Small-part handling is the bane of automated packaging machinery. Tiny plastic packaging components tip easily are susceptible to destabilizing static buildup and don't have a reputation for behaving well in an automated packaging line. So when faced with filling a 3-mL bottle and depositing a 0.17-g dropper tip CP Packaging Jamesburg NJ embarked on a search for a machine that could think-and act-small. A pharmaceutical contract packager CP Packaging won a contract to fill a new diagnostic reagent product called SureStep(TM) from Milpitas CA-based LifeScan Inc. a Johnson & Johnson company. LifeScan sells its diagnostic reagent for calibrating glucose monitoring equipment used in hospitals for the treatment of diabetics. Though CP Packaging had considerable tube-making and filling expertise LifeScan's product launched in May required a dispenser that could produce a small high-precision 18-microliter drop size much smaller than off-the-shelf tubes can deliver. Such components presented a considerable handling challenge. The contract packager finally purchased a customized Modulebloc® MB 80 filler/dropper tip inserter/capper from Automated Production Systems (New Freedom PA). A mixture of standard and custom parts APS starts with a standard turret base and builds modules that are customized to a specific application. All filling tip insertion and capping occurs as containers travel around the turret. CP's machine is unique on several fronts: * Speeds of 70/min are achievable without resorting to more expensive double-track feeder bowls for tips and caps. Bottles are processed single-file but the turret is timed so that bottles are filled tipped and capped in groups of two. * There's no infeed conveyor. The 3-mL low-density polyethylene bottles weighing 0.89 g are delivered from the unscrambler bowl straight into the turret via a special delivery chute. That eliminates feeding problems and contributes to a speed increase since gravity places bottles into the turret faster than a conveyor can. * The filler's diaphragm pumps have their own control electronics for automatic self-calibration. Since the machine needs to be broken down cleaned reassembled and re-calibrated each shift the precise repeatability of the automatic calibration saves time every day. * A unique pick-and-place mechanism picks two lightweight LDPE tips while simultaneously placing two tips at the other end into the bottles. Tips are delivered to the picking end via a special intermediate turret with highly machined pockets that eliminate the need for troublesome delivery tracks outside of the vibratory feed bowl. Result: almost flawless delivery of a hard-to-handle part. * All functions occur on one compact 8'-L frame operating off a 19"-dia 62-pocket turret. CP Packaging's vp/general manager Rick O'Connell recalls the economics involved in getting the 60 to 70/min speed CP sought. "A lot of other equipment seemed to do around 50 per minute; to get upwards of 70 bottles per minute I'd have to go to a double-track system. But then the price almost doubles and the size of the machine seems to get out of hand. I was interested in a small footprint."