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Tips to improve sterile packaging line efficiency

Want to reap the benefits of on-time production and eliminate preventable line problems? Here are tips to get the most out of your inspection systems, buffers, ergonomic stations, and robotic systems.

Problem: Inspection systems help ensure the safety and accuracy of pharmaceutical products on sterile packaging lines. Systems can verify cap placement, foil presence, and label positioning to confirm the accuracy of lot numbers and expiration dates and adequate product presence. The line will stop if one of these factors is missing or incorrect. That causes downtime.

Solutions: Ensure proper setup during changeover between products. Inspection systems should offer positive engagement with a feedback, a mechanical system that maintains proper positioning and provides information about the particular location of the inspecting device. Examples of positive engagement with feedback are acme screws with digital readouts, slides with position display, and servo motors with operator interfaces.

Buffer systems

Tips: Buffer systems help keep equipment running during brief line stoppages and help ensure constant product flow during speed changes. Integrated into the line and using minimal floor space, buffer systems can boost productivity where scheduled stoppages such as a labeler roll change or tape change are frequent. When new machinery is purchased, the equipment makers can provide theoretical or historical downtime of the machine as a reference point. It’s guaranteed efficiency can be used as a baseline for downtime duration and frequency. Scheduled and unscheduled downtime should be identified, and an appropriate buffer should be considered to help maintain line production during stoppages.

Tip: Dynamic speed control allows equipment to change speed in order to maintain optimal backup/buffer previous to the equipment. Speed control helps keep the line balanced in order to increase overall line efficiency.


Tips: Installing robots with stainless-steel enclosures will ensure that sanitary conditions are maintained in pharmaceutical packaging. With a few minor alterations, robots can accommodate new products in mere minutes. Robots handle products gently and minimize damage. Robots can maximize use of confined working spaces, eliminating the aisles and emergency routes required in areas where humans work.

Analyzing downtime

Tips: Tracking software to analyze downtime can significantly improve plant efficiencies and production by capturing details from equipment and operators, providing analysis tools to help identify opportunities for improvement. Pharmaceutical manufacturers can then determine how factors such as equipment, product type, shift time, and operator influence different packaging lines, indicating which systems need to be serviced or replaced, and here product availability problems exist. Plant staff can then identify and spread best practices and target maintenance to help improve profitability. It also becomes easy to quantify the benefits required to justify capital projects.

Choosing an integrator

Tips: Integrator should know how to improve packaging line productivity and reduce time-to-market cycles. Should offer experience and resources to ensure proper installation and service. Should be involved at an early stage to help identify all line requirements such as buffer needs, guide rail systems, utilities distribution, downtime monitoring, etc., so equipment will be in synch. Communicate with the integrator and make sure the company is accessible and responsive to your needs. The integrator’s staff should have depth, background resources, and expertise for specific applications and be able to examine post-installation support for maintenance and troubleshooting services.

Ignacio Munoz-Guerra has 25 years of experience in developing innovative solutions for pharmaceutical and consumer goods packaging lines. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University. AutoPak makes stainless-steel conveyors and ancillary equipment, and performs integration services for the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food industries.

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