There are many approaches to increasing the speed and output capacity of your packaging line to meet the extremely high demand generated by the COVID pandemic. As vaccine production and distribution roll out globally in the upcoming months, the ability to ramp up production and packaging of syringes may require a combination of tactics. Automation may be one of your best strategies.
Existing Syringe Packaging Line
Here are several ways to expand output and efficiency of your existing packaging line.
- Add more labor to the line. If your line isn’t automated, more workers are required to do jobs that automation could accomplish or help with. These jobs include loading, unloading, completing checks, and labeling. However, adding labor doesn’t always mean expanded capacity and output. Your primary packaging machine is only so big and can package a finite number of syringes at a time. Moreover, additional staff is costly and manual labor can be unreliable.
- Integrate automation into the line. If you use manual labor to load, unload, and do anything a machine or robot can do, you may not be operating as efficiently as possible. Consider replacing those manual operations with automated components.
For example, often times facilities will have up to eight workers per shift manually supporting a packaging line, with each of those workers costing the company about $50,000 a year in salary and insurance. That means that for one shift that packaging line is costing the company up to $500,000 in labor alone. With automation, there are ways to reduce the labor by integrating automatic feeding, robotic loading, case packing and more. Instead of eight workers, automation might allow for about three people per shift which would be only $150,000 per year. That is a labor savings of $350,000 a year.
If a loading system costs $1 million, perhaps the investment wouldn’t make sense because it would take nearly three years for payback, which is longer than the desired two years or less. But if you’re running two shifts, and eliminating ten line workers, that investment might make sense. Furthermore, this example doesn’t even account for additional costs such as training, paid sick time, insurance, and uneven production: workers working faster at the beginning of a shift than at the end.
Again, your primary packaging machine can package a finite number of syringes a minute. However, an automated line can run reliably for a longer stretch of time, increasing overall output in that fashion. Say you have 20 employees in total that work on your line. 10 employees work one eight hour shift while the other 10 work the other eight hour shift. With automation you can decrease the employees per shift to two or three and reallocate the remaining employees to more rewarding jobs in the plant. More rewarding jobs can lead to improved employee retention, reducing hiring and training costs. Moreover, automation and vision systems can perform checks and automatically discard bad packs, which is faster and more reliable than manual checks done by humans.
Fully Automated Syringe Packaging Line
A larger, fully automated packaging line will guarantee an increase in output and capacity. Faster lines can produce several hundred syringe packs per minute depending on the machine.
For a fully automated syringe line, you first need to consider how the product arrives to the line so you can choose the right feeding system. Sometimes they arrive in bulk while other times they may be fed directly from the assembly equipment and be hanging vertically on a rail.
If the product is arriving in bulk there are two main options:
- The syringes are put into a bowl feeder and they come out singulated in a uniform way. They can then be put into a grouping chain. Depending on the machine, several syringes can be picked up at once to load the machine.
- The syringes can come out onto a vibratory linear feeder where they are separated. Next, a vision system can locate and inform robots to pick up the syringes to load them one or two at a time into the machine with a recirculation belt. If any syringes are missed by the vision system, they are recirculated.
Automation solutions are not an all or nothing proposition. Various automation components at different stages of the packaging line can be incorporated and have a significant positive impact on your production.
- Feeding and loading
- Primary packaging equipment
- Nesting and grouping systems post packaging
- Automatic insertion of IFU pamphlets (instructions for use)
- Secondary cartons and tertiary boxes
- Check weighing
- Vision inspection
- CFR Part 11 compliance tools
To get the most out of your automated packaging line, make sure your OEM offers flexible solutions.
For example, your syringe packaging line may have the capability to package more than one type or size of syringe. If you’re primarily packaging a 1 milliliter syringe, you may be able to package a 100 milliliter syringe on the same line. The introduction of a new variation of the product shouldn’t require you to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to accommodate an additional product. A variety of options are available that can be custom designed to support smooth and versatile changeovers, or even the capacity to sort and process different products simultaneously.
If you need to expand output and capacity, consider your options of adding labor, adding automation to your existing production line, and purchasing a new automated packaging line. And if you need advice and want to talk about options, we can help.