Pharma

Innovative feeding system for a secure, reliable and fast packaging process for pharmaceutical manufacturers

Two interlocking star wheels ensure the exact feeding of the syringes.

For a secure and precise feeding of the syringes, the star wheels interlock like precision gear wheels in a clock.

The products are placed into the transfer chain at precise intervals by star wheels.

The star wheels place the syringes at exact distances on the transfer chain.

A robot places 20 syringes at a time onto the grouping table.

20 syringes are picked up simultaneously by a robot in the packaging machine.

REQUIREMENTS

400 syringes are reliably processed per minute

New robot-supported feeding line ensures a gentle packaging process at high throughput for an international vaccine supplier

When the flu season draws near, the vaccines, which are newly developed every year in response to the current mutations of the influenza virus, must be available in millions of vaccine doses within a very short time. In order to make the twice-yearly production of its flu vaccine faster and more reliable, a large, internationally active pharmaceutical company opted for a collaboration with Schubert-Pharma. With powerful star wheels and robotics, the packaging machine manufacturer’s infeed system enables high output with extremely gentle product handling.

The production process is required twice a year because the flu season occurs at different times of the year in the northern and southern hemispheres. Speed is of the essence in the production process: Due to the lead time required to adapt the vaccine to new strains of pathogens, there is not much time between the development of the appropriate compound and the emergence of the influenza wave. Moreover, the valuable vaccine doses are filled into various types of glass syringes, which requires a gentle packaging process to ensure that the sensitive glass containers are not damaged. This task was previously performed by pick & place robots, which packed five syringes lay in opposite directions in a tray via a bulk feeder. In addition to the high processing speed, the pharmaceutical manufacturer was especially interested in gentle product handling and the prevention of glass breakage – after all, the increased output could simply not result in a higher reject rate.

SOLUTION

How is the solution implemented to meet requirements?

Star wheels replace pick & place robots

With the objective of increasing the process speed to up to 400 gently and reliably packaged syringes per minute, the well-known pharmaceutical company turned to the Schubert-Pharma team. Together with the customer, the experts found an exceptionally gentle and highly efficient solution. The heart of the new system is the infeed with two interlocking star wheels and pre-grouping on a special grouping table. The star wheels can be adapted very gently to the product and exactly to the high production requirements. They also ensure the greatest possible flexibility, because they can be adapted to any syringe format as exchangeable format parts. Currently, the line alone packs five different formats: 1-ml-long syringe with 16-mm cannula and soft cap, tip cap or hard cap, as well as 1-ml syringe with soft or hard cap. This represents a decisive advantage that allows the manufacturer to respond quickly to future market requirements and to prepare early for upcoming waves of influenza.

AT A GLANCE

  • Exchangeable format parts can be flexibly adapted to any syringe format
  • Interlocking star wheels allow precise syringe feeding
  • Schubert camera system for fully automatic quality control

WORDS OF EXPERIENCE

"Since we already operate several Schubert packaging machines, we know and value the company as a reliable partner."

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Gentle handling of 400 syringes per minute

The syringes coming from the upstream assembly and labelling line are separated for packaging into a horizontal position with defined spacing via two star wheels, which convey the products horizontally into a transfer chain. The first, horizontally positioned star wheel takes the accumulated glass syringes from the feeder. It then transfers the products at defined intervals to the second, inclined star wheel, which transports them further. In this manner, the syringes reach the designated transfer chain flights directly and without time-consuming intermediate steps. A robot always takes 20 syringes from the chain and places them onto a grouping table with four rotating cassettes. Five syringes are grouped together, then the cassettes are turned through 90 degrees so that they can be placed into the trays provided by a second robot. In the next step, five syringes are again placed on the grouping table. This time, however, the cassettes are turned in the opposite direction. This enables the second robot to place the syringes into the tray in the opposite position to the syringes already placed, without having to perform a time-delaying rotational motion itself.

Optical control ensures quality

A group of four trays each with a total of 40 correctly aligned syringes is then fed by a conveyor belt to a Schubert camera system, which finally checks the correct length, filling and alignment of the syringes, while also ensuring that the syringe rod, label and protective cap are present. Trays with faulty syringes are automatically ‘filtered’ out of the process flow. Only intact syringes in correctly filled trays are then packed by a Schubert cartoner.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE
  • Gentle product handling
  • Formats: 1-ml-long syringe with 16-mm cannula and soft cap, tip cap or hard cap, as well as 1-ml standard syringe with soft or hard cap
  • 10 syringes per tray, 400 syringes per minute
  • Adaptation of the feed to upstream production
  • Packaging of pre-grouped products by Schubert cartoners

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