2022 is seeing a change in healthcare demand. We speak to Dr. Aldin Velic, General Manager of Southeast Asia at Oliver Healthcare Packaging, about the company’s innovation and preparation for the years ahead
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Matthew Taylor
As the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we begin to see a variation in demand as normality returns somewhat.
Within the healthcare space, Oliver Healthcare Packaging (Oliver) has started planning for this change in the wind, backed by a proud history of providing innovative excellence across the world.
“Oliver was founded in 1890, so we have been operating for over 130 years,” begins Dr. Aldin Velic, General Manager of Southeast Asia (SEA) at the company. “Initially, Oliver was a machine tooling company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan (US), and supported businesses such as furniture manufacturers.
“As the years went on, Oliver began to experiment with making different kinds of equipment, including food packaging and labelling, with a focus on adhesives that were used to stick labels to products. Then, in the 1960s, we really started to emphasise our focus on healthcare in light of the emerging medical device industry being formed in the US.”
During this decade, it was the American multinational chemical company DuPont that approached Oliver and introduced its new invention - Tyvek®, a brand of synthetic flash spun high-density polyethylene material used in packaging almost all medical devices and pharmaceutical products today. An adhesive was needed that could stick to Tyvek® and other substrates, and Oliver answered, creating its first adhesive coating in 1973, one that is still widely used today.
“Over the last 50 years, we have developed more than 40 separate coatings that are applied to substrates and materials that work differently with various sterilisation modalities,” Velic tells us proudly. “But today we address the broadest spectrum of healthcare applications and various manufacturing processes.
“Oliver currently has over 1,200 employees and our business is more capital intensive. We have seven factories across the world situated in major regions supplying medical packaging to thousands of medical and pharmaceutical clients internationally.”
INNOVATION AT THE ROOTS
Oliver prides itself on its extensive history of manufacturing and innovation for the healthcare space and sectors beyond it. This is one of the key factors that highlights Oliver’s professionalism and reliability as a company, being able to serve customers around the globe backed by a long-standing reputation for continuous development and its customers’ best interests at heart. However, for Velic, history is not the only stand-out aspect of the company.
“We have a well rooted history in the industry, but if you look at our business, our competitors are food packaging companies that happen to provide healthcare packaging in some form,” Velic explains. “Oliver is first and foremost a healthcare company. Our quality systems across every site in the world follow ISO 13485-2016 – we’re certified to that – and it all starts with such quality systems that dictate how we run our operations, the investments that we scale up, and ultimately the products that we deliver to our customers.”
“For those of us who work at Oliver, we stand apart from competitors because we are truly a healthcare company; our core focus is healthcare packaging and it’s a key differentiator for us in the industry.”
Oliver is not a packaging company that happens to serve the healthcare industry. Rather, Oliver is a healthcare company that drives innovation in packaging and is a global partner who understands the complex needs of its customers’ businesses and the dynamics of the various regions in which it operates. Oliver helps its customers manage any technical, quality, and regulatory challenges they may encounter, quickly and with an unrelenting commitment to excellence.
EVOLUTION IN DEMAND
Throughout the past two years, Velic has witnessed the dramatic impact that COVID-19 has had on the sector, the market and the operations within the business. Following the significant global ramp-up of vaccine-related demand, Oliver has had to navigate the frontier of industry change and re-assess its priorities in a time of critical need.
“COVID-19 has had a significant effect on us in the sense that we produce for a lot of class three medical devices which are typically part of what we call elective procedures, those that are planned in advance and are not necessarily emergency procedures. We saw these kinds of elective procedures dwindle because people were worried about going into hospitals for things such as hip replacements, cosmetic surgery, or implants,” Velic elaborates. “However, we did see another part of our business significantly surge - diagnostics.”
Velic’s team operates in multiple countries across the APAC region, with the healthcare market totalling in excess of $2.4 trillion in healthcare spending, growing at around seven percent annually.
“This is phenomenal growth, and demographics are really playing out in our favour,” Velic continues. “For example, Japan is an especially significant market, with an aging population and a huge increase in government spending on healthcare for such a population.
“For us, these types of market drivers make it a very exciting aspect of working in this space.
The fact that we bring around five decades of expertise and experience helping medical device companies and healthcare organisations launch their devices in the market allows us to leverage that experience in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region and help the local people and business ecosystems.”
The APAC region is expanding. According to Velic, Singapore alone is seeing three companies make multi-billion-dollar investment commitments in ground-breaking areas of healthcare, as well as many private equity firms helping medical device companies launch new product projects.
In order to meet this growth, Oliver is investing in its operations to best suit the future needs of the market.
“Our goal is to help these companies get to the market faster with the right materials,” he tells us. “We are leveraging our technical centre and utilising over 30 company engineers globally for their know-how when it comes to developing, designing, and providing customers with finished samples of the sterile barrier systems aimed at being introduced into the market.
“This is important because there are many things to factor in when introducing a device in the sector. For medical device companies that want to launch in the US for example, one of the largest markets in the world, their activities are dictated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Typically, there is a standard ISO-11607 that these companies have to follow that leads into a secondary standard from ASTM related to assessing the technical standards of materials, products, and more. These testing requirements are what medical devices need to pass in order for the FDA or any regulatory body to say, ‘you can sell that device down this market’. Our engineers use their knowledge and experience to best navigate these regulations so that we can reliably deliver and recommend the appropriate sterile barrier system and designs.”
Leveraging company engineers around the globe will ensure both the traditional reliability that is ingrained in its history and expertise of the business, while also streamlining the process.
“Our technical centre labs see these engineers work through the important material design and selection; with multiple reiterations, our goal is to ensure we provide customers with a finished sample with which they can go for third party testing, moving on thereafter towards the market,” Velic says.
On top of this year’s expansion of its technical centre in Singapore, Oliver has multiple further investments in the pipeline.
“With yearly growth and capital expenditures comes a greater expectation from our customers,” Velic tells us. “Regulatory requirements are increasing, and customers are expecting us to stay ahead, which is why our planned investments are so important.”
The investments that Oliver is making today include upgrading existing equipment and sites as well as the enhancement of company products and maintaining customer-focused growth.
“We work very closely with our suppliers to really help them grow and develop better products”
In the healthcare packing sphere, partners and suppliers become an integral part of business, especially when it comes to engaging with international clients.
“Our high quality of services extends to our suppliers. Most of our supplier relationships we have had for many years,” Velic says. “Ultimately, we do our own supplier audits. These audits are very comprehensive and an important part of helping upstream partners develop the necessary capabilities to adequately mitigate risk and supply the healthcare industry.
“We work hand-in-hand with our entire supply base; the requirements surrounding the key ingredients into the products we supply our customers have to adhere to a variety of different standards. All incoming raw materials are inspected; we have in-process vision systems and conduct a variety of tests to ensure materials meet the designated specifications that we had put in place with the supplier.”
Each and every one of Oliver’s suppliers are aware of such processes and the steps taken to make sure that the company practices continuity of supplies; ensuring that any deviation or change to even the smallest of ingredients that are made to company products are vetted, tested, and validated before further use.
“There is a cross functional team comprised of technical, process and quality engineering which determines whether any changes are major or minor, whether or not we can accept these, and ultimately how we plan to communicate these to customers,” Velic elaborates. “These are common practices in the healthcare industry, where minor changes to a resin can have a drastic effect on patient safety. We ensure adequate resources are allocated and follow up on any changes to existing raw materials when launching new products.
“We work very closely with our suppliers to help them grow and develop better products and processes, and ensure they are following all the necessary guidelines to keep up with regulatory changes.”
From the factory floor to the operating room, it is Oliver’s mission to safely deliver life-saving products. The company’s packaging is designed to the industry’s highest level of quality and care, so that its customers can deliver longer, healthier lives.
“At Oliver, we believe that embedding corporate responsibility and stewardship into our business practices and products is the best way for us to help decrease environmental impacts throughout the healthcare industry,” Velic informs us. “This year, we developed our second sustainability report in the interest of transparency and clear, ongoing stakeholder communications and to share our continued progress towards a more efficient and sustainable organisation.
“Our structured and proactive sustainability approach has earned Oliver a Silver Sustainability Rating from EcoVadis, a ratings platform that assesses corporate social responsibility. This certification underscores the priority we place on integrating social and environmental concerns into business operations and doing right by our customers and the planet.”
As part of Oliver’s progressive and sustainable promotion, the company prides itself on creating intelligent sustainable product designs.
“We have been delivering high-quality, cost-effective packaging solutions for more than 50 years, and we apply that same level of excellence to our sustainability practices,” Velic continues. “We recognise that our greatest opportunities to make a positive difference in sustainability come through the innovative products we design and deliver to our customers. As a result, we seek to minimise packaging materials while maximising the integrity and utility of all our designs. It’s an ongoing process that facilitates the most economical use of material for initial development and next-generation designs.”
Dual Hoop DISK
An example of these designs is Oliver’s revolutionary Dual Hoop Dispenser Integrated System Kit (DISK), that adds alternative-sized catheters to the backer card. This entirely new packaging system not only dispenses catheters and wires, but also eliminates additional catheter packaging, which in turn reduces sterilisation costs for customers because healthcare professionals can load chambers with more units. In addition, the designs are prequalified for biocompatibility, and ethylene oxide and gamma sterilisation after three years of real-time aging.
Catheter and Guidewire Clipless Dispensers
“Another is the one-piece, sturdy design of the Catheter and Guidewire Clipless Dispensers, that reduces packaging footprint by 20 to 30 percent by eliminating traditional clips to keep the tubing together,” Velic explains. “The small dispenser size results in smaller pouches, shelf cartons, and shipping cartons, providing significant cost savings for medical device manufacturers. Less weight and volume results in shipping and transportation cost reductions as well. Multiplied by the sheer volume of medical device products across the globe, this reduction makes a significant impact in supporting long-term sustainability goals.”
2022 AND BEYOND
For the past two years the COVID-19 pandemic has kept Oliver extremely busy in certain areas, having forced the company to adapt to specific demands. Since the beginning of this period, Oliver has significantly increased its employee count and has been gearing up for the years ahead.
“As COVID-19 restrictions are subsiding, we are beginning to see people anticipate the rise in hospital demand to pick up and change, and when we look at vaccine manufacturing which Oliver plays a major role in, it has been one of the most explosive areas of growth and will continue to be in the next few years,” Velic explains to us. “We have geared ourselves up to have a team in Singapore with the capabilities and capacity needed to help all these companies get their products to market faster to answer the coming demand.
“A lot of the projects that we are preparing for are more face-to-face technical engagements such as seminars, to educate clients about the latest on the regulatory side of the industry, as well as helping our customers with what projects they are working on by bringing them in-house, designing what is required and expediting the process of getting their products to the market. These are our major priorities over the next few years, engaging our customers in a meaningful way and knowing that they are going to be gearing up for a busy future, and making sure that they have enough resources to meet new challenges.”