Studying new blister materials

By Daphne Allen in Blisters on May 15, 2015

Pharmaceutical manufacturers are ready for new blister packaging materials, believes Georgia Mohr, Marketing Director – Pharmaceutical, for Bemis Healthcare Packaging. “Engineers are asking for new materials, but they are also concerned about costs,” she says. Bemis will be exhibiting at Pharmapack North America in Booth 4001. 

Mohr understands that new materials will need to be proven, so the company will be studying potential alternatives at its Bemis Innovation Center (BIC; Neenah, WI). The BIC is currently undergoing an extensive two-year renovation expected to be complete later this year.

The center itself has been in place for several years, and Bemis had acquired it in 2010 after its Alcan Packaging acquisition. “The BIC is a customer destination that enables them to come in and test materials,” says Mohr. “We now have over 120 engineers at the center along with offices to support all regions around the world.”

Mohr says that the center runs trials on packaging equipment similar to what customers use themselves, and one of its recent installations is a new Uhlmann B1240, Bemis’s first blister forming machine. “We will use this machine to define process parameters for forming webs as well as to teach processors how to form our materials,” she says. “It will allow them to perform product development with us, see how various materials perform, gain confidence, and go back to their companies with enough knowledge to be successful.”

Michael Priscal, Product Development Manager at Bemis Company Inc., purchased the Uhlmann B1240 for Bemis to support the R&D work he is heading up in blister forming. “It is an important development tool that allows us to help our customers succeed,” he says.

Priscal hopes to build on the success he says Bemis has had in food barrier packaging. “Bemis is established as a leader in barrier films for food—we have great technology to translate into pharma.”

One of the determining factors in Bemis’s purchase of the B1240 was a new inline inspection system for monitoring blister forming, the FormChecker. “The B1240 had a unique offering that we plan to take full advantage of—the FormChecker for 100% inline inspection,” explains Priscal. “It reads the formed material thickness so that we’ll be able to determine whether barrier is distributed evenly during forming.”

In addition to monitoring distribution, the system can also identify“blowout or holes in formed materials as well as look at heat, air pressure, and plug assist factors,” explains Christoph Lehmann, director of Visiotec GmbH (Uhlmann’s sister company and maker of the FormChecker). “It is always a struggle to determine whether problems are related to the machine or the material. The FormChecker can help users identify and correct such issues during production.”

FormChecker inspects formed cavities right after forming, before filling and sealing. “The measurement is based on light (sender) penetrating the thermoformed and/or flat material,” Lehmann told PMP News last year. “The receiver is converting the transmitted signal information into thickness in microns (µm).”

“It is good that a material supplier goes beyond to understand customer struggles with blister forming,” adds Lehmann. “The B1240 is a real production machine.”

Priscal expects the new machine will help his team examine new options. “PVC has traditionally dominated the blister market, and it has done a good job. Packaging machines are even designed around PVC,” he says. “But we are looking at materials not commonly used in pharma at all. We are working to achieve a higher barrier to value metric, meaning more barrier for less cost, while reducing or removing chlorine and fluorine content. Having this machine is our way of getting real serious about these alternative materials.” He adds that the in-line inspection will be “much easier and more accurate, without the human error associated with off-line inspections.”

With the new machinery, Mohr says that Bemis intends “to break paradigms, not only with materials, but also with package design. We are looking at the future of blister packaging, even looking at new options for lidding. We feel it is important to come up with solutions, not only for forming web performance, but we also have a vision for new blister lidding webs, for a complete solution.”

The pharmaceutical industry has been a key focus of Bemis’s for the last five years. (Mohr joined the company five years ago.) In 2013 it launched PerfecForm SkyBlue to provide a PVC-free alternative sandwiching a barrier layer between copolyester, and the company continues to test next-generation materials, says Priscal.

In addition, commercially available Barex alternatives have been developed, and sealants will continue to be studied at the BIC, adds Mohr.

Bemis also plans to be able to produce tooling for prototyping using 3-D printing. “It will make us very flexible to help customers by making a package that they can take back to their marketing team and others for evaluation,” says Mohr.

Mohr, Priscal, and other members of the Bemis pharmaceutical team will be on hand at Pharmapack North America to discuss your ideas for your next blister.

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