Apace Accelerates Track-and-Trace Operations

New solid-dose bottling line increases capacity, reduces labor costs and achieves Level 4 serialization and Level 3 aggregation.

As a contract packer of solid dose pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, Apace Packaging LLC goes to great lengths to exceed their customers’ expectations.

For years, Apace has kept “a watchful eye on [the] horizon as regulations evolve,” says the company’s website. “Apace is one of the only contract packagers to provide a fully aggregated serialization solution—on each of its packaging lines.”

Strict standards and innovative ideas help the company fulfill their mission to provide serialized and aggregated packaging that is both high quality and cost effective. To increase production capacity, they turned to NJM Packaging and installed a high-speed integrated bottling line in 2017.

“This new bottling line is critical for the growth of our company,” says Patrick Ferguson, General Manager at Apace. “It was important that the line be as versatile as possible to maximize its potential. Our goal was to think of virtually any bottling scenario that a customer might bring to us, so we could always respond ‘yes’ to their request.”

“This packaging line has been a dream come true,” states Wendell Bell, the company’s Director of Operations. “We first learned of NJM in 2009 when we walked into their booth at PACK EXPO. It was immediately obvious that the design and engineering of their equipment are top notch. From that day on, we decided to go to them whenever we needed new machinery. We appreciate that NJM not only manufactures their own equipment, they represent other great suppliers and offer integration services. This enabled us to get single-source responsibility and a cohesive solution that has a lot of production flexibility.”

Apace’s new line features a CFI-622*8 tablet counter, beltorque® capper, AUTOCOLT IV labeler and more. Built for extreme versatility, it can be setup to run round, square or rectangular bottles, in sizes from 40 to 1,500 cc, with either CT or CR caps with an induction sealing option. Canister or pouch desiccants can be added as well as cotton, rayon or polyester filler. The labeler applies three-panels to square and rectangular bottles or wraparound labels to round bottles with the option of sideserts and topserts. Flexibility has been designed into the bottle labeling too, as variable data, including serialized information, is added to the label via either a thermal-transfer printer or a laser obliteration printer, both of which are installed on the high-speed labeler. Finally, the line either aggregates serialized bottles into bundles and bundles into cases or loose bottles into cases via a case packer.

Adding speeds, reducing labor costs

“Our motivation for installing this bottling line was to increase production volume. We wanted to expand our capacity while maintaining the highest product quality and keeping costs down,” explains Bell. “The new line has a throughput of 225 bottles per minute and requires only four or five operators. Our two other bottling lines handle 80 bottles per minute and each require seven or eight operators. The NJM line achieves almost three times the throughput with far fewer workers.”

Anchoring the line is a CFI-622*8 Tablet Counter, a servo-driven counting and filling system that operates at high speeds in a compact footprint. The Cremer tablet counter can be equipped with different machine frames that accommodate from four to 10 filling modules. Apace selected a counter with eight modules to run high counts at their target speeds. The modular design facilitates quick changeovers – it takes less than 20 minutes to disassemble and reassemble for a product and bottle size change, with no tools required. “We like everything about this tablet counter. Both the accuracy and efficiency are fantastic,” says Bell.

To match the high output of the tablet counter, Apace selected NJM’s beltorque capper. Unlike traditional in-line cappers that use discs or spindles, this high-speed system uses two pairs of belts to gently rotate and tighten caps with precision. If bottles are induction-sealed, a beltorque retorquer tightens caps to the specified final torque. Rivaling the speeds of rotary cappers, the beltorque capper and retorquer reduce maintenance and enable faster changeovers.

Next in line, the servo-driven AUTOCOLT IV pressure-sensitive labeler also competes in speed with rotary labeling systems while offering simple mechanics, fewer change parts and a compact footprint. At Apace, this versatile labeler is equipped with almost all available options so they can meet nearly every potential customer need. It offers either thermal transfer or laser printing to print variable data, including expiration date, lot number, GTIN number, alphanumeric serial number and serialized 2D code.

This line achieves Level 4 serialization and Level 3 aggregation: bottle-to-label, bundler, case packer and palletizer. First, a BottleTracker™ from Optel Vision prints a “unique identifier” to the bottom of each bottle using UV ink that’s invisible to the human eye. Cameras capture the serialized code printed onto each bottle’s label, and Optel’s LineMaster™ software associates each unique identifier to a serialized code.

This system facilitates aggregation at secondary packaging. It enables the vision system at the BundleTracker™, or the vision system at the case packer if packing unbundled bottles, to capture one image of the group of bottles comprising the bundle or the layer being case packed with the unique identifier of each bottle in that group visible. Compared to traditional “first in, first out” aggregation systems, which track each bottle coming into the bundler or case packer, Optel’s TrackSafe™ system reduces errors to improve compliance and maximize productivity.

“Each machine on the line monitors its own process and rejects any abnormalities. This allows us to produce superior quality packaging with fewer operators. In addition to being fast, our new line is extremely versatile. NJM designed it to have a lot of flexibility to meet our customers’ future needs,” notes Bell. “Our equipment from NJM always does exactly what they promise it will do. At the end of the day, we value the quality of their solutions and the impeccable customer service they provide.”