Tooling Flexibility Facilitates Custom Projects

Heat sealers that can accept a variety of tooling styles have enabled a prosthetics maker to package thousands of products using the same machines.

Howmedica Osteonics (Rutherford, NJ) packages at its cleanroom facility thousands of units, including medical orthopedic devices and instruments such as chisels and saws, hardware for fractures and breaks, and prosthetics like artificial hips, knees, and trauma products.

Nine heat sealers have enabled Howmedica to increase throughput.

The firm packages its instruments, prosthetics, and hardware in preformed medical trays before shipping them to its contract sterilizer, which uses gamma radiation. Anywhere from two to six packages may be included in each sealing tray, depending on the device size and its blister footprint.

Because the medical industry has become subject to greater price and delivery pressures, Howmedica found it challenging to keep up with expedited schedules and custom projects with its existing heat-sealing equipment. Says Tom D'Ambrisi, Howmedica's packaging engineer: "On the older machines you had limits to where you could put tools, and we have situations sometimes in which we are creating a custom prosthetic at our foundry. Getting that made and out in two weeks' time can have an impact on your production schedule because it has to be fit in."

To address this concern, in March 1999, Howmedica acquired nine medical heat-sealing machines from Alloyd Company, Inc. (De Kalb, IL). All were Model 2SM1428 Level 5.

Sealing trays hold up to six packages.

A major advantage of the new machine line, according to D'Ambrisi, is its ability to use any of the tooling on any of the machines. "If we have an open machine anywhere, our custom prosthetics can be fit into the schedule," says D'Ambrisi. "We are running about 60% of our catalog numbers through this packaging line, and we have to have the flexibility to have tooling fit any machine," he adds. "Having that flexibility has helped us increase throughput approximately 10–15% over the old system."

Each of the nine identical Alloyd machines can operate any one of the 24 sets of tooling that are required for the variety of packages that Howmedica eventually ships to hospitals, clinics, and surgery centers.

The common tooling and flexibility have also returned significant benefits to Howmedica beyond throughput. All of Alloyd's machines are equipped with a touch screen, two 8-in.-diam air cylinders, a bar code scanner, and a light tower. A single Compaq processor runs all nine machines.

All of the machines operate within a tight range for time, temperature, and pressure. Any drift in the sealing parameters beyond preset limits triggers a default message through the light tower, and an "out-of-range" message is sent to the database.

"It produces a more-consistent, better package, and we have saved on labor and reduced overtime," D'Ambrisi says.

Alloyd's machines also include a bar code scanner and keyboard that permit operators to scan an identity badge or log into the keyboard to identify themselves and scan the item tray and lidding. A database of sealing parameters is created after each sealing cycle and stored for later retrieval.

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