Sustainable Design Concept Cuts Costs: Romaco Noack Unity 300 Blister Packaging Line
By Pia Britsch and Marcus Gallmann
Romaco Noack has developed the Unity 300 blister line for the low to medium speed segment. The compact monobloc was designed with economic and ecological principles in mind: climate-neutral, digital and extremely efficient.
A clear trend is visible in the pharmaceutical industry: the production of small to medium batch sizes is following a steadily upward trajectory. There are two main explanations for this – the growing number of generics and the unbroken advance of personalised medicines. Accordingly, the demand for machines that serve these markets is also increasing. The Noack Unity 300 is Romaco’s first fully integrated blister packaging line to be launched in the market for the low to medium speed segment. This monobloc transfer solution has a central control system and consists of a single-lane blister machine with rotary sealing and a continuous motion cartoner. The line – which is used to pack pharmaceutical solids into blisters and cartons – achieves a maximum output of 300 blisters per minute.
Especially where small batch sizes are concerned, the focus is increasingly on improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). A technology’s economic efficiency is principally determined by its performance, the quality of the end product and system availability. The aim when developing the Unity 300 was therefore to systematically enhance these efficiency values. In keeping with the conviction of the pharmaceutical machinery manufacturer that long-term economic growth inevitably goes hand in hand with active climate protection, these requirements were linked to a sustainable system concept.
Modern presupposes sustainable
A compact system design was a key priority for the engineers who developed the Unity 300. With an overall length of 7.8 metres, it is one of the shortest blister lines in the low to mid-performance class. The machine’s 4.1-metre-long primary packaging unit features a prepared interface with the pharma wall and has a particularly small footprint. The extra-compact layout allows a significant potential saving, which is most evident during energy and cost-intensive cleanroom operation. Generally speaking, the less space a machine occupies in the cleanroom, the lower its total cost of ownership and the more sustainable it is with regard to maintenance.
The economical and ecological room design is the outcome of various measures, such as the optional repositioning of the forming foil reel inside the machine or the ultra-compact arrangement of the blister coding, perforating and die-cutting components. The in-process control for removing the sample blisters is located directly in front of the punch in order to save space. The IPC magazine can simply be swung out for the duration of format changes, ensuring good access to the station behind it. The Unity 300’s compact design was realised strictly according to ergonomic criteria.
The transfer station which transports the blisters to the cartoner was likewise designed making economical use of space. The punched blisters are removed vertically by an indexing wheel and then transferred to the cartoner directly in a uniform circular motion. This rotary blister transfer system enables a very compact design of the transfer station. In order to improve the shuttle’s energy efficiency, the indexing wheel was additionally fitted with suction cups, which are only activated while blisters are being transferred. Compared to alternative vacuum transfer systems, the indexing wheel thus has a distinctly lower power consumption. Less power is likewise needed at the cutting and splicing table for the lidding foil because the vacuum is adapted to the foil width.
What’s more, both the air pressure and the power consumption of the blister line can be reduced in Romaco’s standby mode, leading to a significantly lower base load. However, this has no effect on the restart times and hence on the OEE values. The power and air consumption of the Unity 300 are continuously monitored and displayed by an energy monitor. High-efficiency servo motors with energy recovery, lightweight format parts and one hundred percent recycled acrylic glass panes give the blister packaging line an even better environmental balance.
Climate-neutral and digital
As things stand today, carbon dioxide emissions can neither be completely avoided nor sufficiently reduced. That is why, in the production process for the Unity 300, Romaco puts the emphasis on greenhouse gas compensation as part of the “Climate neutral machine” project. Initially, this is done by calculating the total mass of carbon dioxide released during the manufacture of the machine, including all components and transport distances. Unavoidable emissions can then be fully offset by purchasing a Gold Standard climate certificate. This entails buying a certified amount of CO2 bound in biomass. In the case of the Unity 300, the terrestrial biomass originates from a reforestation project called “CO2OL Tropical Mix Panama”. To manufacture climate-neutral machines, Romaco cooperates with FORLIANCE, one of the “Alliance for Development and Climate” foundation’s offsetting partners, on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Romaco gladly assists users of its technologies seeking to realise more sustainable pharmaceutical production. To begin with, factory acceptance tests (FAT) can take place via a live stream. Online machine acceptance tests reduce carbon emissions because far less travel is necessary. The same applies to customer service during the post-commissioning phase. Remote Assist, Romaco’s digital online support system, enables reliable support in real time and can be triggered simply by touching a button on the HMI. Smart glasses and HoloLens headsets additionally permit virtual communication between machine operators and the hotline team. Many support requests can hence be clarified without on-site intervention – a climate-friendly solution that is also cheaper. Finally, an automatic service display on the HMI helps manufacturers optimise maintenance planning. In the event that a case cannot be resolved remotely, Romaco can resort to a global service network of highly qualified plant technicians. The manufacturer’s decentralised service organisation ensures close proximity to customers as well as communication in the local language.
For machine operators, the moment of truth comes when format and product changes are carried out. Time is of the essence here, because prolonged downtime has negative impacts on efficiency as well as on the unit packaging costs. All Romaco Noack technologies are designed to handle frequent product changes. Owing to the small number of parts per set, it was possible to reduce the format costs for the Unity 300 blister line still further and shorten the retooling times. The relatively lightweight format parts are easy to remove and reinstall, and the ergonomic working height ensures convenient access to the main components. Thanks to the quick-lock systems, changing these no longer requires tools. The poka-yoke design moreover prevents the parts from being incorrectly assembled, for instance when fitting the suction cups to the transfer station, and the ramp-up times are even shorter now that the blister magazine is loaded automatically. Users can choose between four different feeder configurations depending on the product specification; a pharmaceutical grade safety guard can also be supplied for the feeding area. With its modular design and format flexibility, the Unity 300 is exceptionally versatile as well as easy to use and set up. A north German manufacturer of natural remedies has already opted for Romaco Noack’s newest blister technology even before the official market launch.
Pia Britsch is the head of product management at Romaco Pharmatechnik. Marcus Gallmann is the sales and managing director of Romaco Germany & Austria.