Faced with rising demand for its range of blood grouping reagents, Reading-based Lorne Laboratories has installed a Flexicon FF30 semi-automatic tabletop filling and capping machine from Watson-Marlow. The machine has both doubled throughput and halved the operation’s labour requirement at this progressive and rapidly growing UK manufacturer, helping it fulfil orders from blood transfusion, immunology and sero-diagnosis professionals in more than 80 countries around the world.
“Every day counts in the medical sector, particularly regarding blood, and as a company we need to be responsive to the everyday challenges faced by the industry,” says the company’s production manager Andy Gould. “Until recently we were using manual methods to fill 10ml vials with blood reagents, for instance, hand filling and then screwing on caps, at a rate of 2000-3000 vials a day.”
But with order quantities increasing this wasn’t enough to satisfy demand and Mr Gould knew that introducing a degree of automation into the process was the only way to for the company to progress.
“Watson-Marlow had already made us aware of the virtues of Flexicon technology, but at the time our volumes weren’t sufficient enough to justify the investment,” he says. “However, with business going up and up we soon realised that manual filling and capping methods could not be sustained.”
Based on peristaltic pumping principles, the Flexicon FF30 from Watson-Marlow is a semi-automatic, modular machine that offers handling, aseptic filling and cap tightening for volumes up to 1200 units an hour, depending on the application.
“We’ve had the Flexicon machine since September 2009 and it has already doubled our throughput to 5000-7000 vials a day,” says a pleased Mr Gould. “It’s eased a genuine bottleneck and I can honestly say we’ve not had a single problem with the machine since it was installed. Additionally, we now only need one operator for the machine, whereas filling and capping was previously a two-man job. To be honest this is a repetitive operation that is much better suited to a machine. Furthermore, machines don’t go off sick, which is an added bonus.”
Improved hygiene is another benefit that is particularly important in the medical industry. In peristaltic pumping operations, nothing but the hose or tube touches the fluid, eliminating the risk of the pump contaminating the fluid, or the fluid contaminating the pump. The Flexicon FF30 is also extremely simple to clean and all format parts are easily mounted without using any tools. Other Flexicon advantages include filling accuracy of ±0.5%, as well as system flexibility, which is vital as many of the blood reagents vary significantly in viscosity.
“Some reagents are like water but others, such as bovine albumin, are sticky and very viscous,” says Mr Gould. “However, the Flexicon machine pumps them all without problem. Changeover is quick too – a complete vial and product changeover can be performed in less than 10 minutes. As a small but growing company, investments such as this are vital to our progression.”