Blister packaging goes EXPRESS


The Indian pharmaceutical market is becoming more sophisticated and demanding. On one hand, adhering to regulations is mandatory and on the other hand, newer packaging designs are coming thick and fast amidst increasing pressure on manufacturers to reduce the cost of operations. This trend is posing quite a big challenge to the machine builders, as they need to satisfy the varying needs in increasingly shorter time spans.

Conversely, this new development is seen as an opportunity at IMA-PG India Pvt. Ltd., a Thane-based Indian subsidiary of IMA SpA, the global leader in packaging equipment. “We at IMA PG recognise that customer demands are a moving target. Demands keep changing and hence, so must our solutions. Our capability to deliver packaging solutions quickly for the complex requirements and at sensible prices, keep us ahead in the competition. Our association with B&R will continue to grow on the premise of achieving faster time to market and high quality automation systems,” says Prakash Pujare, Director – Design, IMA PG.

Machine in new packaging

Express N, a newly designed blister packaging machine by IMA PG, accomplishes more than one objective. The new machine resulted into far quieter operations, flexibility through quick setup, inherent safety, intuitive operator interface and compliance with the FDA regulatory guidelines.

“B&R provided innovative as well as truly integrated automation technology. It played a crucial role in achieving tough targets. Multi-axis motion technology and intuitive visualisation transformed the way the machine works on the shopfloor and the way it interacts with the operator,” states Pujare.

Blister packaging in a nutshell

The compact yet powerful Automation PC 2100
integrates motion, controls, visualisation and
vision system

Blister packaging is a process, which packages products like tablets and capsules in a blister with cavities formed into a base film and then sealed using a thin lid foil. The choice of base film depends upon the degree of protection required by the product against ingress of moisture and exposure to light. These cavities are formed using either thermoformable film or cold forming film. Forming, sealing, feeding, pulling, cutting, non-fill and pinhole detection, and print mark controls are the major stations of this machine. Bottom foil passes through a forming station, which forms the cavity. A feeder unit places the tablets smoothly into the cavities. A sealing station seals lid foil and base film by heat and pressure. A precise temperature control is essential for perfect sealing and ensuring the protection of the drug inside the packaging. A print mark station, which consists of a sensor and an error detection mechanism, maintains accurate position of the pre-printed matter on the lid foil with respect to each blister. A cutting station at the end of the machine cuts the web into individual blisters. A transfer unit is typically added to place these blisters on a conveyor, which then leads to the next line machine i.e. a cartoner machine.

Evolution into mechatronic units

Cabinet2Previous blister-packaging machines built by IMA PG had induction motor as the main prime mover. It also had two servo axis for web advance and feeder oscillation. However, analysis of the customer feedback as well as opinion of internal quality team led to the conclusion that the complex and lengthy mechanical transmission was a source of noise, backlash and imprecise relative shaft positions. Secondly, such a drive and transmission arrangement posed problems for changeover and increase in machine speed for higher productivity. The main motor was replaced by individual servo drives at each station. A shaft-less design allows machine operation to be more noise free, easy to setup a batch change, requires less maintenance and offers greater flexibility in deciding start, stop sequence and positions.

Noise, no more

Express N, a newly designed blister packaging machine by IMA PG, accomplished far quieter operations, flexibility for the quick setup, inherent safety, intuitive operator interface and compliance with the FDA regulatory guidelines

Increase in the machine speed brings in its own challenges on the stability of the machine mechanics. Machine linkages become the source of vibrations and noise. Noise and vibration are not only irritants and harmful for the operator but can also potentially damage the product. Product quality too can suffer due to adverse effects on sealing and printing, and consequent increase in rejections.

Improving productivity through machine GUI

Extreme left: Prakash Pujare, director – design,
IMA PG with his team

Automation allows the machine builder to hide the complexities from the operator. One of the key goals at IMA PG for this project was that increased machine performance, easy setting up, and better diagnostics were needed without increasing the operator’s interface burden. “IMA PG team was pleased that B&R provides an open platform to integrate machine control, motion and vision system including pharma code and SAP code reader. Automation PC is capable of running these tasks simultaneously. A single user interface was then sufficient for the whole machine operation. This solved more than one problem for us,” stated Ashokkumar Singh, Manager Automation, IMA PG.

Complete redesign with B&R

Highly intuitive visualisation based on B&R’s touch panel is a result of seamless integration of machine operation, vision system and audit trails in compliance with 21 CFR Part 11

“Introducing individual drives and having an integrated HMI for machine operation was necessary to achieve our targets. This required a complete redesign of the machine and we went back to the drawing board for extensive changes to the existing concepts of driving station and controlling of various machine parameters. We evaluated automation solution from B&R in all the categories – controls, HMI, PC and motion technology. We realised that integrated automation concept will be at the core of the solution,” says Pujare. IMA PG zeroed in on automation PC, APC2100 to implement and integrate machine visualisation and vision system interface. Individual servo axes were selected for all the main stations i.e. forming, sealing, feeding, web indexing and cutting.

More machine intelligence through software

With the regulatory compliance playing a major role, users expect that the machine itself should generate production reports and IT department should handle the user management over factory LAN. Audit trail and data handling were easily achieved with the help of modular application development solution i.e. mapp Technology. With mapp, B&R has brought a revolutionary software concept in the market. The programmer is relieved from routine code development and achieves far better software quality and faster project development owing to the need of just configuring the mapp components. Even for the multi-axis motion control, mapp Technology drastically reduces the complexity of the programme.

PackML ready

OMAC PackML too has been implemented and provided as an optional feature for the customer. With the implementation of PackML, machine states are clearly defined and the user gets a standard interface to connect other line machines. This will be of help to IMA PG for their turnkey solutions of complete production lines including several upstream and downstream machines. “Our new Express N machine sets the bar very high with respect to the integration of motion, controls, visualisation and vision systems. Machine monitoring, reporting as well as the implementation of PackML makes it a complete state-of-the-art blister packaging machine,” concludes Pujare.

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