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Hallie Forcinio is packing editor for Pharmaceutical Technology and Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Integrated pharmaceutical blister-packaging equipment systems strengthen serialization and brand protection capabilities.
Blister packaging, a common format for solid-dosage forms, also serves as secondary packaging for ampules, syringes, vials, cartridges, and bottles. Many recent equipment introductions integrate blister form, fill, and seal (FFS) with cartoning to create more compact, easier-to-use systems that are serialization-ready and accommodate the latest anticounterfeiting technology.
One integrated system, the robot-equipped Integra 520V blister line from Marchesini Group, operates at up to 520 blisters/500 cartons per minute. Introduced at Achema 2015 (June 15–19, 2015), the integrated FFS/cartoning system measures 10 m in length. However, if needed, the two sections can be separated by a wall so that the blister thermoformer and cartoner can be installed in rooms with different classifications.
The flexible system accommodates different product feeders and handles a variety of blister materials and carton formats including tuck-in, alternated (even) flap, and fourth flap. New pushers, a drum-type carton opener, leaflet pick-and-place system, and Cinquecento carton-loading mechanism maximize cartoning efficiency. A balcony design separates the product feeding area from the electrical and mechanical area to help minimize downtime related to cleaning and changeover. Other downtime-reduction features include tool-less changeover using quick-release parts and automatic splicing tables for forming and lidding materials to simplify reel replacement.
The blister is formed three ways, depending on the material type: compressed air for polyvinyl chloride, polyvinylidene choride, and poly-chloro-tri-fluoro-ethylene (e.g., Aclar from Honeywell); air-and-plug assist for difficult-to-shape plastic; or mechanical forming dies for aluminum. Locating the forming station at the back of the machine reduces its overall footprint and protects operators from forming-material fumes. Separating the forming-material loading area and the machine feeding station minimizes the area requiring modified atmosphere and lowers costs.
Multiple cameras confirm product presence inside the blister and web pull through each station. Blisters are coded by cold punches and cut in the same station. Once cut, the blisters are picked up and placed directly onto the conveyor belt of the Robocombi robot. The three-axis robot feeds the blisters into the bucket belt of the cartoner and can be programmed for different stacking heights, based on the preset blister count. Software synchronizes the transfer, tracking, and stacking system. A manual loading station allows missing blisters to be replaced on the toothed belt.
The carton magazine is located below the product conveyor to minimize dust above the blisters and make it easier to load the carton blanks. On the carton conveyor, pairs of pushing and guiding fingers hold the cartons securely. The leaflet-feeding unit is enclosed by guards to minimize noise and positioned lower than on previous models to improve loading ergonomics. The integrated pusher and blade of the Cinquecento carton-loading mechanism precisely insert blisters into cartons and raise automatically when the machine is cleaned or serviced (1).
Another integrated line, the Noack 960 blister machine and Promatic PC 4000 continuous-motion cartoner from Romaco North America, was shown for the first time at Pharma EXPO (Sept. 28–30, 2015). The Noack 960 blister machine features anticounterfeiting technology developed by NANO 4 U for banknote authentication. Applied online by a heatable coding tool without the use of additional materials or impact on line speed, the technology offers unique primary packaging identification, meets requirements of the European Union Falsified Medicine Directive 2011/62/EU, and can be integrated on any blister machine with a coding station.
Individual blister packs are coded with overt and/or covert security features, such as holograms with company logos or combinations of letters and digits. Invisible codes that can be verified quickly and easily also can be incorporated into holograms. All that is needed for verification of a hidden logo or DataMatrix code is a simple laser pointer. The system is rated at 700 blisters/420 cartons per minute (2).
For secondary packaging of liquid-dosage products, Uhlmann Packaging Systems has introduced the BLU 400 blister machine. Capable of producing and filling 400 blisters per minute, the machine operates with 300-mm-wide material, divided in up to eight lanes, with a maximum forming depth of 42 mm.
A rotary feeder and four-axis robot places products in the blisters lengthwise or crosswise. Before being pressed into place in the clamp-pack, a mechanical check ensures correct positioning. The two-step, press-in function minimizes the force needed to seat the products and the risk of product damage. Other features include single-cycle handling, versatile feeders, and a rotary table at the end of the machine, which turns the filled blisters 180 or 270 degrees so they are properly oriented to be pushed into cartons (3).