Pharmaceutical Label Printing Pharmaceutical Label Printing for Beginners — the Right Combination of Hardware, Software and Advice Makes it Possible

A guest post by Filip Weymans, VP Marketing at Xeikon

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Anyone who prints pharmaceutical labels needs a lot of expertise and experience. But with the right hardware, software and advice, even newcomers can efficiently produce the complex pharmaceutical labels in short runs - an interesting option for pharmaceutical retailers who specialise in re-imports and want to print very small quantities of labels themselves.

Example of pharmaceutical labels on ampoules
Example of pharmaceutical labels on ampoules
(Bild: Xeikon)

Complex labels do not need to be challenging. With the right hardware, software and consulting even newcomers to production print can produce complex products such as window labels efficiently in short runs. Digital processes in print and finishing help automating the production and avoid costly mistakes.

Making the complex easy – Xeikon label production lines

Labels decorate, inform, and engage and are a necessity for many products. The demand is forecasted to grow noticeably, yet print service providers face a conundrum today:

  • Products are getting more complex, the variety is increasing, while runs are getting shorter and the turnover time is driven down
  • Finding and keeping qualified staff is getting ever more difficult. Frequently this is cited as the top challenge for printing companies

Digital printing, automated workflows and advanced finishing technologies can reconcile the seemingly impossible. Digital presses allow printing shortest runs and automated changing of jobs. A digital workflow takes care of preparing the print data and sending the right job at the right time to a device without operator intervention. Advanced finishing options allow for an automated make-ready, minimising operator involvement and waste.

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Yet it is not always easy to piece together and optimise a production flow. Setting up an efficient print solution can require a consultative approach as provided by Xeikon and its Solution Services (XSS). XSS specialises on production lines where off-the-shelf products do not suffice, and processes have to be optimised across several components. A prime example of how XSS enables customers to produce complex products efficiently is label printing for pharmaceutical traders.

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Hands Off Production for Pharma Labels

Most efficient is automation when it already starts far upstream from a full colour digital press and encompasses the whole production flow. For example, the frontend of a Xeikon press can be connected to a company-wide ERP system. Depending on product orders, print jobs are generated automatically each day to produce the necessary labels. With the help of software developers Xeikon can program solutions that interface into the companies’ ordering system, creating JDF job tickets and print files without human intervention.

Even without an ERP integration many software tools exist to streamline and optimise the print production. Software on the Xeikon DFE arranges and assembles the jobs to make best use of the press format and the finishing set-up, considering the delivery times as well. In a step & repeat process, the final imposition is created and variable data is added to the labels as required. Often the very low volumes require printing in multiple lanes, to take advantage of the productivity and width of the Xeikon press and to make further processing efficient. This optimisation is done by the Varilane software on the DFE.

To automate downstream processes, the DFE creates a specific order ID and places data matrix codes at the begin and end of each job in a lane. Those are used for an automated set-up of the finishing and verification equipment, allowing a flow with minimal or no human interaction and constant tracking. Finally, Xeikon’s Vectorizer software creates die-cut outline files for the laser die cutter and stores these on a server for access by the laser cutter. All processes are automated to take off the burden from prepress and operators and to ensure all jobs are handled correctly.

Digital Presses — Forget Start-up Waste

In contrast to flexo or offset presses, the digital presses from Xeikon do not require any makeready or start-up waste. Shortest runs down to a copy of “1” are possible, allowing for zero inventory models. The Xeikon presses are scalable to handle the high volume of small to mid-size jobs effortlessly. Colour management can be automated as well to take off the burden from the operator.

The printed rolls are loaded into one or multiple laser die-cutter units. Using a laser die-cutter proved to be the most efficient and automated solution to create labels from rolls of print. The laser die-cutter reads the data matrix code at the start of each job in each lane to automatically upload the correct die-cut files. The laser cutter is able to change dynamically the shapes of the labels on the web, without dies, tools or manual intervention.

Not all labels are a straightforward affair, however. Window labels pose a special technical challenge. There are applications that require the content of a packaging to be seen in a window. A window label can serve decorative purposes as well. Seeing the content through a label can add a lot to the visual appeal. In some cases, it can be enough to simply cut out a window. However, a clear layer might be needed if the label becomes too flimsy or extra protection is necessary. In this case a dual laser die-cutter is the most efficient choice as some portions of the label have to be cut before the laminate is applied, while others are cut afterwards. Via matrix code readers in each laser unit the correct outline files are retrieved automatically. From the outline die-cut files created by the Vectorizer software the laser finisher calculates the thickness of the layers to automatically pre-set the laser power in each unit. All changes are done in an instant without any waste. In conventional production a window label requires a very high set-up time and creates a lot of waste — requiring a skilled operator as well.

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Letting Automation Do the Work

Traditional processes require skilled operators to handle all the tools, set-up procedures and manage print jobs. While print applications get more demanding, staff with the necessary skills is ever more difficult to find. It is a good time now to look into automation through digital workflows, digital presses and digitally enabled finishing. It does take experts however, to identify the right hardware and to evaluate the automation potential of all processes, such as Xeikon Solution Services (XSS). Furthermore, XSS is taking the full responsibility for the line towards the customer and provides a one-stop-shop for all components during set-up and operation.

Xeikon label production lines, like for the pharmaceutical industry, need to produce complex labels in shortest runs, while keeping track and verifying all labels produced. Several lines have been installed with pharma re-importers already which did not have experience in production print before.

Despite lacking experienced staff and production know-how, lines have been up and running within weeks after installation. Working with XSS proves that customers without experience in a specific printing market can invest into and efficiently operate a print production line, even for complex end products.

The new paradigm is putting the expert knowledge at the start of an installation. The automation and streamlining of processes achieved eases the burden of finding skilled operators for the day-to-day operation of a production line.

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