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The Role of Automation in Pharma Packaging and Labeling

April 9, 2021

For many years, the concept of automation has sent many into a panic. Although these automated technologies have enormous potential, some are worried that too much reliance on automation could have dire effects on our economy and our workforce.

Most experts, however, stress that automated technologies aren't necessarily meant to replace human involvement. Instead, they're created to supplement what we already have while eliminating redundancies and preventable errors. We still need real people to complete a number of jobs -- and to run and check these automation tasks. Automation simply creates efficiencies where they didn't exist before. And in many cases, automation can make for a safer experience.

That's certainly true within the pharmaceutical sector. Despite all sorts of stringent regulations surrounding the various types of pharmaceutical labels and pharmaceutical packaging that exist, medication errors can still occur. If and when they do, pharmaceutical companies risk fines, fees, recalls, and reputational damage. As such, it's crucial to prevent these kinds of mistakes before they ever have a chance to impact the general public. And, as many businesses operating in the pharmaceutical industry have already found, the solution to compliance, safety, and efficiency lies in automation.

In this post, we'll discuss some of the issues that can lead to pharmaceutical mislabeling and subsequent hazards like recalls and public safety risks. We'll then take a closer look at our increasing reliance on automation and how these technologies can significantly reduce or even eliminate risks.

Mislabeling Pharmaceuticals Can Lead to Disaster

In theory, we all know that accurate pharmaceutical labeling is important. But the reality is that mislabeled pharmaceutical products can have major consequences -- both in terms of public safety and how your brand is perceived.

A report published by the Institute of Medicine found that pharmaceutical packaging and labeling issues served as the cause of 33% of all medication errors -- and 30% of fatalities stemming from medication errors -- in 2006. Although that report is from several years ago, it illustrates the essential nature of preventing medication errors from the start. And that comes down to what's included on your packaging and the types of pharmaceutical labels you use for your products.

When a mistake is included in pharmaceutical packaging or labeling, it can have dire side effects. Undeniably, one of the most critical consequences that can occur is the compromising of user safety. Patients need to trust that the medications they're taking will be administered correctly and that their labels reflect total accuracy. When different types of pharmaceutical labels contain even small errors, there's a likelihood that the product can and will be misused. This can result in unwanted symptoms or medication interactions for the patient; in more serious cases, it could even lead to hospitalization or even death.

Aside from the tragic loss of life, this possibility presents a huge problem for pharmaceutical companies. It's true that all drugs have possible side effects -- but when those side effects are unintentional or the consumer isn't warned about them, this can raise issues associated with brand trust. A single adverse event related to a labeling or packaging error in medication can do significant and permanent harm to a brand. This is especially true when a product recall is made public. When you lose trust, you'll have to pour time, money, and energy into salvaging what remains of your reputation and earn back the respect of the people.

Of course, recalls also come with other pitfalls. Recalls come with major financial costs, which can be a huge burden for any pharmaceutical company to take on (especially if the product was released widely). You'll also incur financial repercussions due to time and resources lost as a result of the recall, as well as during the rectification process. And if the FDA or other regulatory agency learns that your packaging or the types of pharmaceutical labels you used weren't in compliance with pertinent regulations, you might experience further damage to your reputation and your business as a whole. Even if you don't voluntarily recall the product yourself, regulatory agencies like the FDA might do it for you. That can make it even harder for you to obtain approval in the future.

When the stakes are so high, it makes sense that those in the pharmaceutical industry would take every possible preventative step. Ultimately, embracing automation can be a way to safeguard the public and maintain product quality, compliance, and overall productivity.

Automation Eliminates Recalls and Consumer Risks

The potential for mislabeling a pharmaceutical product is relatively high when you rely solely on humans to spot their own mistakes. Even if we consider ourselves to be detail-oriented, it's entirely possible for errors both large and small to slip by. When you're writing a school paper or drafting an email, those errors might not matter so much. But with pharmaceutical packaging and labeling, it can quickly become a literal life-and-death scenario.

That's why so many businesses operating within the pharmaceutical industry have embraced automation. According to, an estimated 50% of all pharmaceutical recalls come down to errors in labeling or packaging artwork. Even the smallest details here -- like missing information, content mistakes, malfunctioning barcodes, or misconstrued meanings -- can result in delays, consumer safety risks, and potential product recalls.

To avoid these problems, careful inspection is required throughout each and every step of production. But with only human workers performing these tasks, problems can still slip through. And even if they don't, it takes far more time and effort for people to perform inspections with their eyes than it would for a computer to do the same with all its advanced capabilities.

Automation, when applied with great care, can provide the solution. When automated computer systems inspect different types of pharmaceutical labels, they can spot errors that aren't obvious to the naked eye (and can do so at a much more rapid speed and rate of accuracy). This allows pharmaceutical companies to perform more thorough checks at every stage of the manufacturing or distribution process. Rather than waiting until a product is on the shelf to be notified of an issue, they can catch the mistake before it ever goes to market. This can save time and money while preventing safety and reputational risks. With the help of these machines, pharmaceutical companies can avoid recalls and other concerns while ramping up efficiency.

COVID-19 Has Furthered the Need For Automation

The pandemic has shown us just how important technology is to how we function. Automation, in particular, has become a particularly attractive option for businesses looking to keep costs low and productivity high. Operational flexibility and resilience are key to survival during a health crisis -- and automation has become even more popular as a result during this time.

It should also go without saying that consumers are paying even closer attention to pharmaceutical products right now. While some concerns may be misplaced, particularly in regard to vaccines, it's hard to argue against providing even greater transparency through improved packaging and new types of pharmaceutical labels. We already had an obligation to keep the public safe; now, we have an opportunity to communicate even more clearly to consumers through error-free packaging and labeling.

If you haven't yet employed the use of automation in your packaging or labeling, now may be the time to consider making a change. To learn more about the types of pharmaceutical labels we can offer for your products or how we can support your goals of compliance and safety, please contact us today.

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