Fragile and valuable pharmaceutical tablets are notoriously difficult to handle in processing plants. Easily cracked, the tablets have to be treated with extreme care to keep waste at a minimum.
So far, most processors have solved this problem either by sticking to handling their tablets manually, often involving production staff lifting and emptying heavy containers, or by asking conveyor suppliers to modify their equipment to better suit tablet handling. However, neither of these alternatives are ideal and both will lead to compromises for the tablets as well as for the working environment.
Not content with providing modifications of standard conveying equipment, Piab decided to develop conveying equipment dedicated to automatic tablet handling. As a result, the world’s first dedicated tablet conveyor is now ready to handle fragile tablets in automated industrial settings, where it can replace either standard equipment or laborious manual procedures.
Three main design features are the keys to Piab’s success – controlled low speed, guided entry into the conveyor, and the elimination of any sharp edges in the conveying pipeline. Each of these features has been designed specifically with tablets in mind.
The key to handling tablets gently is speed. In order to keep tablets intact throughout the entire conveying system it is vital to maintain a controlled low speed. The innovative piGENTLE™ technology was designed to enable a low and constant speed for the tablet transfer, regardless of the amount of tablets in the pipeline. It is also independent of the size, shape, or weight of tablets or capsules.
Patent pending, piGENTLE™ regulates the feed pressure of the pump by sensing the vacuum level in the system. A low start pressure enables tablets to be picked up at low speed. As tablets fill the pipeline, the vacuum level will increase, which in turn will trigger piGENTLE™ to increase the feed pressure. The feed pressure is regulated between 2 and 6 bar.
Tablets are gently guided into the conveyor through a specially designed flow guiding flap offering maximised tangential entry. This enables a smooth transition between the conveying pipeline and the conveyor inlet module. Made in nitrile or silicone, the tablet and capsule flow guides are available with inside diameters of either 38mm (1 ½”) or 51mm (2”) for hoses of outside diameters of 49mm (1.93”) or 61mm (2.4”) respectively.
Mounted on the inlet pipe, the tablet/capsule flow guide is easy to remove and clean, and it is independent of the shape, size and weight of tablets or capsules. The flow guiding flap is manufactured in a material which is compliant with US and European regulations (No 1935/2004 EC FDA).
In the entire piFLOW®t conveying system there are no sharp edges against which tablets can get chipped and cracked. This is an important design feature which ensures that tablets are handled as carefully as possible. As pharmaceutical tablets and capsules contain very precise doses of medically active, and often expensive, substances, it is vital that they are kept intact. Any damage to a tablet or capsule renders it useless and it has to be discarded. Pharmaceutical companies usually accept very little process wastage, so processors have to be extra vigilant to minimise the scrap rate.
The tablet conveyor is fully configurable in all its parts, which allows it to be adapted to suit any application, individual products, and producers. It can be used either as a stand-alone conveyor or as a pre-separator with a remote motor.
A single stand-alone tablet conveyor incorporates piGENTLE™ and the flow guide. However, when there is a need to separate dust from the tablets or when a minimal building height is required due to limited space, the conveyor can be used as a pre-separator with a remote engine. This configuration also offers very simple cleaning, as it has no internal filter.
A modular system made up of few parts, the piFLOW®t is very easy to clean and to maintain. All parts can be disassembled without tools. It has been designed according to hygiene standards in dairy guidelines set by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The tablet conveyor is also compliant with US and European regulations (No 1935/2004 EC FDA). It is also ATEX approved.
The tablet conveyor can easily be fitted into space-restricted areas. Configured as a stand-alone conveyor, it has a diameter footprint measuring either 255mm (10”) or 380mm (15”) and a height of around 700mm (27.5”). Its low weight of around 25kg (55lbs) is another clear advantage.
Used as a pre-separator solution, it requires even less space, the diameter footprint being 255mm (10”) and the height around 500mm (20”). The weight will then be distributed equally between the pre-separator itself and the remote motor, each weighing around 15kg (33lbs).
piFLOW®t is an extension to Piab’s popular and high quality range of piFLOW® conveyors for powder and bulk materials that is specially developed to meet the stringent demands regarding operational safety and hygiene within the pharmaceutical (piFLOW®p), food (piFLOW®f), and chemical (piFLOW®i) industries.
With the innovative piGENTLE™ technology at its core, piFLOW®t sets a new world standard for tablet conveying and promises to revolutionise the automated handling of delicate pharmaceutical tablets and capsules. The dedicated tablet conveyor will safely transfer tablets and capsules between various processing units, such as tablet presses, coating drums, and blister packaging lines.
A complete solution, Piab’s tablet conveyor promises to minimise the scrap rate and downtime. Additionally, it will improve the productivity in processing plants whilst providing a better working environment for the production staff.
The tablet conveyor and the incorporated piGENTLE™ speed controlling technology have been rigorously tested at Piab’s in-house experimental facility in conjunction with some of the company’s customers. Excellent results have been obtained for several different types of pharmaceutical tablets and capsules.