca site, using the new material can deliver an annual reduction of 700 tonnes in CO2, £500,000 saving in materials, £50,000 saving in electricity a £2 million saving in distribution costs because the packaging can be smaller, increasing capacity by 25% – all helping drive down the cost for every pack. Above all, it still met the registered specifications of the previous material and didn’t need a costly regulatory update.


Our third strand, ‘Standardised Base Materials’, was the most ambitious. We wanted to find something that behaved as well and offered the same protection as aluminium, but wasn’t aluminium, our most expensive material. With the help of the laboratories at CPI, we examined many different materials including boron and graphene and eliminated a lot of candidates than people won’t now need to consider again. Eventually we landed on atomic layer deposition (ALD) that places a coating layer on top of PET.


If you regard the protection offered by normal plastic as being zero and aluminium as 100 – nothing gets through aluminium and everything gets through the plastic – the ALD was coming in at about 50: roughly half as good as aluminium. What is clear is that some medicines are packed in aluminium that only actually need a ‘50’ in terms of protection, but that option has never existed. Now we have demonstrated ALD’s potential in the laboratory, there is an opportunity to see what potential it has on a commercial scale.