RPM International Tool and Die has teamed up with SMC to modernise a Sydney-based pharmaceutical packaging facility, taking it from hand-packaging to an automated system.
The machine had to pack vitamins into vials with closure (packed into layers), or bulk pack the vitamins into vacuum sealed bags. The project involved seven systems. The new system has one operator as opposed to 14, and delivers 15,426 parts per hour, and 54 vacuum packs per hour – all quality tested and hygienically handled.
Aaron Dwight, director of production at RPM said: “This particular customer packs pharmaceutical products and requires stringent hygiene and clean room standards. Previously, the customer had been doing most of the packing by hand into plastic lined cardboard boxes. This was not an ideal situation, considering the types of products being handled.
“The customer wanted to automate the production line and removing as many hands from the process as possible. The key focus was on speed of output, volume, and quality control.”
The packaging was formed by injection and blow moulding. The product was then taken from the moulding machine through a vision checking system to ensure quality was met, after which it moved through to a conveyor and into a different packing area. In this area, products could be bulk packed from a carousel bin which is filled to a level and then ejected from the packing machine onto an AIV which takes it back to a central point. From here, it is vacuum sealed in a brick product which is then sent off for final packing.
Finally, the vacuum packed and labelled product is conveyed from the clean room into a white room where it is packed and palletised. The whole process does not involve any human handling.
One of the challenges in this application was the vacuum head. “We needed a fail-safe and hygienic option,” Dwight said. “Together with SMC’s engineering team, a foam vacuum head was developed. One of the concerns when working with a substance like foam is that it may crumble or break over time and this would be detrimental in a cleanroom environment.”
After development, the SMC vacuum head was tested in a working environment for a period of four months. Testing proved that the product would be suitable, and the SMC vacuum head could be included with confidence.
“It felt good to validate the thinking and mitigate the risk by testing in this way. This small idea developed together with the SMC team turned into something big with real competitive advantages,” Dwight said.
According to Peter Wilson, branch manager at SMC New Zealand, these joint projects challenge the SMC team and helps them to develop and grow on an engineering level too.
“The projects we do with companies like RPM will see us dig deep into the product portfolio to find the best fit. If we don’t have the right fit, often a new product is developed and this in turn grows our product offering and variety of applications we can compete in even further.”
RPM International Tool and Die is New Zealand’s largest privately owned and operated tool and die manufacturer.
SMC is a member of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA).