Narayanaswamy A: Patient safety, agile supply and sustainability- mantra to success - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
With its Indian entry in 2013, the UK-headquartered Essentra has grown steadily in the secondary-packaging segment, adding leaflets to its security-enabled folding cartons product line. Narayanasawamy A, shares the journey so far
07 Nov 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha
PrintWeek (PW): Essentra started operations in 2013 in Bengaluru; how have you built your ops over the past eight years?
Narayanaswamy A (NA): Since the beginning, we have stayed focused on catering to the packaging requirements of the pharmaceutical, healthcare and associated industries. Along with a fitting infrastructure built on the guidelines of our pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging manufacturing sites in various regions across the globe, Essentra in India works with experienced people who have spent significant time working with the clients’ companies. We have invested time, energy and most importantly, the determination to create a process-driven, value-creating organisation, which we are sure that our clients and the market observers appreciate.
PW: Tell us about the plant capacity and any new recent investments in machinery?
NA: We started with the capacity built for cartons; within the first couple of years, we invested in leaflets and then added a few assets to improve the efficiency and quality of the products we supply to customers. We recently added capacity in cartons with a brand new six-colour Heidelberg CX-75 printing press which I believe is a workhorse.
Over these years, we have been able to establish confidence in the mind of our customers, and we have extended our service to the whole market.
PW: What were the pharma trends you noticed in the past 18 months? More demand? More panic purchases?
NA: While demand has not grown entirely, the pandemic certainly caused a shifting of needs towards some specific set of products and eventually the market for the packaging materials associated with such products. In our opinion, the exigent purchase would be the right word to describe the scenario instead of a panic purchase. As the uncertainty brought by the pandemic deepened, coupled with less availability of workforce, companies had to re-plan everything and focus on what was necessary and could be manufactured and sold. This gave rise to many sudden demands, and the expected delivery timeline dropped drastically.
PW: Considering the uncertainty, how did you cope?
NA: Such scenarios surround our operations. The planning behind the raw material sourcing, the robust follow-up of our colleagues with our extremely supportive suppliers and our colleagues’ uncompromising dedication in the operations team helped us sail through the situation. I am happy to say that we could keep our operations fully on during the period of the national level lockdown last year, and we are delighted to be able to serve our customers fully during that challenging period. We are even happier to be of full service to the pharmaceutical and healthcare fraternity with our services during that time.
PW: We noticed online shoppers are now outpacing their offline counterparts during the past 18 months. True or false?
NA: This observation is accurate, and the eCommerce space has got a massive impetus in the last 18 months. While this trend will continue to grow and add many new dimensions to the ways and the fields in which online shopping happens, the brick and mortar business will continue to retain its unique space. The more the online business grows, which may take care of all our essential needs, people will turn to the physical shops for the sheer experience of going out to a market and buy things.
PW: What impact has it had (if any) on how Essentra creates packaging prototypes?
NA: Given this, we believe there has always been, and there will always remain a vast arena for packaging prototypes, and Essentra intends to perform a steering role in this space. Since our focus is 100% on pharma and healthcare, we have not seen significant changes in how innovative packaging will help in meeting these demands. Essentra has a very well established design hub and extends its reach globally, and we are geared to meet the requirement of packaging needs within a very short time.
PW: You have installed the Speedmaster CX 75 6+L, a press with fully loaded options that started production from June 2021. What is the production capacity you are targeting with this investment?
NA: We have built-in additional capacity to cater to the immediate needs of our customers. As the lead time is one of the major KPIs for our pharma customers, this will help us gain an additional share of the wallet combined with new business wins that we expect to have in the coming months.
PW: How does the Speedmaster CX 75 6+L fit into the factory’s pharma workflow? For example, die-cutters and folder gluers, and inspection systems?
NA: Apart from a BCP requirement, we fell short of capacity. It also combined with an increased lead time for rush orders in the press. Our post-press capacity is well designed to take on the additional volumes.
PW: The pandemic months saw packaging factories upgrade their pre-press platforms - and fast forward their interface roadmaps in order to plug into the WFH technology. Essentra is a global player. To what extent did you address the issue of virtual approvals and online green signals?
NA: As the pandemic made WFH an essential work norm, running the business without any hindrance became crucial. Essentra took many steps to enable this. In many cases, approval on the print proofs was made online. Matters of shade matching were shifted to a methodology based on scientific deductions instead of physical matching.
PW: Are the authorities being extra careful with regulatory concerns?
NA: We recognise that our customers in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries manage through many demanding regulatory requirements. Essentra has always acknowledged this fact, and as always, we do our best within the resources and reach to offer full compliance so that our customers can operate with complete confidence and trust.
PW: To what extent is this a challenge for a packaging converter who services a pharmaceutical company?
NA: In fact, this is one of the core reasons why, Essentra as an organisation, puts a very high priority to execute and deliver the services in a well-defined process instead of ever compromising on any aspect, even though sometimes it demands a little longer time spent but not detrimental in any sense, to deliver a service.
PW: Does your company’s global experience help its cause from a regulation standpoint?
NA: Of course. Essentra being a global company has dealt with such situations in the ever-changing Western world and has geared up to those challenges. We will have all such developments offered in India if the regulatory authorities demand them.
PW: Essentra has a formidable R&D set-up. What kind of tech innovations in packaging has Essentra contributed to?
NA: R&D in Essentra has always been key to responding to our customer demands, but currently, innovation and sustainability are relevant to our strategy. Our innovation pipeline is focused on three main areas- patient safety, agile supply and sustainability, which is supporting our strategic purpose to responsibly provide products and services for our customers’ needs to succeed. Moreover, COVID-19 has pushed our business to accelerate the pace of innovation in smart packaging solutions, and we collaborate very closely with our customers to co-create the next packaging generation.
PW: Any product launch in the past two years in India which was a tough project?
NA: We worked on several complex products which required multiple stages of processing and assembly. Despite the complexity, when our teams worked in close coordination with our clients, the projects did not feel tough- instead, it gave us additional motivation to work together on more projects in the future, and we are pursuing that fully.
PW: What do you think should be on the top of any pharma pack printer’s shopping list?
NA: I would say features such as a vision/barcode scanner, glue detection system, text inspection kit, and zero-defect software should top the list. I think all of these are very much required to gain that extra mileage with our ever-demanding customers.
PW: The final question- are the dynamics of healthcare going to change after this Covid calamity.
NA: We do not think that the dynamics are going to experience a sea change. However, the fact that needs to be acknowledged is that with the implementation of the track and trace mechanism in various regions and the growing consensus towards sustainable manufacturing in all spheres, all packaging manufacturers must imbibe practices to adhere to these and offer a holistic packaging solution to the clients.
PW: Will converters who supply to the pharma brands need to ensure there is more information-sharing and more medical healthcare transparency with the end-user?
NA: I think this includes the manufacturing and delivery of the packaging material and exercises great care for the associated aspects such as the processes and procedures, development support to the customers, collaboration with the various functions at the clients’ end.