With more than 450 employees and a growing number of research and manufacturing facilities, A&Z Pharmaceutical is dedicated to advancing healthier lives via high-quality nutritional supplements. At its Hauppauge, NY facility, A&Z produces D-Cal®, a vitamin D and calcium supplement, which is sold in the U.S. and China.
In 2016, A&Z turned to Mettler-Toledo Hi-Speed to improve their production efficiencies, selecting an unusual chute-fed checkweigher, which helps ensure final product quality, reduce labor and speed production.
“Before we installed our IM3100 checkweigher, we did all of our weighing off-line. It took two people three days to do 100% inspection because of the time involved in opening up boxes, hand-feeding pouches into an off-line checkweigher and completing the paperwork,” says Mark Appledorf, A&Z’s Plant Engineer.
This line packages granular D-Cal into strips of 10 pouches with a vertical/form/fill/seal (VFFS) machine that uses volumetric filling cups to measure product into each sachet. The strips are then cut in half, creating two strips of five pouches. A pick-and-place system deposits the strips to the two infeeds of the dual-lane checkweigher, which handles up to 55 strips/min in each lane. Each strip of five pouches measures 2.5 x 7.5 in. in size and weighs only 7.4 grams.
“We selected the IM3100 because of its ability to maintain impressive accuracy at high speeds despite vibrations on the line,” says Jose Rios, A&Z’s R&D Technician. “Mettler-Toledo quoted an accuracy of +/- 50 mg and a top speed of 60 packages per minute on each lane. We’re actually achieving an accuracy of +/- 25 to 30 mg because our current throughput is a little slower than the rated max capacity. We like that our checkweigher has the ability to grow with us as business expands.”
Unlike typical belt-driven checkweighers that dynamically weigh packages in motion, the IM3100 is a chute-fed, intermittent-motion system. Strips of pouches slide down each chute and stop at a gate where they are statically weighed. If the package is the proper weight, the gate opens and the strip slides straight down the chute to a platform, where a person packs accepted strips into a case. If the package is under- or overweight, the gate opens and a pivoted flap diverts the strip to a reject bin.
“The IM3100 is gravity-based, so it easily handles the vibrations caused by the pouching machine and has a small footprint to fit our space requirements. This allowed us to install it in-line,” says Appledorf. “And because this checkweigher uses a static weighing method, it achieves better accuracy than most dynamic systems. The downside of static weighing is slower speed, but the two-lane configuration allowed the throughput that we needed for our process.”
A&Z installed their IM3100 in March 2016 after Mettler-Toledo customized the system for their line. The gap between the two lanes was modified from 3 in. down to 1 in., matching the output of the pick-and-place system. The dual-lane checkweigher features a separate weigh scale under each gate, relying on advanced electromagnetic force restoration (EMFR) weigh cells, instead of common strain gauge load cells, to maintain its high accuracy.
“Before we had this in-line solution, monitoring fill weights off-line was very time- and labor-intensive. Now, we inspect the product immediately after pouching, which improves our production efficiencies,” notes Appledorf. “We’re better able to meet our shipping schedules, and we’ve redirected the two people who had been handling the off-line checkweigher to elsewhere in the plant.
“Our employees find the IM3100 very easy to use. The touchscreen has an intuitive user interface, and the graphical display notifies us of any under- and over-filling problems with the poucher in real time, so we can quickly take action,” says Appledorf. “There’s not much to operating and maintaining this checkweigher—it’s easy to calibrate, low maintenance and simple to keep clean. We’ve had no unplanned downtime or problems with false rejects. Our IM3100 runs exactly as intended.”
Second line challenge
The second line pouching granular D-Cal at A&Z currently relies on offline checkweighing, because the orbital knife slicing the strips on this line drops the packages onto the conveyor with no orientation, which is a challenge for most checkweighers. A&Z is working with Mettler-Toledo to design an effective inline system to automate this process. In the meantime, they are using an XS1 checkweigher to inspect the strips of pouches offline.
“We selected the XS1 for hand-feeding because it’s easy to use and the price was right. We’re also very happy with its accuracy, +/- 25 to 30 mg, which is even better than the quoted specifications,” says Appledorf. This checkweigher is designed specifically to handle small, lightweight packages of valuable products that weigh less than 200 g and can inspect inline or manually off-line.
“We’ve had a great experience with Mettler-Toledo, including their customer service. Our sales rep, Bob Hatala at Reliant Packaging Systems, has been working closely with us to identify the right checkweighers for our challenging applications. Everybody is very helpful, quick to respond and personable,” states Appledorf. “We’d like to continue this relationship, which is why we went to Mettler-Toledo to find a way to automate inspection on our other pouch filling line.
“Our business is expanding. We just bought another facility that is four times the size of our Hauppauge plant, so working to streamline our processes is more important than ever. Our IM3100 achieves 100% inspection at the speed and accuracy we need. This inline solution allowed us to replace a batch process with a continuous process, which increases yield and reduces labor while meeting our quality requirements. Product quality is our primary core value, and this checkweigher helps us deliver on our high standards.”