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Capping technologies rise to throughput challenge

1st April 2013


Faced with rising demand for its range of blood grouping reagents, Reading, UK-based Lorne Laboratories has installed a Flexicon FF30 semi-automatic tabletop filling and capping machine from Watson-Marlow. The machine has both doubled throughput and halved the operation's labour requirement at this progressive and rapidly growing UK manufacturer, helping it fulfil orders from blood transfusion, immunology and sero-diagnosis professionals in more than 80 countries around the world.

Established for over 30 years, Lorne Laboratories is the only company of its type in England and as such has enjoyed prolonged success in its field of expertise. The company's ethos is matching a high quality product with attractive prices. However, due to the high levels of responsiveness demanded by the medical sector, the company was recently faced with a dilemma to keep up with throughput.

"Every day counts in the medical sector, particularly regarding blood, and as a company we need to be responsive to the everyday challenges faced by the industry," says the company's production manager Andy Gould. "Until recently we were using manual methods to fill 10ml vials with blood reagents, ie hand filling and then screwing on caps, at a rate of 2000-3000 vials a day."

But with order quantities increasing this wasn't enough to satisfy demand and Gould knew that introducing a degree of automation into the process was the only way to for the company to progress.

"Watson-Marlow had already made us aware of the virtues of Flexicon technology, but at the time our volumes weren't sufficient enough to justify the investment," he says. "However, with business going up and up we soon realised that manual filling and capping methods could not be sustained."

Based on peristaltic pumping principles, the Flexicon FF30 from Watson-Marlow is a semi-automatic, modular machine that offers handling, aseptic filling and cap tightening for volumes up to 1200 units an hour, depending on the application (above).

"We've had the Flexicon machine since September 2009 and it has already doubled our throughput to 5000-7000 vials a day," says a pleased Gould. "It's eased a genuine bottleneck and I can honestly say we've not had a single problem with the machine since it was installed. Additionally, we now only need one operator for the machine, whereas filling and capping was previously a two-man job. To be honest this is a repetitive operation that is much better suited to a machine. Furthermore, machines don't go off sick, which is an added bonus."

Improved hygiene

Improved hygiene is another benefit that is particularly important in the medical industry. In peristaltic pumping operations, nothing but the hose or tube touches the fluid, eliminating the risk of the pump contaminating the fluid, or the fluid contaminating the pump.

The Flexicon FF30 is also extremely easy to clean; all format parts are mounted by finger screws, while all surfaces in contact with the vials are made of stainless steel.

Other Flexicon advantages include filling accuracy of +/-0.5per cent, as well as system flexibility, which is vital as many of the blood reagents vary significantly in viscosity.

"Some reagents are like water but others, such as bovine albumin, are sticky and very viscous," says Gould. "However, the Flexicon machine pumps them all without problem. Changeover is quick too - a complete vial and product changeover can be performed in less than 10 minutes. As a small but growing company, investments such as this are vital to our progression."

Diagnostic test kits

The acquisition of the FF30 means that Lorne can produce diagnostic test kits and reagents in vials, or in bulk if required, to customers found in transfusion services, hospitals or the armed forces, or to scientists or clinicians working in laboratories all over the world.

Chuck cappers

One of the key products offered by Accutek is its range of chuck cappers. These use the latest technology to automatically place and accurately torque most cap types onto most bottle types.

The chuck cappers can place and torque flat caps, oval caps, flip top caps, pull spouts, safety caps, child proof caps, sport caps, and caps with over-caps or induction seals.

They can handle almost any bottle type or shape including PET, PP, PVC, HDPE, LDPE, and glass. Meanwhile KBW's Ace liquid filling AF 0010 bench-top machine is designed for accurate dispensing, simple operation and fast product change over.

Full pump options are capable of dispensing 1.5-20litres/minute of product.





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