For packagers of medical devices and other low- to mid-volume healthcare products, versatility—more so than speed—is a top requirement for vertical form-fill-seal (vffs) packaging. Vffs equipment must be able to handle a variety of pouch sizes and materials as well as a range of stock-keeping units and multipart products, such as medical kits.
The Kanga Poucher from RND Automation addresses these requirements, forming and filling four-sided pouches in sizes from 2x2 inches to 8x11 inches. Running at up to 20 products per minute, this small-footprint vffs machine can run a variety of materials specified by medical packagers. Machine options include printing, barcode verification, vision inspection, nitrogen purging, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) validation.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, from Universal Robots and Fanuc can be integrated with the machine for tasks such as product loading. In fact, “Any robot could be used in conjunction with the Kanga. These are just the two most popular cobots that we have been asked to integrate,” says Sean Dotson, company president/CEO.
Dotson answers some questions from Packaging Digest about the Kanga Poucher in this exclusive Q&A.
Is the Kanga Poucher in demand for pharmaceutical packaging as well as medical device packaging?
Dotson: Yes, there are certain pharmaceutical applications in which there is a need for a pouched product. This is usually for powders, granules, some pills or tablets, or a vial and syringe combination.
What other products are suited to packaging on the Kanga Poucher?
Dotson: The Kanga typically packages medical device and pharma products, but other categories include consumer products, over-the-counter (OTC) patches or bandages, and electronics packaged in anti-static Mylar (think RAM for your computer or custom-made circuit boards).
What tasks can cobots be used for, when integrated with the Kanga?
Dotson: While product loading is the most popular use of cobots on the Kanga, other tasks can include secondary packaging—cartoning, labeling and palletizing of the packaged pouches. The cobot can also be used to present the product to a vision inspection system prior to loading, to ensure the products are good before loading.
What other methods can be used to load products into the Kanga Poucher?
Dotson: Other loading methods include vibratory feeder bowls, auger fillers, liquid fillers and so on.
What is the benefit of using a cobot for product loading?
Dotson: The cobot is best suited for when the product can be picked from a pallet or magazine. It also allows you to pick a variety of products, versus a feeder bowl, for example, that is often dedicated to one size of product.
What FDA validation options are offered with the Kanga Poucher?
Dotson: We provide, as an option, external validation ports that measure pressure (force) of the sealing head, time of the seal and temperature of the heated dies. These are all process-control parameters that are necessary for FDA validation of the package.
What packaging materials are compatible with the Kanga Poucher?
Dotson: The Kanga can run a variety of materials, including Tyvek, polyester, foil or paper laminates. As long as the material has a sealant layer, we can form a validated pouch. We also have the ability to form pouches from materials that can be resealed after they have been opened.
Which materials are preferred by medical packagers?
Dotson: If the product is to be EO [ethylene oxide] sterilized, Tyvek or other medical papers are often the choice for one side of the product. Other popular films include foils and polyester laminates. It really depends on the customer’s sterilization and gas-/moisture-barrier requirements.
How do you perform barcode verification on the Kanga Poucher?
Dotson: We use a Cognex or Keyence barcode reader to verify that the 1D barcode or 2D Data Matrix is readable and/or a valid product. We also use higher-end cameras from these manufacturers to do optical character recognition (OCR) or optical character verification (OCV) on the product, to ensure all characters are printed correctly and are human-readable.
Can users customize the Kanga with a thermal printer to print barcodes and other track-and-trace codes?
Dotson: Yes, we use thermal printing on a variety of materials—foils, polyesters, Tyvek and so forth—to do either simple lot code/date code/ barcodes on preprinted material, or we can print 100% of the information onto blank films, including customer logos. With digital printing technology, we can print full CMYK [cyan, magenta, yellow, key/black] color on the films.
What sets the Kanga apart from other vffs machines in the medical device and pharmaceutical markets?
Dotson: Our system has the smallest footprint in the industry—36x36x39 inches. This is very important, as cleanroom space is often at a premium.
The Kanga offers optional dual heat dies, with gaskets as standard, to ensure the best possible seal. Other systems provide both as options.
The Kanga’s die tooling is easily removable with built-in tools. No unwiring of heaters or thermocouples is required, unlike other systems, allowing for hot-swappable dies and reducing downtime. This also lowers the cost of replacement or additional sized tooling.
The Kanga uses our patent-pending DieSaver technology, which uses dual pressures to ensure that no damage to the dies or the product occurs in the event of a misloaded product.
The Kanga comes standard with industry-leading Allen-Bradley programmable logic controller (PLC) and human-machine interface (HMI). Other systems require a sizable upcharge for these control platforms.
Other standard features include:
• Dual Opto-Touch buttons for operator safety.
• Magnetically coded, safety interlocked guarding.
• Closed-loop dual heater controls.
• Enclosed webstock to reduce contaminates or debris.
• Pneumatics located separately from the electrical enclosure.
Why is it important to keep the pneumatics separate?
Dotson: Some manufacturers put pneumatics in the same cabinet as the electrical components. Compressed air, by its very nature, has moisture in it. As we all know electricity and water do not mix.
It is standard practice, and meets common manufacturing standards, to separate pneumatics and electrical components.