A New Supply Chain Model: Digital Evolution Comes to Printed Packaging

In 2004, Nosco launched a supply-chain initiative dubbed "Nosco On_Demand Solutions." The program set out to find ways to help manufacturers significantly compress supply-chain cycle time, reduce inventory, reduce obsolescence, improve service levels, and save money with digital offset package production. Turning to digital label production, Nosco has since converted thousands of SKUs to the digital process. These include labels with variable bar codes, RFID tags, and brand protection features.

The latest advancements in digital press technology now enable Nosco to ship digital offset-printed folding cartons for short runs and to double the economic run size for labels, reaching longer-run SKUs. Nosco is beginning to ship cartons with various brand protection features and variable bar codes.

"What digital technology has done for photography and music recordings has now come to package printing," says Joe Tenhagen, vice president of marketing for Nosco. "In the past, printing took 17 steps from art generation to plate making to printing. Now, with the advent of digital offset print production, we are down to three steps as the print production process is fully digital and highly compressed."

As a result, Nosco is seeing an increased use of digital offset technology in the industry. Although relatively new for pharmaceutical packaging, digital printing is proven and well established in many other industries, Tenhagen says, including consumer goods, cosmetics, and the high-quality, graphic-demanding wine industry. Digital also eliminates the cost of printing plates, reduces make-ready time and material, and reduces the cost of tooling.

"More and more of our customers are rethinking how they plan and buy printed packaging as the days of the blockbusters have changed to niche-busters and as they strive to reduce obsolescence, working capital, and component cost," Tenhagen adds. "Our goal is to help them develop and implement a high-velocity supply chain in this new world."

Digital printing technology is transforming the pharmaceutical packaging supply chain by cutting costs, shrinking cycle time, and minimizing errors and defects. "It’s been said that digital print production isn’t a manufacturing process; it’s a business solution," Tenhagen notes. In addition, "digital printing complements lean initiatives because it delivers predictable and accurate performance, eliminates waste, and reduces variability."

Instead of a three-to-four week lead time for printed package production, Tenhagen says, "digital production, coupled with our lean initiatives, enables product delivery in less than half that time, and faster if schedules require it, including a day or two for labels." Further, with very low minimums, companies can buy the exact number of labels and folding cartons needed.

Digital printing also ranks as a "sustainable" process, Tenhagen says. Environmental advantages include savings in ink, materials, and support processes owing to a streamlined make-ready that produces good labels and folding cartons within a few minutes. In addition, eliminating
printing plates cuts waste and expenses even more.

To help producers learn more about digital package production, Nosco has developed an educational Web site with resource materials at www.ExpectAnEvolution.com.

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