Number of cycles doubled and the minimum of staff thanks to automated loading process

 The increasing complexity of pharmaceutical products requires not only complicated pack designs but also packaging solutions, which enable such packs to be produced in a very effi cient and cost-effective way. As part of an automated packaging project for sensitive products in combi packs, a French pharmaceutical manufacturer required a reliable packaging solution, which would replace manual loading of the different components in the pack cavities, while also being very gentle on the product and practically doubling the output.  

The combi packs comprise a syringe in a plastic sleeve, a pre-fi lled cartridge and a protective cap. The three components are manufactured in France and packed for export, particularly to Japan. Up to that point the packs had been produced on a thermoforming packaging machine. The three products were loaded manually into the pack cavities by two staff, who were able to fi ll 16 blisters per minute. In order to increase the effi ciency signifi cantly and be able to reduce the burden on the staff, the manufacturing company decided to invest in a new packaging line with automated loading and unloading, which would completely replace the existing packaging solution. The fully automatic process was also intended to improve reproducibility, increase the pack quality and reduce the likelihood of tampering in the packaging process. MULTIVAC was the project partner selected, as the Project Manager for the French pharmaceutical company emphasizes, "in addition to the innovation and experience in packaging, MULTIVAC also had the most effi cient line design for our project, and that was a crucial factor for us." 

New packaging machine, new packaging technology

A packaging solution was conceived and implemented over a twelve-month project phase, and this solution far exceeds the previous one in terms of output capability, ease of operation and process quality thanks to its automated loading and unloading process. The previously used thermoforming packaging machine was replaced with a MULTIVAC Tray Carrier concept. This solution, which is designed as a carousel system, consists of a high-output T 700 traysealer and two H 242 handling modules for loading the products and removing the trays. The trays are transported through the entire packaging process by object carriers, so-called MULTIVAC Tray Carriers. This concept is very fl exible in terms of production volumes, and it enables small batches down to batch size 1 to be produced as well as large numbers of products. The process in detail: First a tray denester automatically dispenses the empty, pre-made trays into the tray carriers. 

Then the fi lled and labelled cartridges as well as the protective caps are loaded into the trays. Whereas the orientated cartridges are transported directly to the packaging line from the upstream process, the protective caps arrive in bulk at the line, where they are separated and orientated by means of a vibrating unit, before being made ready for transfer to the robot. The gripper of the loading robot picks up one cartridge and one protective cap in one operation, before loading these into the tray cavities. A further loading robot places the plastic syringes, which are orientated and fed on object carriers to the robot, into the tray cavities. After the syringes have been removed, the empty object carriers are returned once more to the assembly process. The fully fi lled trays then arrive at the traysealer. There the trays are sealed to a Tyvek® upper web, before being converged automatically by means of a further H 242 handling module. 

Extensive Tests

An extensive factory acceptance test was conducted at the Wolfertschwenden site, before the system was installed at the customer. During this project MULTIVAC focused particularly on ensuring that, despite the change of packaging technology from thermoforming packaging to packing in trays, the packs continued to have an identical design and the same functions. The compatibility with the upstream and downstream processes of the existing equipment was also maintained in full. 

Professional training courses for a quick production start

 Working with automation equipment was new to the staff at this pharmaceutical manufacturer. MULTIVAC therefore conducted intensive training courses for all staff involved, at both the company's own Training Center in Wolfertschwenden and at the installed packaging line itself on the customer's site. The knowledge and trust in the new equipment, which was established in this way, ensured that production speeds were quickly ramped up to the planned target level. Those responsible for the project at the pharmaceutical manufacturer appreciated in particular, that the professional customer support from MULTIVAC did not just extend to the duration of the project - even after the new packaging line had been put into service, the experts from MULTIVAC were on hand with help and advice to optimise the line still further. 

Doubling of output with reduced personnel

Thanks to the automation of the loading and unloading processes, it has been possible to virtually double the cycle rate with the new packaging line from the previous 16 packs per minute to 30 packs per minute. At the same time the reproducibility of the process has been increased signifi cantly. The line can also now be operated by fewer than one fulltime person, which means that the number of staff has been halved. “In addition to this, the staff are now engaged in more challenging and attractive work, and they can concentrate essentially on operating the line and monitoring the complex packaging process. The higher level of process reliability and reproducibility is ultimately refl ected in better product protection and more consistent pack quality,” says the Project Manager in summary. All those at the pharmaceutical company are very satisfi ed with the new packaging solution, even though the complexity of the project was a challenge at the start and it was the company's fi rst joint project. But MULTIVAC was able to impress from the start. In addition to the professional analysis of the requirement, MULTIVAC also scored in delivering a complex packaging solution from one source to fulfi l all the demands of the existing production environment. The result is a packaging line, in which all components are fully integrated and perfectly matched to each other. 


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