Automation and new technologies help Wyeth achieve packaging line efficiencies at its pharmaceutical plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico.


Automation and new technologies help Wyeth achieve packaging line efficiencies at its pharmaceutical plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

It is not easy to grow quickly and continue to improve, especially in the highly regulated pharmaceutical market. But it is necessary to stay competitive.

Each step it takes brings Wyeth closer to its goal of operational excellence. It’s definitely a team effort, says Jim Powers, senior director, global packaging technology and engineering for pharmaceuticals. “Each person-throughout the organization-contributes to the success of the company. It’s a core value that you can see in everyone,” says Powers.

Wyeth’s “Every person. Every job.” philosophy fosters employee pride and job satisfaction. According to Charlie Portwood, president of Wyeth’s Technical Operations & Product Supply (TO&PS) organization, “Our people have a lot of pride in knowing that they contribute in so many different ways.”

These individual contributions combine to help Wyeth produce its vast volume of products, day in and day out, across the globe. The breadth of products and technologies makes Wyeth an exciting place to work and creates opportunities for career growth. People move from site to site as needed to help on various projects. By tapping into resources from all the company’s businesses, Wyeth is able to share best practices and facilitate the exchange of automation technology.

And it’s not just what you have, it’s how you use it. “Technical experts across all platforms work to make sure we get the most out of our automation,” Portwood says. Excellence in automation is one of Wyeth’s Communities of Practice and is one of the company’s tactics to succeed in today’s low-output, quick-changeover environment.

A showcase facility

Wyeth’s pharmaceutical plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico, is a prime example of concerted efforts to achieve operational excellence. Investing in new technologies and high-speed automation for the packaging lines will help Wyeth improve plant capacity so Guayama can handle additional new products in the future.

More products and shorter runs add to the challenge of maintaining efficiency. Hector Aponte, Guayama’s director of packaging primary processing unit (PPU), explains, “Our biggest challenge is changeovers. It’s important to be quick, and we’re working to reduce non-value-added steps.”

Wyeth is also facilitating changeovers by empowering operators to make decisions and by making sure they have the skills needed. Operators are being cross-trained so they can handle any task on the line.

But they’ve also got support. Aponte’s team includes “reliability” engineers, whose job is to monitor and improve daily packaging lines. In addition, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) teams are responsible for streamlining the equipment.

When everyone works toward the same goals, you tend to achieve them faster. But it’s important that they all know what those goals are. One way Wyeth communicates to the Guayama staff is through large plasma screens set up in various spots, including the site’s main hall, where most employees pass through at some point during the workday.


A walk down the line

It took Wyeth several years to put together the Lybrel packaging line because of the complexity of the package. Production began this spring.

Seven operators work on this line: one in the filling room and six in the packaging area. The line is monitored and controlled by Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. One system controls filling; another controls the packaging area. With an access code, Wyeth personnel can access the SCADA systems from other areas in the plant, as well as off site.

Information from the SCADA ties into a digital display on the wall so the operators can see real-time status of the line from anywhere in the room.



The filling 'sweet'

In the filling room, all operations are automatic, with several robotic systems.

Product is delivered in bulk bins.

The Lybrel ClickCase consists of four components: the base, the pill ring, the clear cover and what they call the driver (the piece with the spring that actuates the device). The pill ring simply sits on top of the base. The base, clear cover and driver are held together with notches and tabs.

In the filling room, the ClickCase is assembled and filled, two-up, in continuous steps that are proprietary.

Once a device is assembled, a robot collects it from the puck and transfers it to a carrying tray. From here, trays exit the filling room and enter an accumulator in the packaging room.

Blister packing

Secondary packaging for Lybrel is a deep-draw blister with foil lidding, which provides stability for the pills in the ClickCase.

The packaging line from here is indexed and starts with a thermoformer. The blister, which measures 3 inches wide by 2.5 inches long, is formed from rollstock in a two-up configuration to achieve the volume required. However, the system was designed for growth. It can easily convert to a three-up configuration by replacing the 2x4 die with a 3x4 one. (Currently, secondary packaging operations are running at about 35% capacity. As demand increases, Wyeth plans to add a second filling suite to accommodate an increase in volume.)

At the thermoformer, a robot removes the devices from the trays and sets them in a blister cavity. Empty trays are returned to the filling room.

A laser printer adds lot number and expiration date to the blister lidding. A vision sensor makes sure the blister is present and a device is inside before sealing. If there’s no blister or no device, the lidding material doesn’t advance.

After sealing, the blisters are separated and drop to the conveyor. Another inspection step is performed here. Blisters that don’t pass inspection drop through a gap in the conveyor. A pick-and-place device transfers good blisters across the gap to the cartoner.


Feeding the cartoner

Inside the Lybrel combo pack carton for trade sales are one filled cycle pack (sealed in the blister), a folded physician insert and a shrink-wrapped pack. This pack contains the patient insert, a vinyl wallet pack (for discreet storage of the device in a purse), a promotional piece that explains how to use the ClickCase and a stiffening card (printed with the brand’s website address) to facilitate automatic feeding.

Two stations feed literature into the cartoner pocket on top of the blister. The first station drops a shrink-wrapped pack. The second station feeds the folded physician insert.

Both inserts are supplied in specially designed corrugated cartridges. One end of the cartridge bottom is open (the top keeps the literature contained through shipping). Once the cartridges are set into the feeder magazine, the top is removed. Thus, the literature is ready for feeding at the bottom of the magazine. Multiple cartridges sit in the magazine, and empty cartridges automatically drop into a bin on the other side of the machine as a filled cartridge slides into place.

A thermal ink jet coder prints the lot and expiration date on carton flaps before the contents of the pocket are slid into the tuck-close carton.


Cases for trade sales, samples

At this point, the line splits into two. The first conveyor continues to pack the product for trade customers (pharmacies); the second for physician samples.

For the trade package, cartons are stacked six high for bundling. The bundler uses a clear band about 2 inches wide. This is an example of how Wyeth has cut material use-by using a band instead of shrink wrapping the entire bundle.

For samples, the cartons move along a second conveyor to a tray packer. Erected and glued trays hold 10 cartons, which bypass the bundler and merge with the line for case packing and manual pallet loading. Four sample pack trays fill one case.

The case packer erects cases horizontally and slides them across the machine to capture the bundles and/or trays.

Preprinted labels are applied automatically to the case after it exits the packer. An inspection system scans the bar code to make sure that the case label is correct before it’s applied. Cases are manually palletized.


At-a-glance

Company: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals
Plant Location: Guayama, Puerto Rico
Primary Processing Unit: Solid oral dose
Packaging: Bottles, blister packs, dial/cycle packs



From good...to great'

Eric Cruz-Hernandez, technology PPU leader at the Guayama facility, points to an existing bottling line on one side of the hall and says, “From good...to great,” proudly pointing to a new line across the hall.

What makes this bottling line better? It’s fast, flexible, automatic and takes advantage of state-of-the-art technology.

• Instead of the typical slat filler, Wyeth selected an electronic counter which uses vision technology to inspect tablets and is able to reject a single broken or chipped tablet at a time.

• The screw capper controls the power and conveyor speed of the induction sealer so the two operations are in sync.

• Packaging materials are fed to the line from hoppers outside the filling room. This, plus the fact that no corrugate enters the room, minimizes particulates around the exposed (unpackaged) product.

• Two side belts transport bottles from the filling room into the packaging area. With no conveyor beneath the bottles, Wyeth minimizes cross contamination by preventing anything else from leaving the filling room. It would simply drop to the floor.

• All in-process quality inspections and testing will be done automatically. “We want to rely less on the human factor,” Cruz-Hernandez says.

• Initially cases will be manually palletized. But within two years, says Cruz-Hernandez, they will connect all packaging lines in the plant to one centralized palletizing system. “We’re not sure yet if we’ll put in conveyors or use AGVs [automated guidance vehicles],” he says.

• A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system controls and monitors the line. However, they can switch the systems on the line to manual control so the line will still run if the SCADA goes down. (No, they haven’t had a problem with this on the other lines. It’s just something they thought of and added.)

Bottling Line BA is being set up to handle containers from 60 to 200 cc, but Cruz-Hernandez shrugs and says, “It could run anything.