Hapa has launched a digital drop-on-demand (DoD) printing system it claims is the world’s first for late stage customisation of pre-cut pharmaceutical blisters.
Speaking at the unveiling of the Hapa 807 BlisterJet UV drop-on-demand (DoD) inkjet system in Zurich, Tibor Gal, sales director, Hapa AG, said the system, which uses non-contact piezo printhead technology to print “at very high quality” onto blisters at a native 360 pi resolution, would allow pharma companies and contract packers to “make the shift from the traditional make-to-batch philosophy to a more efficient make-to-stock model” when producing blister packs.
Gal said the system had been developed against a backdrop of pharma companies increasingly requiring blisters in smaller volumes, typically “from as few as 20-30 to a few thousand”, both to cater both for powerful drug formulations for which an entire nation’s total 3-month requirement might be just 2,000-3,000, and for multiple language variants of the same pack. While its research suggests small batch blister production typically accounts for just 7-10% of a “typical” pharma company’s output, Hapa says the long changeover times when producing such batches on conventional packaging lines can mean up to 40% downtime for such companies.
Gal said: “Although pharma companies may be able to manufacture a product in bulk, the pressure to shorten supply chains and improve efficiency by reducing stock at any given point, plus increasingly burdensome on-pack data regulations, mean batch sizes are becoming smaller.”
Each Hapa 807 BlisterJet system incorporates one or two printer modules (each printhead can print data 36mm wide, with up to three heads linkable for a maximum 105mm print width), a blister magazine, and transport. Blisters can be printed in one or two colours at up to 200/min, while the infeed magazine is adjustable for different-sized blisters. A counter pressure roller and single stepper motor drive ensure accurate printing even on curved blisters, while inspection systems at infeed and outfeed ensure the correct information is applied to the right product. Blisters failing either quality check are delivered into a secure eject station.
The DoD head operates with high specification smudge and scuff-resistant inks, UV cured by an integrated unit. Print from standard artwork packages can be uploaded to the printer via a secure digital interface, with changes, say, from one language variant to another, able to be downloaded and printing initiated “in a few minutes”. The system complies with the FDA’s 21 CFR part 11 regulations.
Gal said: “The concept revolves around large volumes of blank blisters being produced and applied with just a barcode or Data Matrix code before being placed in storage. When blisters need calling off, the required number are removed, identified via the barcode, and then customised with the market-specific information.” Hapa says the 807 can be linked and synchronised to a wide range of infeeds and downstream equipment like cartoners.
Gal continued: ““For manufacturers handling complex production schedules with many short batches using blank or part-printed stock brings numerous benefits. Stockholding becomes far easier and less costly as the need to order and hold pre-printed variants for every product batch is eliminated. Obsolete packaging stock is largely eliminated, and there are opportunities for more efficient purchasing. Additionally, changeover on packaging lines becomes markedly simpler, as often the same blank or generic stock can be used from one batch to the next. There is also the opportunity to radically reduce lead times – from weeks or months to just days.”
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The Hapa 807 BlisterJet blister printing system has a small footprint and a “balcony” design for easier maintenance and cleaning