Heed the Need for Speed

 

 

Daphne Allen
 

 

Prodo-Pak�s Model RH 250 features multiple-axis servo-driven rotary heat-sealing dies in an intermittent- or continuous-motion format. It can produce four-sided-sealed pouches at up to 50 to 1000 units per minute.

Whether vertical or horizontal, form-fill-seal machines are known for bringing cost efficiency to high-volume applications. Users, however, are asking machinery providers for even more speed and more cost savings from these packaging-line workhorses.

“Healthcare product packagers are looking for faster, better, cheaper,” reports Bruce Teeling of Prodo-Pak (Garfield, NJ). “They are also looking to automate as many processes as possible, hoping to reduce costs, labor, and scrap.”

Dennis Gunnell, vice president of sales and marketing of Formost Fuji Corp. (Woodinville, WA), adds that “reducing labor costs is definitely a factor in customers’ decision making.” However, he is also finding that increasing a machine’s throughput with the same number of operators is just as appealing.

While companies such as Prodo-Pak, Formost Fuji, and others offer standard off-the-shelf machines for form-fill-seal operations, machines placed into pharmaceutical or medical packaging facilities are often customized in some manner. With pouch machines serving healthcare products companies, for instance, “it’s a custom application world,” says Teeling.

The challenge for equipment providers, then, is to provide machines tailored for pharmaceuticals and medical devices that can work miracles with time, materials, and staff, at a nice price tag.

GET MOVING

“Once users have their budgets approved, they want to get their machines installed as soon as possible,” says Teeling. “They don’t want to hear that a machine purchase needs a five- to six-month lead time.”

Manufacturers are working to shorten lead times, offering modular machines that can be equipped with tooling and assemblies that match product-specific needs. For instance, Prodo-Pak’s new multilane horizontal form-fill-seal Model RH 250 can be equipped to produce four-side-sealed pouches for medical devices, pads, swabs, rigid components, and numerous other items with the addition of standard or custom-designed pick-and-place assemblies. Pouch sizes can range from 1.0 to 25.0 in. in width; virtually any pouch length can be accommodated with panel-mounted adjustment of the servo control for the horizontal sealing die.

Gunnell reports that Formost Fuji divides its healthcare product offerings into three different segments: standard horizontal or vertical form-fill-seal wrapping machines that can be used in any industry; fully pharmaceutical machines with the top-of-the line features for exacting calibration and validation needs; and hybrid machines that fall somewhere in between. “The hybrid machines can still be calibrated and validated, but they are not as heavily outfitted,” says Gunnell. “Customers are asking us for machines that are ‘less intense,’ without all the bells and whistles.”

For example, the full pharma machines feature dial indicators to direct the centerline sealing position that dictates the height of the sealer shaft. The hybrid machines, however, rely on crank handles to make such adjustments. “You can be precise in your adjustments, but just not within a thousandth of an inch as you can with the full pharma machines,” he says. The hybrid machines may be appropriate for some secondary packaging applications that need reasonable control and repeatability, “but not over the top,” he adds.

A recent example of the company’s expertise in custom operations involved managing film routing through a machine to create a wrinkle-free package for an IV bag. “Heavy, flexible products that do not hold their shape, such as IV bags, are hard to manage,” says Gunnell. “Instead of pushing the product into the package, we are forming the film around the package.” Another project entailed automating the packaging of a product that was being folded manually and placed into a pouch. Formost Fuji engineers developed a custom solution in which the product was automatically folded and wrapped in one inline process.

Doyen Medipharm (Lakeland, FL) has designed the MT2500 thermoform-fill-seal machine exclusviely for the medical industry. It can be integrated into a high-speed syringe assembly and loading system as well as produce formed packages for medical disposables, diagnostic strips, and pharmaceutical products. A variety of standard and custom modules can be added, and web widths are adjustable from 280 to 635 mm. The number of packaging lanes as well as the loading area can be configured according to customer specifications.

WEATHERING ECONOMIC WOES

Formost Fuji offers hybrid machines appropriate for pharmaceutical secondary packaging. The hybrid machines can still be calibrated and validated, but not as heavily outfitted, says Dennis Gunnell.

Today, even healthcare product manufacturers are having to make smarter business decisions when it comes to equipment purchases, says Gunnell. “Instead of asking for machines equipped with everything, they are asking for just what they need,” he says. “It’s partly because of the economy, and partly because the pharmaceutical industry is a competitive one.”

While sticking to immediate needs is a smart move today, however, Gunnell does advise companies to also look down the line to determine future needs. The good news, he says, is that machines that are modular can be changed fairly easily. “Machines can be made to be flexible and adaptable,” he says. “Being in the food industry, too, we have customers that introduce new foods each year, so we understand the need to be flexible.”

Purchasing preowned machines is also an option for budget-minded companies. In August, Multivac Inc. (Kansas City, MO) announced that it has formed a new business unit for rebuilding and reselling previously owned Multivac equipment. It is led by Tom Ritter, director of rebuilding and remanufacturing. Ritter joins Multivac from Koch Equipment. Jan Erik Kuhlmann, Multivac’s president and CEO, says that because Multivac machinery has been popular on the used equipment market, there have been situations in which unqualified personnel have been working on the machinery and using pirated parts. “Now, those businesses wishing to purchase preowned Multivac equipment can come directly to Multivac.” They will receive a Multivac-certified preowned machine, with a warranty, that has been thoroughly inspected, tested, and restored to Multivac factory specifications with genuine Multivac parts.”

Multivac is also offering to buy back any Multivac thermoformers from customers purchasing a new-generation thermoforming packaging system, regardless of the age or condition of the trade-in.

“With routine maintenance, a Multivac will serve a business reliably for decades,” says Kuhlmann. “At the same time, Multivac is passionate about innovation and the continuous improvement of our machinery to maximize economic benefit and minimize overall life cycle costs for our customers. Our trade-in program makes it easy for those who have owned the best to continue to do so by upgrading to the most advanced and reliable packaging technology available.”

Another step form-fill-seal manufacturers are taking to help users reign costs in is to integrate ancillary systems into packaging lines. Tiromat Medical points to its use of Greydon’s Micromax inline printing system combining low-cost flexography with a range of other printing technologies, for its new PowerPak thermoform-fill-seal packaging machine, shown at the EastPack/MD&M East 2008 show in New York June 3–5.

“Greydon is our preferred printing technology supplier, since they have solved most of our customers’ printing challenges over the past 15 years, including some firsts in the market, like inline two-color printing,” says Stefan Krakow, segment sales manager of technical packaging applications at Tiromat Medical. “Because it’s so flexible, compact, and cost efficient, the Micromax system is a perfect match for our new PowerPak, which we designed to meet both current and future needs of medical device customers.”

Greydon’s Micromax system includes a rotary flexographic printer with an HP ink-jet cartridge, recirculating ink-jet, or thermal-transfer printer, all with traversing capabilities. The latest system has bottle feeding and quick-change ink systems for easy cleanup. “The concept was to give customers whichever combination of technologies is most appropriate for their application,” explained Greg Rochon, president of Greydon.


 

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