The Blistering Pace of Prefills

We’ve all heard reports about the growing popularity of prefilled syringes. The single-use parenteral package not only offers convenience, but also the potential to reduce dosing errors.

Growth in prefilled syringes may also be driving changes in secondary packaging. Many drug and biologic manufacturers are turning to thermoformed rigid blisters instead of flexible packages, machinery providers report. “We have seen companies going away from vials and bottles to prefilled syringes. Because of their sensitive nature and for sterilization, companies are putting prefilled syringes into rigid-type blisters instead of flexible packages,” says Dustin Hanson of Fargo Automation.

Interestingly, traditional pharmaceutical-dedicated, blister-forming machines are frequently being employed for syringes. These existing thermoformers can be retrofitted to handle such parenteral packaging, says Ben Brower, vice president of sales and marketing for Micron PharmaWorks. “The syringe is a big device, so you need the tooling and feeders as well as the space on the line.”

Up to a point, the same machine can be used—and changed over—for both solid doses and syringes, says Brower. Tooling and feeders both need to be switched, he says. Brower, Hanson, and other blister machinery providers report on efforts to speed changeover in this month’s feature, “Flexing Blister Machinery’s Muscle.”

Micron PharmaWorks recently worked with Fargo Automation to equip a blister line to package syringes at a rate of 400 syringes per minute. Using a drug blister–forming platform, Micron integrated Fargo’s Allen-Bradley-based Delta robot into the line. Syringes with safety features used to protect nurses against needle sticks were fed into the blisters. “These square-bodied syringe housings are tough to handle,” says Brower, so handling and feeding mechanisms had to be engineered to ensure speed and precision. Lasers ensure proper syringe placement.

Another challenge to using a machine originally equipped for drug packaging is achieving the deeper draws. “Tooling is different, as are the forming stations,” says Brower. You often need more heat. In addition, because thermoformers use air to form the hot PVC, you may also need to add vacuum forming for the deeper draw.” Micron PharmaWorks is devising blister equipment to package both traditional pharmaceutical solid doses as well as secondary parenteral packaging.

If you have existing equipment you were using for solid-oral drugs, don’t be afraid ask whether you can redeploy it (with a little help) for prefilled syringes. In our feature, machinery rebuilders report steady work. While some of those rebuilding projects could be chalked up to the economy, they may also represent trends toward machine flexibility. Just as packaging engineers are juggling many projects these days, so are machines. Consult the machine experts to find out just how much your equipment can share the workload.

Daphne Allen, Editor
Twitter name: @daphneallen

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