Seals create I-D for lubricant

Induction-sealed PVC bottles that don't leak enable Westridge Laboratories to introduce personal lubricant to the pharmaceutical market and boost sales substantially.

Before last summer Westridge Laboratories sold its personal lubricant I-D® in nonpharmaceutical outlets where packaging wasn't particularly demanding. That doesn't mean Westridge was careless but leakers were a problem. Especially when you consider that I-D is the sole product of the two-year-old company. It's filled on two virtually identical lines at the company's 7-sq-ft facility in Newport Beach CA. "In the past we hand-applied a polyvinyl chloride shrink band to the PVC bottle then sent it through a heat tunnel" explains Gregg Haskell one of the company's owners. "But the bottles we use are straight-walled and cylindrical. These bottles don't have the tiny ridge molded around the neck area to help support a shrink band that many bottles do so our bands tended to slip. We applied a small tamper-evident label to keep the PVC band in place. But it looked a little sloppy." Leakers and poor appearance would be reason enough to make a change in sealing procedures but potential sales to pharmacies provided the ultimate incentive. "I-D is a lubricant for sexually active people" Haskell explains. "We conducted market studies and found that post-menopausal women represented our largest sales market. That's why we needed to get I-D to pharmaceutical outlets to better reach those customers. "And while it's easy to get product into outlets like adult stores there are much tougher packaging requirements for pharmacies such as Walgreens. So we made some changes in our packaging to get into these retail pharmacies. We had to ensure safe shipment and increase consumer confidence that our product hadn't been tampered with." Sealing solution One of the firm's cap suppliers recommended that Westridge use an Enercon (Menomonee Falls WI) sealer. Last summer Westridge purchased two Enercon Red-e-System induction cap sealers for its two I-D packaging lines. While both models are standard they do include an advanced 1 kW 2000 Series power supply that uses electricity more efficiently. As each bottle goes through the sealer an electromagnetic field is created near the liner. Heat is produced in a foil layer which in turn melts a polyester sealant along the mouth of the bottle to create a hermetic seal. Most importantly however is the system's tunnel coil that directs the electromagnetic field into the foil liner. "In the Westridge case they use a dome cap that requires a deeper tunnel than most" explains Augie Ray Enercon's director of corporate communications. "Whereas most tunnel coils are used to seal caps that are one-half to three-quarters of an inch from the liner we modified the coil because the dome caps are more than an inch from the liner. We had to make the coil deeper to effectively get the electromagnetic field down through the dome cap and into the inner seal." "Since we installed the induction sealers we haven't had a leaker" says Haskell. "And that's enabled us to break into the pharmaceutical market nationwide. Internally sealing eliminates the need for the PVC band tamper-evident label and the labor to apply those. That saves us about 9 percent of our overall packaging costs." Dropped into line Haskell says the Enercon units were easily positioned on the two packaging lines. At the beginning of the line operators place the PVC bottles onto a conveyor. Poly-Tainer (Simi Valley CA) is a primary supplier of the FDA-grade bottles. The company extrusion blow molds the bottles though outside converters decorate them. As bottles convey to filling they are lot coded near their base then filled on a single-piston filler that produces 30 bottles/min. "We're a small company" notes Haskell. "We just added the coder to replace manual lot stamping and we're looking to automate our filling and capping procedures as we grow." Once filled operators manually apply the flip-top dispensing caps. The injection-molded polypropylene caps are supplied by both Pearce Plastics (Pasadena CA) and PolyTop (Slatersville RI). While the domed caps provide marketing appeal they've proven to be a considerable challenge to apply automatically. Haskell says "We've looked into automated cappers but haven't found a machine that will do the job properly." Capped bottles are conveyed through the Enercon Red-e-System induction sealer prior to manual case packing and palletizing. The Enercon machines are used for 1- 2.1- 4- 8.5-oz bottles as well as a 64-oz pump pack. Westridge also sells a 16-oz pump dispenser and three smaller sample pillow packs. Liners are supplied by Selig Sales (Oak Brook Terrace IL) through a distributor. From the inside out the liner comprises 1/2-mil heat-sealable polyester/1-mil aluminum foil/5-mil polyolefin. Haskell says Westridge has developed a proprietary device that inserts the liners into the domed caps. "This is something that most of our competitors do by hand so I don't want to give too much away but it does provide us with an advantage." And though he's reluctant to discuss that process he's quick to describe how the induction sealers have created an identity for I-D in the pharmaceutical market. "Because we're a small company we are capable of making huge improvements in our production process" Haskell summarizes. "The Enercon sealing equipment is proof of that. The sealers have let us break into pharmaceutical outlets like Walgreens. As a result our sales of I-D have increased by 20 percent and we expect that to be in the 50-percent range by next summer one year after installation of the equipment. We conduct cost-benefit analyses on any equipment purchase and the sealers have met our projected payback of less than six months. So we're extremely happy with the performance of the induction sealers."

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