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A biopharmaceutical company turns to form-fill-seal machinery to speed production.



Multiple sclerosis patients often suffer from numbness in their extremities and a loss of muscle coordination that may hamper their ability to successfully handle and administer medication on their own. For these patients, easy-to-use packaging is essential.

Biogen (Cambridge, MA) addressed this need by streamlining its entire packaging operation with in-line thermoforming to simplify labor and to accommodate the sophisticated, user-friendly design of its self-injection package for multiple sclerosis patients.

Prior to its new packaging process, Biogen had been purchasing preformed trays and die-cut lids to hold the contents of its multiple sclerosis injection kits for home healthcare. Michael S. Bergey, project engineering manager with Biogen’s packaging partner, PCI Services (Philadelphia), a subsidiary of Cardinal Health Inc., explains: "We shipped the trays from our manufacturing plant to our Philadelphia packaging facility, where they were placed on a conveyor one at a time and loaded manually. The filled trays were then placed into a sealing machine, and die-cut, preprinted Tyvek lids were placed on top and heat sealed to the trays to complete the assembly."

When Biogen’s output demands increased, PCI recommended streamlining the process by employing a horizontal thermoform-fill-seal machine. "Working with PCI, we identified a machine, manufactured by Multivac in Kansas City, MO, that would speed up the process and allow us to handle the continued growth forecast for the product," says Todd Smith, Biogen’s supply chain manager. PCI recommended the Multivac R530 thermoform-fill-seal machine based on prior experience with the manufacturer’s high standards of quality and service. "As packaging is not Biogen’s core competency, it purchased the machine but decided to locate it at our Philadelphia packaging facility," says Bergey.

Smith reports that the company has experienced increased efficiency as a result of the Multivac R530 machine. "Instead of producing trays at a separate operation off-site and shipping them to the packaging facility to be stored for future use, we now simply purchase rolls of plastic and form the [packages] right on-line. The result is that we’re able to run the line a lot faster."

According to Bergey, the biggest differences are throughput, repeatability, and a lower cost per unit. Joe Martin, general manager of Multivac’s medical division, explains: "The machine produces 32 packages a minute, which is approximately double the previous output. The registration control allows for a more precise cutoff, and the sealing parameters are better controlled. At a reduced cost, Biogen gets a more attractive, higher-quality package with the features patients need."

The package accommodates eight items in a wide range of shapes and sizes and includes a number of features that facilitate use by multiple sclerosis patients who may lack dexterity. The Tyvek lid, for instance, overhangs the package by about 40 mm. This long flap has two punched holes through which patients can insert their fingers to peel the lid off easily. “We achieved just the right pull strength so that the package would remain sealed while still being easy for patients to peel off,” says Smith. The design further incorporates a feature that allows multiple sclerosis patients to remove the medicine vial from the package and then place it into an indent in the bottom of the package where it stands upright for easy loading of the syringe.

The thermoform-fill-seal machine also includes a bar code scanner. "As trays exit the machine, it verifies the bar code and rejects any package with an incorrect or illegible code," says Martin. "A single, sophisticated, high-speed packaging machine performs the entire operation with minimal human supervision. It thermoforms the [packages] with intricate detail, punches the holes in the Tyvek lid, seals and completes the [packages], and verifies the bar code."

"We're getting a lot of positive feedback from patients," says Smith. "They’re particularly happy that we provide all of the components they need to administer the pharmaceutical product at home."

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