COVID-19 has created an increase in demand for medical equipment including syringes. Hospitals are increasing orders for syringes because of the influx of more patients requiring care and the inevitable mass immunization of COVID-19 once a vaccine is created and approved. Early estimates suggest that at least 70% of the population will need the vaccine including more than 300 million people in the United States.
Already the U.S. government has signed off on two orders that total $100 million on May 1, 2020. The orders specify needles and syringes for a COVID-19 Mass Vaccination campaign. Vaccine research and development is also underway with financial backing from the U.S. government including a $450 million deal with a Johnson & Johnson company, Janssen Pharmaceutical. According to Forbes, that vaccine could be ready by early 2021. A vaccine created by Oxford University could be rolled out before the end of the year.
Additionally, syringe technology is developing to be able to more easily distribute and administer vaccines around the world. ApiJect Systems America manufactures inexpensive prefilled syringes made of plastic and they figured out how to attach a needle to a plastic filled container with a drug. Because of this, the current administration has signed a $138 million deal in a public-private initiative called Project Jumpstart. The goal is to produce 100 million prefilled syringes by the end of 2020 and 500 million by the end of 2021, depending on when a vaccine is available. With an influx of current and future syringe orders due to COVID-19, manufacturers need to prepare throughout the production chain including an increase of packaging capabilities.
What do you want out of a new syringe packaging machine?
As a medical device and syringe packager that will help vaccinate millions in the United States and around the world, what syringe packaging machine should you look to purchase?
First, ask yourself what you want out of the machine and experience as a manufacturer?
- What will you be packaging?
- What’s your needed output?
- What level of flexibility is needed?
- Is the machine flexible enough to be fitted for other SKU’s?
- Ease of changeovers?
- Plant floor space?
- What’s the expected time to market?
- Availability of parts and services?
- Does your product require printing?
- Does it make sense to automate initially or incorporate at a later date?
What to look for to make sure your syringes stay sterile and aseptic?
After answering questions like these, consider what to look for in a new syringe packaging machine that will keep your syringes sterile and aseptic. This is important for medical packaging because contamination within the machine or packaging could have catastrophic consequences for patients.
Additionally, for the packaging itself make sure the syringe pack can be easily and hygienically opened by the healthcare worker that will be administering the vaccine. Consider measures like using tamper evident materials and a packaging designed to guarantee a sterile syringe upon opening. Moreover, your syringe packaging may need to undergo sterilization techniques such as steam-heat treatments, use of gases, and Gamma or E-Beam radiation. Ease of sterilization for the machine and packages is a priority when considering your packaging machine.
What is Thermoforming?
Typically syringe packaging uses the thermoforming packaging method. This is when trays are formed using heat and pressure allowing manual or automated product (syringe) filling of the tray cavity. The tray is then sealed with lidding material and enters into longitudinal and traverse cutting to obtain individual packages. Depending on the packaging support requirements of your syringes, thermoforming can be accomplished using a flexible film base, semi- rigid or rigid film base. Lidding can consist of paper, tyvec, foil or film.
What Thermoforming machine should I be considering?
TFS thermoforming machines are exceptional for packaging medical devices such as syringes, gauze, kits & other disposables. Depending on the answers to your questions such as output, plant floor space, and even budget, that would determine which size TFS machine would fit your needs. The smaller the machine the smaller the output and the bigger the machine the bigger the output. Typically syringe packing manufacturers prefer a medium to large sized TFS machine because of a higher desired output and speed needed for medical device manufacturers and packers. Additionally, when choosing your packaging partner for a TFS machine consider an operator friendly interface, sterile and aseptic practices, and ease of access for technical reasons in TFS design.
Should I consider automation and what would that look like?
You should consider automating your syringe packaging line because less manual intervention means less potential for defected products and less likelihood of germs being spread throughout the line. A typical automated syringe packaging line could look like this:
First, in the primary packaging stage, the syringes can be fed using either a bowl feeder or a vibratory linear feeder. These systems singulate the syringes and allow them to either be loaded into a grouping chain or arrive chaotically to a vision guided pick and place robot. This is usually determined on the required speed and flexibility on the line. Next, a pick and place robot loads the products either one at a time with vision or in groups into the TFS thermoforming machine.
After the syringes are packaged comes secondary packaging. First, the syringes are automatically extracted from the TFS and control of the syringes is never lost as they exit the TFS. The syringes would be automatically placed into a nesting system where syringe packs can be nested on top of each other if necessary and put into proper counts for the secondary packaging. At that point a secondary case is automatically formed, and the syringe packages are loaded. As the syringe cartons make their way down the conveyer there are several ancillary equipment options that can be integrated. For example, a leaflet friction feeder can put important IFU (Instructions For Use) manuals in the boxes automatically. Syringe manufacturers also typically add vision inspection and check weighing to these lines.
Next, the loaded cartons are automatically closed by either tape, glue or mechanical locks and then labeled. The same process can now be used in tertiary packaging, which automatically case packs the smaller cartons into large RSC boxes. After case packing and closing, the RSC cases are palletized for shipping. Typically for lighter weight products like syringes, collaborative robots are used for palletizing because they are safer, fast learning, and a fraction of the cost of full-sized industrial robots.
It's estimated that the United States alone will need between 650 million to 850 million syringes to administer vaccines. As of May 8th, the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) contains an estimated 15 million needles and syringes, only about 2% of what will be needed. This doesn’t account for the billions of syringes needed around the world. Over the past couple months, we have seen the government investing in ramping up production of syringes to fill the SNS in anticipation of a vaccine. On the vaccine front there have been promising developments as testing has started in an expedited effort to stem the virus.
For a medical device manufacturer or packer now is the time to equip your packaging line with the best equipment, tools, and processes to begin or expand your syringe packaging output. Remember to partner with an experienced OEM to help guide and offer expertise in your new or expanding syringe packaging operation.
To speak with us about automation solutions or for information about a specific machine please visit harpak-ulma.com.