Sometimes happy coincidences do happen. Through one of them, Matthias Schmidt filled an empty factory building in Osterweddingen with life. As general manager of the company Esparma Pharma Services GmbH was looking for a site for a new packing and distribution centre. Magdeburg and the surrounding area were the objective, as it is where the logistical hub of the company Aristo Group is located.
All that remained of the abandoned solar factory were the outer walls and cooling and ventilation technology. Aristo invested 25 million Euros in the renovation; in mid 2015, the centre was put into operation.
Pharmaceuticals have been packaged and stored in Osterweddingen and distributed to pharmacies and pharmaceutical wholesalers ever since. These unspectacular processes require ingenious logistics and skilled professionals. “In the pharmaceutical industry, there are two major challenges,” explains Esparma director Matthias Schmidt. “One is pressing the pill into the correct compound. The other, getting it into the blister packaging and then into the folded box along with the information leaflet.”
Millions of pills are packaged automatically in Osterweddingen. The major challenge lies in operating the machines. Four production lines are already in operation in the large hall, and there will be up to ten in the future. A glass wall separates the clean room from the area in which the blisters are packed into cartons by robotic arms.
As there are so many different package sizes, types of foil and fixed forms of dosage, the machines constantly have to be geared for new formats. “Operating a packaging line demands wide-ranging knowledge of mechanics and electrics. It is hard to find suitable employees,” admits Matthias Schmidt.
Quality assurance is a huge priority. Numerous laboratory investigations and documentations are performed alongside the journey from production to packaging.
“Behind every employee who moves his hand, there are two with a biro documenting it,” describes Matthias Schmidt. “The department of quality assurance and controls is the biggest in the company.”
Esparma has a long tradition in Börde (a district in Saxony-Anhalt). The company Fritz Wilhelm Carl Richter was founded in Magdeburg in 1875. In the GDR, it was known for the production of medical bath additives. Eucabal is its probably most famous product.
The products are sent from Osterweddingen across the whole world: to South America, Iran and Iraq, Europe and especially to the Iberian Peninsula. Some of the sales offices are in Russia and the Ukraine. But these markets are tough at the moment: the Russian market has been hit hard by the crisis. Exportation decreased by a quarter. “But because we, as a company, cover a wide area, we can deal with it,” qualifies Matthias Schmidt. But where the journey is going remains to be seen for the time being. “To start with, you invest money, and then things start to warm up”. But Esparma has consistently held steady for 140 years and overcome all challenges: trusteeship after the Second World War, socialisation, reprivatisation, trusteeship and many changes in ownership after the reunification.
There are currently around 160 people working at the Osterweddingen site, which will grow to 200 in the near future. By that point, Esparma will have invested 40 million Euros in the site. “We still have some things in the pipeline”, envisions the director. “There is still enough space to extend the building.” Aristo Pharma GmbH, which was founded in 2008, emerged from the merger of various medium-sized German pharmaceutical companies and has since been able to establish itself as one of the most important pharmaceutical companies in Germany. The company now employs more than 1,100 people. The Aristo Group also includes Pharma Wernigerode GmbH, which began to implement its expansion investment in September. About €10 million are being invested in the Wernigerode site to improve liquid bottling and expand the warehouse capacities.
In October Esparma will attend one of the biggest pharmaceutical fairs in the world, the CPhI in Madrid. Madrid is a superb platform for the pharmaceutical company to present its service portfolio.
Author and photo: Annette Schneider-Solis