Case Study


Gel-Filled Cassette Filling and Packaging Technology Transfer and Automation

The Challenge – Equipment Engineering

Client: Pharmaceutical Manufacturer
Objective: Packaging Operations, Process Design, Equipment Procurement, Installation Support

A pharmaceutical manufacturer was transferring one of their products from their contract manufacturer in Europe to their on-site facility in the US. Europe’s entire filling, labeling, and packaging process were completely manual. The client wanted to automate the process of transferring it and incorporate packaging serialization requirements. Due to their project workload, they lacked the resources to design the process, procure the equipment, and support the installation. Sterling’s engineer was assigned to the packaging operations – labeling, cartooning, and palletizing.

The product itself was a viscous gel that was filled into a cassette. It was expensive and time-consuming to make, and each batch had to be formulated, filled, packaged, palletized, and frozen within 8 hours. Additionally, because the carton used by the contract manufacturer was pre-printed with the lot and expiration date, it was not compatible with serialization requirements.

Equipment Engineering Pharma

Our Solution

Typically, we start with understanding the company and client’s expectations. Since we had worked with this client before, we knew the practices and the people, but we had to understand the product and the end-user’s needs thoroughly. Our subject matter expert designed and developed the automated process to meet the needs of the owners and operators who would be running the production line after turnover.

The URS documents were developed to cover the specifics of the deliverables without being overly restrictive. Bids were received from multiple vendors for conveyors, checkweighers, and labelers, but none of them were integrated. Ultimately, our engineer selected a local supplier that was more expensive, but provided a single, integrated solution for the cassette labeler, carton labeler, and conveyor system. Working with this custom automation company allowed us to develop unprecedented, innovative methods to interface the equipment and ensure an efficient process.


The Results

Project Scope

Our client trusted Sterling Engineering to determine what needed to be done, and because of our previous experience, we were able to make an immediate impact. Our engineer designed a clip to ease and automate the cassette filling and packing process, assisted with the creation of a new auto-bottom carton, and provided on-site support at the filler and filler pump suppliers.

The final packaging line consisted of:

  • Robotic unloader
  • Automated cassette check weigher
  • Automated cassette labeler w/serialization and vision system
  • Manual carton packing station
  • Automated carton check weigher to confirm the number of cassettes
  • Automated carton labeler
  • Conveyor system
  • Transport pucks with a return system

The robotic unloader, integrated with the cassette check weigher, was utilized to transfer cassettes from the filler to the transport pucks or rework area. The pucks were used to convey the cassettes and were designed so that cassettes could be labeled and rejected while still in the puck.

The laser printing process for the lot, expiration date, and serialization code was incorporated into the labelers, and the cassette labels were verified before being applied, reducing wasted product. Since the entire line was interconnected, the filling operation was paused to prevent a line backup issue.

Project Duration

18-month project, but extended
into a second project to support

Project Size

Downstream Equipment: $3MM
Total Project: $16MM

Project Team

1 Project/Equipment Engineer

Post Project

Because of our exceptional support for this project, Sterling Engineering was brought on to support the second generation of this product. This 2-year project required a second filler that could utilize the same pumps as the Gen-1 filler and was integrated into the downstream packaging line we developed.

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