Laupheim – Implementation of the EU Falsified Medicines Directive is in full swing at Salutas Pharma GmbH and its Polish affiliate LEK S.A. The task in hand was the upgrading of 47 production lines within one year. Work on this complex, large-scale project enables Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & Co. KG to demonstrate its proficiency in serialization.
Prescription medicines in the EU must be marked with a unique identification number as of February 2019. A tamper-evident form of closure is also required to prevent manipulation. The implementation of these serialization and tamper-evidence specifications entails much effort on the part of the pharmaceutical manufacturers, and means intervention in sensitive processes. Salutas Pharma and LEK, both subsidiaries of Sandoz companies belonging to the Novartis Group, addressed these challenges together with Uhlmann. The market leader for pharmaceutical packaging fitted all 47 packaging lines with serialization units in one of the largest projects in the company’s history – and that within a tight time schedule.
Ambitious schedule for 47 lines
The Salutas sites in Barleben and Osterweddingen are among the most modern and efficient pharmaceutical production facilities in Europe. “Around eight billion tablets and capsules leave our Barleben plant alone in a year”, reports Kay Reinhardt, Team Leader Engineering Projects at Salutas Pharma. A large proportion of these are marketed within the EU. “Altogether, it was 26 packaging lines in Barleben and Osterweddingen that we had to modify appropriately.”
In addition, the Polish affiliate LEK was planning a project of similar scale. This increased the number of lines to almost 50. The upgrading of so many practically identical lines poses a major mechanical engineering challenge. Added to this, the generics manufacturer had stipulated an extremely tight time schedule in order to keep costly downtimes short and avoid supply shortages. When it came to selecting a supplier, innovative technology, broad expertise, and, not least, the size of Uhlmann proved to be convincing factors. The ability of the partner to execute a project of this magnitude was an essential criterion for Salutas. “As we have been working with Uhlmann since the 1990s, we are familiar with the company’s project management and were certain that we would receive the necessary support”, states Kay Reinhardt, explaining the decision in favor of the international systems supplier for pharmaceutical packaging solutions.
Salutas opts for the Uhlmann Serialization Platform
The project partners defined the machine and project details in mid-2016 and drew up an ambitious implementation plan. Salutas opted for the compact Uhlmann Serialization Platform USP. The module-based platform incorporates components for weighing, printing, inspection, and tamper-evident labeling. The serialization process involves the marking of the cartons with a 2D data matrix code, which is read by a camera and transmitted in real time to a site server. “We worked with Uhlmann to adapt the machine and the software so everything optimally meets our requirements”, adds Kay Reinhardt.
Tightly scheduled roll-out
Having finalized a pilot machine in May 2017, the actual roll-out – dealing with six lines at a time in one block – began in October 2017. “We worked in a five-week rhythm from then on, moving from block to block”, says Kay Reinhardt, describing the roll-out procedure. All the cogs meshed perfectly: While the upgraded lines, always four in Germany and two in Poland, were put into operation, Uhlmann prepared the next serialization units and carried out the subsequent factory acceptance tests (FAT) together with the customer. Experts from both Uhlmann and Salutas were always available to provide support for the lines and IT processes.
The last machine was released for production at the end of September 2018 and the technical installation completed. The teams will concentrate on correcting the usual teething problems in the coming weeks so that production complies with all the EU specifications at the beginning of February 2019. This means that the demanding project goal is then met; something Kay Reinhardt did not necessarily consider a matter of course in view of the challenging time schedule. The project leader at Salutas is of the opinion that such an immense workload can only be accomplished when all the partners pull together. “Last, but not least, everything must function at a personal level. That also distinguished our cooperation with Uhlmann.” The success of the large-scale project was essentially based on four pillars: good preparation, extensive testing of the pilot machine, strict adherence to the time schedule, and, not least, dedicated, well-coordinated project teams.