Pharmaceuticals

A turnkey solution for combi-kits

Which horse stands for greater tenacity, adaptability, intelligence and spirit than the mustang? These are precisely the characteristics that an Italian pharmaceutical company sees in its new Schubert system: hence, its nickname - the Mustang.

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All the components required for the administration
of the contrast medium are packed in one tray
Source: Schubert-Pharma
The pharmaceutical company employs around 3,300 people globally and invests around ten percent of its turnover in researching medical products each year. The products are mainly used for diagnostic purposes in ultrasound, CT and MRI scans. The combi-kit, which is now being compiled and packaged on the Schubert-Pharma system, includes a contrast agent that is used in ultrasonic examinations. When the agent has been administered, structures in the liver, pancreas and kidneys can be detected during scans. This means any differences or irregularities can be identified more easily and, above all, more quickly, which is particularly important in cancer diagnoses.

After the client got in touch, Sales Account Manager Karin Kleinbach visited the client several times and a customized approach was drawn up. The entire project, from the customer request to the installation of the machine, took about two years. Previously, all the other secondary packaging processes, with the exception of the labelling of the primary products, syringes and vials, were done manually at the client's Swiss location.

Clear competitive advantages

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The robot takes the suspended piston rods from the
star wheel
Source: Schubert-Pharma
The solution quickly won the client over. The main benefits are precision with which the components are positioned and held in place, ensuring the product is well-protected, as well as the high-level communication system, which ensures that the product can be tracked and prevents batches from getting mixed up. At the same time, the solution means that the client receives a complete system from a single source. For example, the infeed of the various individual components has been efficiently integrated into the machine design. "Our good reputation in the market as a supplier of turnkey systems and, in particular, our experience in data communication between machine components, as well as the option of product serialization in the future, won the client over," says Karin Kleinbach.

Components form one unit

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A full syringe is only placed in the tray once the
variable data on the label has been successfully read
Source: Schubert-Pharma

With the exception of the operators feeding the system with materials, the packaging process is now fully automated. It consists of three high-level processes: tray loading, labelling, and cartoning in multiboxes. The sealable trays are taken from the stack and positioned on the transmodule. Leaflets are taken from the same storage space and placed in the trays. This single-store combination saves space and is particularly beneficial given the fact that the client is short of space. In the next step, piston rods, which enter the system from a vibrating container, are added to the tray. An F4 Pick-and-Place robot takes the suspended piston rods from a star wheel. With a horizontal tilting motion, the robot sets the piston rods down. Next, a centrifugal sorter is used to separate out transfer systems and an F4 robot positions them in front of a camera to verify the product information on the labels. The transfer systems are only added to the tray if the information matches the pre-set data. In case of a mismatch or a reading error, the transfer systems are immediately rejected.

In the third step, a rotary plate feeds the vials with the freeze-dried contrast agent into the system. Here, an F4 robot places the vials on a turning station in front of a camera, which detects and verifies the variable data on the transparent label. If the data match the current production batch, the robot adds the vial to the tray. The next component for the tray, a syringe filled with WFI, is also only placed in the tray once the variable data on the label has been successfully read and confirmed as being correct. These syringes have been hung from a vibrating container and fed into a star wheel. As the syringes are placed precisely into the trays, the orientation of the finger flange plays a particularly important role. It is aligned parallel to the base and top of the tray. The clamshell is then closed and moved to the outfeed belt.

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After the clamshell trays are placed in the cartons,
a label containing variable data is applied to it
Source: Schubert-Pharma
When the clamshell tray has been loaded and closed, a standalone labelling unit applies up to three labels: the container label, which holds the key variable data; the tamper evident label, which guarantees the integrity of the contents; and, depending on the country to which it is going to be supplied, a sticker or a Bollini label can be attached to the underside of the product. The cartoning process then begins as the blank is removed from the stack and the carton is erected. The incoming labelled clamshell trays are pre-grouped and transported to the loading station by an F4 robot. Once the cartons have been constructed and the clamshells have been placed inside, a label with variable data printed on it is applied and the carton is sealed.

Looking to the future

The new machine concept offers the pharmaceutical manufacturer a high degree of flexibility in the final packaging: Other combi-kit formats can be easily implemented without the need for any major changes. The site manager's summary was accordingly positive: "I was excited about the machine from the start. We are anticipating rising production figures in the future. I'm looking forward to seeing how our machine, which we call the Mustang, will grow. The work the Schubert-Pharma team did was impressive and innovative," he said, summarizing the positive collaboration with Schubert-Pharma. 

Achema:

Schubert-Pharma:
Hall 3.1, booth G47

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