Blister Machine Features Vacuum System for Reject/Transfer
In the compact TF1pro blister machine, a vacuum arm lifts ‘good’ blisters, precisely lowering them to the transfer actuator. Another key safeguard: an upper seal plate that retracts when web motion stops to prevent unnecessary heat exposure.
Pharmaworks, part of ProMach Pharma Solutions, introduces the TF1pro, the next generation system in its TF1 family of compact ba-600 linear pallet automatic blister card packing machine at PACK EXPO Connects.
The system is particularly suited to small to moderate batch sizes and clinical trials for pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers and contract packers that frequently changeover. The fully servo-driven blister machine runs up to 100 indexes (200 blisters) per minute.
While smaller systems don’t always have the bells and whistles of high throughput machines, Pharmaworks added many features to maximize product safety and ease of cleaning, while also achieving fast changeovers, accuracy, and versatility.
Ben Brower, director of sales and marketing at Pharmaworks, said, “Two years ago, a large pharmaceutical company approached us and asked us to develop a compact blister machine with the most advanced cGMP features. With their design input, we developed the TF1pro, the only ba-350 turntable automatic blister card packing machine on the market that offers this high level of product safety and sanitation in a small footprint.”
The system accommodates tablets, capsules, softgels, vials, syringes, liquids, and more. The intermittent-motion TF1pro supports both thermoforming and cold forming applications and runs a wide range of base materials with a standard roll diameter of 500 millimeters, providing twice the production capacity of the ba-600h automatic hf double blister packing machine. The usable forming area is 120 by 165 mm with a depth of 25 mm. Optional product vision inspection and print vision inspection are available, as well as full serialization if needed.
Processes and parameters, including temperature, pressure, and the timing of each step are PLC-controlled and programmed as a unique recipe in the TF1pro’s large HMI. The TF1pro offers either Rockwell Automation or Beckoff control systems.
As the base roll unwinds, an optional feature monitors roll diameter and alerts the operator when it's time to add fresh material at the splicing station. Power-driven rollers form a loop in the material, while a sensor ensures that the material loop is in the correct area. This touchless feature helps prevent excess drag on the material, meaning less stretch, saving on costs by allowing the use of small width base rolls.
Next, a splice detector that notifies the operator when there is a splice in the web, allowing the machine to track the splices and automatically reject that section of material.
The company reports that automated adjustment of heating plates, forming tools, and other change parts translates into a 30% reduction in changeover time versus other TF series machines. It features ergonomic components that slide in and lock, including the guide track on the feeding station. The heat area automatically retracts when not in use for operator safety and convenience during changeovers and maintenance.
Sloped surfaces throughout the system eliminate the chance of cross-contamination from trapped product or debris, which also speeds changeover by simplifying machine cleaning.
At the heating station, upper and lower plates apply contact heating to the base material. The heating station opens fully during machine stop to remove heat from the material. There are optional burnout detectors to determine that all heating elements are working correctly—these will stop the machine if an issue is detected.
The warmed material is then indexed to the form station where upper and lower tools create blisters of predetermined shape, size and depth. These are change parts that permit toolless changeover, depending on the blister dimensions needed.
Driven by a servo motor, the lower tool moves upward during the forming process and this travel can be changed and stored on the HMI to allow the most efficient motion for a given blister size. The blister cavity can be formed with air only or air-plus plug assist (for cavities up to 25 mm deep).
The TF1pro is available with a wide variety of options, including selective forming that enables specific pockets to be turned on and off within the same tool. Pinhole detection for the lid material and/or the base material is available for cold forming. Additional options include a lid material splice table, a splitter, servo plug assisted cold forming and both helium and nitrogen gas flushing.
Finished blister cavities are indexed to the feed area, a separate module on the TF1pro that can be tailored to almost any length needed up to twenty-five hundred millimeters. Open access from the front and rear in combination with feed area length allows automatic feed systems to nimbly dock and undock as needed or allow operators to manually fill blister cavities.
Pharmaworks offers several feed systems for its blister packaging machines. The machine on show used the FA1 feeder (also common are the FF1 and FT320) with servo-driven technology to pick and place product into blister cavities. This next generation FA1 feeder is enhanced for more reliable pick motion and features that speed cleanup and enable toolless installation.
At the feeding stage, product is conveyed across a vibratory sift tray, where dust and debris are removed product is aligned in the feed track. The product populates each groove in the slanted track, enabling gravity to pull the product down the track. The end point of each groove is pre-engineered to match the blister cavity orientation on the web. (When feeding is done manually, operators can work from either side of the machine.)
Before the blisters arrive at the seal station, the TF1pro’s advanced vision system inspects the product shape and color, and checks for broken or missing product. The vision system logs this information on good and bad blisters into the blister tracking register (BTR). The position of bad blisters on the web is identified, and these products will be rejected later.
Lidding may be preprinted or printed online with the required lot and date codes. Several third party printers are compatible with the system while a Scanware print vision system checks and logs print quality.
To ensure consistent and accurate seal integrity a load cell provides real time information on seal pressure. A secondary high-speed sensing system will detect any foreign object between upper and lower seal plates. If an object is detected, the sealing cycle will instantly stop and reverse plate travel. Another safeguard on the TF1pro is a retracting seal plate—if web motion stops, the upper seal plate retracts to the rear so that the web won't be exposed to unnecessary heat.
The blisters are then perforated and die cut by the inverted die punch. The reject/transfer station uses a vacuum arm to lift the “good” blisters onto the outfeed conveyor while “bad” blisters simply drop down into the reject bin, which ensures consistent and accurate ejection. Positioning the die cutter in this way also provides space at the end of the web for direct coupling of a cartoning machine. Blisters can be manually packed as well.
PACK EXPO Connects continues to bring the industry together in record numbers this week with over 17,000 attendees as of Wednesday. Even after the PACK EXPO Show closes, informative Jumpstart sessions, Innovation Stage presentations, and exhibitor live demos will be available on-demand until March 2021. Be sure to register today so you don't miss out!
Blister packaging, or blister packs, are pre-formed packaging materials composed of a thermoformed plastic cavity and a pliable lid. In this type of packaging, the product is placed in deep-drawn pockets or cavities resembling a blister. A backing material or lidding mates to the flat area of the plastic cavity enclosing the product inside. Bonding the two structures is a heat-seal coating adhesive. Blister packaging has various types depending on the application. The most popular use of blister packs is packaging pharmaceutical products such as pills, tablets, capsules, and lozenges. Because of its low cost, cheap raw materials, and high operating speed, they are also used for packaging consumer goods such as foods, electronics, toys, and tools. Enumerated below are the benefits of using blister packaging.
“The conversations between Rohrer and Starview have been going on for quite a while,” said Sarah Carson, Head of Marketing at Rohrer. “But in the past year or two the pressure on consumer packaged goods companies to deliver on ambitious sustainable packaging goals by 2025 was increasing considerably, to the point that customer demand started to really ramp up. That included one significant customer who was so serious about the idea that it gave us a powerful business reason to invest in the R&D that it was going to take. Fortunately, we had already established a great partnership with Starview from the machinery side.”
“We had both intended to actually launch this last year at PACK EXPO in Chicago,” said Robert van Gilse, Director of Sales and Marketing at Starview. As we all know, COVID-19 put the kibosh on that plan. But then when customer interest in the concept grew the way that it did, says van Gilse, “We knew it was time to get really serious.”
On the machinery side, a key goal throughout the development process was to come up with tooling that would make it possible for existing customers already running automated Starview bp-260a/e automatic platen alu-pvc alu-alu blister packing machine to get in on the all-paper blister option by simply adding an auxiliary feeder to any one of Starview’s FAB (Fully Automated Blister) Series of machines. With this tooling in place, a flat paper blister is picked from a magazine feed and, thanks to precision scoring done by Rohrer, is erected and made ready to receive whatever product the customer happens to be packaging. Then it’s just a matter of applying the blister card and heat sealing card to blister.
As for the paperboard components that come from Rohrer, at the PACK EXPO booth demo the blister was a 14-point SBS and the blister card was a 20-point SBS. The virgin board is FSC-certified, notes Carson. She also says that Rohrer, a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, worked with that organization to make it possible for customers to easily get permission to use the SPC’s How2Recycle logo on their blister packages.
Printing, meanwhile, is done on an offset press, and both blister and card get an aqueous heat-seal coating. If customers so choose, a window can be die cut into the blister card to provide product visibility. Keep in mind that customers using this all paper blister are producers of products like kitchen gadgets or tooth brushes or pens as opposed to pharmaceutical or healthcare products where such a window would of course be out of the question.
When asked what the All-Paper Blister will cost compared to comparable alternatives, both Carson and van Gilse said there are so many supply chain variables percolating right now that it’s difficult to say.