Small-format packaging equipment can provide benefits to the pharmaceutical industry such as quick changeover and low tooling costs. The machines also can shorten the time it takes to bring a product to the market. To find out more about small-format packaging machines, and about the kinds of companies that are taking advantage of them, Equipment and Processing Report (EPR) spoke to Scott C. Garverick, vice-president of sales for Carton Service-Packaging Insights (Shelby, OH).
EPR: Have pharmaceutical manufacturers embraced small-format machines for both in-house use and outsourced packaging?
Garverick: Pharmaceutical companies and contract packagers are embracing small-format equipment, but small-format blister machines are more prevalent among contract packagers than among pharmaceutical companies. Smaller lot sizes are driving more companies to small formats to achieve smaller batches (which tie up less money in the supply chain), greater flexibility in the production of commercial product and samples, more inventory turns, and faster reaction time to shifting market demands.
EPR: What is the typical speed range for small-format versus large-format machines in cycles per minute?
Garverick: Cycles per minute are not that much different between small- and large-format machines. Rather, it is the difference in the number of blister cards per cycle that is significant.
EPR: Wouldn’t a large format machine actually provide higher output in a shorter amount of time because it could produce two or more packs per cycle?
Garverick: A large-format unit can yield two to three times as many cards per cycle as a small-format device. It’s the reduced tooling requirements, easier setup, and quicker changeover that make small-format equipment advantageous.
EPR: If small-format machines require less tooling, does this mean that less metal and machining are needed for these precision parts, which are therefore less expensive? Or are the tools themselves more flexible (i.e., can the same tool be adjusted to produce different packages)?
Garverick: Small format means small tooling, less material to make tooling, fewer blister cavities to form, and less time to manufacture packages. Tooling is specific to a certain product or size and is not adjustable, but advantages are gained when standard blister sizes and perforations are used.
EPR: Why would changeover be faster for small-format machines?
Garverick: Smaller tools are easier to handle, and changeover is simpler.
EPR: How much faster is changeover for small-format equipment than for large-format units?
Garverick: Changeover should be measured by the time it takes to produce a blister card that meets all quality requirements. With experience, an operator can change over the small-format machine in less than an hour, including tooling and print-mat installation, as well as production of the first blister card.
EPR: What is the optimum run range for a small-format machine?
Garverick: Lot sizes of 100,000 cards and below are ideal for most small-format machines. Also, keep in mind that there is still a big difference between 5000 cards and 500,000. A typical contract packager would use several kinds of tooling and various blister lines for this wide range. The equipment used should be the right tool for the job. For example, will a blister card hold one tablet or 10? If it’s one tablet, a small-format machine would be inefficient for a batch of 500,000 units, but a small-format machine would be ideal for a run of 50,000 blister cards of 10 tablets each.
EPR: Many large machines are highly automated, and cleaning regimens for small- and large-format machines would probably be similar. Because the cleaning team must ensure that no stray product from the previous run remains, aren't cleaning regimens basically the same, regardless of the size of the machine?
Garverick: Cleaning regimens are similar, but not the same, and there is a significant difference in magnitude due to size. Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies look for contract packagers with the ability to accommodate small-format blister packaging. Packagers who maintain small-format equipment offer those companies a significant cost savings, faster speed to market, and a competitive edge for their products.