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AstraZeneca boosts OEE with accumulation, buffering, and line-balancing system

AstraZeneca's post-installation line analysis showed that by adding a Hartness Dynac 6400 system to Line 4 of its Newark, DE, plant, it has significantly improved its Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Last year the facility added the Dynac accumulation, buffering, and line-balancing system to boost efficiency between a capper and labeler on Line 4, which fills tablets into 75-cc white opaque high-density polyethylene bottles from O-I.

Before adding the Dynac, "The spacing between the equipment was not sufficient for the 325-bottle-per-minute speed we need to run," says AstraZeneca project manager Dave Mason. In the past, the line experienced frequent stops during the day, which reduced efficiency due to a lack of consistent bottle flow between the equipment.

Line 4 runs five days a week, on two 10-hour shifts. Bottles proceed through an Omega unscrambler, an Aylward tablet filler, a Lock metal detector, Enercon induction sealer, and then the Dynac unit before downstream labeling, case packing, palletizing, and distribution functions.

A Dynac system can be built in nearly 30 configurations, housing from three to nine tiers, depending on container height. AstraZeneca uses a four-tier system that provides eight minutes of accumulation for the 75-cc bottles. Its footprint, at 8.4-sq meters (90 sq'), is very compact.

"The Dynac system controls the bottle spacing in a first-in, first-out operation," says Mason. It uses two parallel, but independently operated conveyors. One serves as the infeed, the other as an outfeed. Between the two is a transfer device referred to as a "spider." It transfers product from infeed to outfeed. A mechanical device, the spider is driven by the movement of conveyors, reacting to differences in their speed.

If the outfeed conveyor slows or stops, the spider device is pulled in the direction of the faster moving infeed, and containers are accumulated on both conveyors in the process. Product is de-accumulated when the outfeed resumes and runs at a faster rate than the infeed conveyor.

In typical operation, the Dynac is empty. Bottles flow into the base of the machine and are immediately discharged. That reduces bottle transit time and allows for the first-in, first-out operation. Alpine conveyors, by comparison, typically remain full on the line.

The Dynac improves efficiency of Line 4 since its infeed conveyor is dedicated to the upstream induction sealer while the outfeed of the Dynac is dedicated to the downstream Weiler Labeling Systems labeler. The difference between the two conveyors is automatically compensated for by the spider.

The resulting accumulation provides constant buffering of the 75-cc bottles without extensive control logic. Because the infeed and outfeed conveyors act independently, Dynac isolates their critical functions so that each can run on its own. The elimination of system interdependence improves line startup as machines can operate at disparate speeds. Upstream of the buffer system, Mason says the line runs at 325 bpm. Improvements in downstream equipment enable the line to run at speeds to 385/min.

One of the most important benefits of the Dynac is that it precisely spaces or meters the bottles based on downstream equipment needs. If AstraZeneca's labeler operates most efficiently with a 2" gap between bottles, for example, the Dynac can deliver bottles to it with that gap, regardless of how the upstream induction sealer delivers them to the Dynac.

"The reason that we put in the Dynac in August 2005 was to increase the OEE of the line," recalls Mason. "And it's done that."

John McTaggart, an AstraZeneca controls and engineering technician, was pleased when the post-installation line analysis showed an OEE of approximately 50%. "After working with Hartness and installing the Dynac, it was easy to see the benefits of the Dynac and the Hartness line-balancing theory."

Mason believes the Dynac system employed by AstraZeneca is the "first one in the pharmaceutical industry." He is so satisfied with the Dynac system that he says the company "is getting ready to buy another one for another line at the Newark plant," which operates four bottle lines.

- By Jim Butschli, Editor
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