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Heidi Keeling Interview

In terms of packaging what are you hoping to achieve?

We are trying to pursue innovative ideas that ultimately remove waste or delays in our lead time and processing methods, that we can pass on as a benefit to our customer.

Research and development into new medicines is getting more and more expensive and I cannot see that changing. So the rest of the supply chain has to do its bit to reduce the overall cost It is a balance across the end-to-end supply chain.

Specifically, in App D, our aspirations are to try to standardise where we can, to remove complexity where we can, and to innovate because the materials that we have used in packaging are ones we’ve used for 50 years.


Do you think there are new materials out there to be found that will fit the bill?

The food industry has found them. If you look at a bag of crisps: that packaging has changed significantly over the years – it is now thin foil. Bread loaf packaging has changed and uses different materials. The Pharma industry has used PVC for so long and we haven’t moved on. And once a product is registered as using a particular material, it is hard to change that, but not impossible.


In terms of the thinking that you’re having to employ is a fair to say that you’re trying to turn things on their heads?

No, because that would be too unrealistic. We are better taking known issues and innovating around known issues and challenges. Perhaps turning know issues on their head, but not the whole industry. Eventually perhaps. People, after all, have aspirations around a patient going to their GP today and being prescribed a medicine, of us manufacturing the pack in the afternoon and a drone is delivering it to the patient that evening.


Why did you pick aluminium as one of the materials that you be looking at in some detail?

Aluminium is what we use as standard in our industry because it is effectively nuclear proof! Some products absorb moisture from the environment and that degrades them so we have to put them in aluminium. When you are researching a product before it is launched, a group decides what material is going to be use to package it based on experiments they are doing. This is at a very early stage before the operations team even see it. So a decision is made about whether or not it is placed in aluminium or PVC. And these really are the only two options. PVC is a general barrier but aluminium is the best protection we can give a product. PVC is relatively inexpensive but the aluminium is not. We hot form and cold form these materials, but you don’t mix them up on a production line, traditionally, because that is a very technical and involves a longer change over.

What we were trying to do is find one material that we can manufacture in the same way wherever it needs to be used, so reducing capital expenditure on assets. If you have a standard material you can increase utilisation and potentially reduce the number of sites you need.

What I don’t think we will ever do is standardise our product. If you take the analogy of Coca-Cola where bottles are standard sizes across many different countries, the only reason you can do that is because it is a liquid that is the same everywhere. But if we were to say to our research groups ‘please could you make every type of product identical’ they’d say ‘sorry we can’t do that’. So, as we can’t standardise the product, we’re looking at materials. Of course, our suppliers have no vested interest in finding a new material because we buy miles of aluminium from them at considerable cost so why would they want to make something cheaper?


What’s the value of collaboration in app D?

The best output would be that we find a material that is half the price of aluminium and as good as it, which may not be very likely to happen, which could be shared across the whole industry.


Is it exciting?

I think it’s all exciting. The new material challenge is an exciting one. So far the results have been that we are able to eliminate materials and have recently found one material that has some higher barrier properties, which we are now exploring.