Being a supplier to the pharmaceutical industry is not for the faint of heart. It's a high-stakes, highly regulated industry that requires the utmost in manufacturing discipline and control.
But, as the saying goes, "No pain, no gain." Although the pharmaceutical industry has its unique demands, it's a market that can provide healthy rewards to those suppliers that can meet its high levels of required proficiency.
One company that has been successful as a pharmaceutical label supplier is Norwood, N.J.-based Control Group (www.controlgroupusa.com). This company cut its teeth in pharmaceuticals in 1971 as Control Pharmaceutical Label. Back then, it provided offset-printed inserts and labels to both commercial and pharmaceutical customers.
According to Jim Imburgia, director of operations, Control Group was formed specifically as a pharmaceutical label printer in 1987. "We dealt with all major pharma companies delivering both cut labels and inserts," he recalls. "After a while, our customers started switching to roll labels. At the time this was something that we were not able to do, so instead of losing our customers we decided to invest and educate ourselves to be able to satisfy our customers' needs."
Imburgia says the company's response to these challenges formed the essence of its corporate culture. "This ability to adapt has been our philosophy ever since. It has become our signature, and we have been able to use it to grow our business and differentiate ourselves from other converters. It enabled us to meet our customers' requirements as they started to venture into the health and beauty packaging segments, along with other segments of the marketplace," he notes.
One outgrowth of Control Group's early evolution was investing in flexographic printing capabilities to support its customers' desires for roll labels. Its early focus was on labels using paper stocks, but in 2000, it added the ability to run flexible packaging materials. According to Imburgia, this not only helped the company increase its pharmaceutical business, but also opened up other opportunities, especially in cosmetics.
Today, Control Group is supplying a number of demanding markets, including health and beauty, cosmetics, and nutraceuticals, along with other consumer markets. It provides both flexo and gravure printed labels and flexible packaging using presses from Aquaflex (www.aquaflex.com, now part of PCMC) and Nilpeter (www.nilpeter.com).
This diversity in highly demanding markets has paid dividends during the recent economic downturn. Imburgia reports that the company has seen growth in virtually all its market segments. "It helps that we have a loyal customer base," he says.
However, this doesn't mean that everything has been easy. "Like everyone in our industry, cost is the driving factor," he emphasizes. "Our customers want to have first-class service at the lowest price. This drives us to constantly look at our costs to see how we can manage our business so we stay competitive."
Being a supplier to the pharmaceutical market is accompanied by a number of challenges, not the least of which is traceability, says Imburgia. "Whenever we have conversations with our pharma customers they want to see a 'paper trail' and data validity. They want to know who did this and when was it done.
"The pharma market is all about accountability," he continues. "Our customers require a tremendous amount of documentation supporting what we produced and how we verified it. In the past this was all done by hand, and the thickness of the folder grew by inches every time we did an order! By using a good information system, we have virtually eliminated the paperwork associated with an order."
Control Group uses a print management solution from Mississauga, Ontario-based Computer Productivity Services (CPS, www.cpsinc.ca), a business solutions provider for flexographic converters that supplies customized software based on Microsoft Dynamics GP.
"We reviewed numerous systems and vendors in our search process," reports Imburgia. "We wanted a mature system that had support and flexibility both from a software and programmer aspect. No one system can fit every application, so there has to be flexibility involved."
In the end, Imburgia says that CPS was selected because his company's team felt CPS had the right mix to meet their needs. "Because it was a Microsoft-based platform, it gave us a tremendous amount of comfort," he adds. "CPS proved to be familiar with the industry and our specific needs, and was able to modify the system to accommodate our unique applications."
The benefits provided by a management information system are especially important in dynamic market segments, such as pharmaceuticals. "We are able to process accurate quotes and orders quickly and at the same time, check capacity and inventory. This makes our scheduling and turnaround times more accomodating to our customer base," notes Imburgia. "Preparing quotes no longer requires hours; it's done in minutes with the ability to change variables in an instant."
Further improvements are in the works. "Our next step is going to be adding an Internet connectivity module to allow our customers to securely log on and track their orders, along with being able to place orders online," he reports.
Control Group is more than satisfied with the results of the investment in its new information system. "The ERP [enterprise resource planning] system provides us with all the business intelligence we need to manage our business, identify trends, and provide accurate and timely cost information," says Imburgia.
He also notes the contribution from CPS, "a true partner in this endeavor," he claims. "The implementation of the new system went very well and we avoided many of the pitfalls and problems typically associated with a new implementation. Microsoft online tools and user forums are also a major plus." pP