Podcast | April 15, 2014

Liquid Filling Trends in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

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filamatic interphex interview

Ken Himes of Filamatic was recent interviewed at INTERPHEX 2014 to discuss trends and innovations in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.   He discussed the importance of accurate liquid filling systems , as well as new innovations in custom liquid filling systems that can be adapted to the customers needs.   Filamatic offers benchtop liquid filling systems , as well as customization of an entire automated production line for the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.

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Interview transcription:

Todd S:             Good morning. This is Todd and Todd, live in New York, Life Science Connect Radio on location, direct from Interphex day two. Todd, an exciting guest up next, but wow, we're off to a good start. It's going to be a great day.

Todd Y:             It is going to be a great day. We're surrounded by the Life Science Connect folks. They're great, great hosts for us, and I'm just delighted to be here. New York City is still the center of the universe. You can't help but love it here.

Todd S:             Center of the universe, I couldn't agree more. We've got a great guest up next. Say hello to Ken Himes. He's a sales manager with Filamatic. Ken, welcome to the show.

Ken:                 Thank you. Great to be here.

Todd S:             It's great to have you. Thanks for stopping by and joining us. Before we start up our conversation, take a few quick seconds and tell us a little bit about you and your background.

Ken:                 Sure. I've been in the industry for about thirty years, and with Filamatic going on eight now, always in packaging or related-type industries, but Filamatic has been a great, privately-held company that I've worked for, and worked with, and it's just been a good run for many years for me.

Todd S:             Outstanding. Filamatic – give us the 10,000-foot view. What do you do? How do you serve your market?

Ken:                 We are, for the most part, liquid filling manufacturers, and we provide equipment for several industries, primarily pharma, diagnostics, cosmetics, but we also get into some other areas. It could be household chemicals or personal care items, that sort of thing, but primarily pharma, diagnostics, and cosmetics. We'll fill containers or equipment fill containers anywhere from a micro liter up to several liters, and we also then provide capping solutions, because filling and capping tend to go hand in hand.

Todd Y:             Ken, talk a little bit about some of the problems that you solve for customers.

Ken:                 We've developed some machines over the years for specific applications, and for customers who couldn't find a solution. One was a cubitainer filling and capping system. Primarily, those go into diagnostic-type companies, other companies like that, and they had a need to fill and cap a somewhat flexible bladder that goes inside a corrugated box.

                        There was no other company out there – there were plenty of companies that could do the filling, but the capping portion of it was not really out there. Our experience with capping helped us to win that business and provide many machines or systems like that.

Todd S:             When a manufacturer is in the process of selecting a liquid filling system, what are some things they need to be thinking about, when they're about to make that important decision?

Ken:                 Today, it seems like the focus is on what is the metering system that you want to use to meter out the product accurately, into the container? There's multiple choices now for that, and anywhere from our own piston pumps to peristaltic, which tend to be a throwaway type, single use system.

                        But depending on the application, it could be a flow meter, a Coriolis-type technology, or it could be a lobe pump or gear pump. There are many different types of metering systems, and then it's going to look at what's the environment that we're filling in? What type of clean room, or is it a clean room? Do we need to provide some filters over our equipment?

                        It's always going to come down to what kind of rate that the customer wants to run in. Those are some of the key things that we look at, and then once we understand what those are; we start to focus in on the type of – the proper piece of equipment that'll work for them.

Todd Y:             Ken, a lot of folks will say Filamatic and innovation are synonyms. Talk a little bit about some of the innovations that are coming our way.

Ken:                 What we started to see a couple years ago was an increased need for net weigh systems, meaning that the customer wants to be able to verify that they did in fact get the proper amount of liquid into a container and be able to maybe even store that information, or just be assured, or in the case of net weighing, to be able to make adjustments on the fly. If the amount of liquid that's been placed in the container is a little low or a little high, we can make adjustments to get it back in line.

                        We introduced a monoblock system, monoblock meaning a system that can do multiple functions on one footprint, if you will, and in a relatively small package. We incorporated a load cell to weigh the empty container, and then after filling, to re-weigh it and make the calculation. That has been something that's been important to us.

                        Filamatic has, I guess, two different group Todd S: the small machine group and the large. I'm on the large machines, more automated. The small machine group is a benchtop-type filling equipment.

                        We introduced what we call an adaptive fill for our benchtop line that allows our customers to buy one machine that can easily switch between a piston pump, a peristaltic pump, and a lobe or gear pump. Somebody that has a variety of filling needs, one machine can fit all.

Todd S:             Todd and I always get a charge at these kinds of events, when you interact with innovators and see all the cool innovations that they're doing. What is driving innovation, not only for Filamatic, but for the industry as a whole?

Ken:                 We really just have to listen to our customers and see what they're looking for. We have a list of product development projects that we prioritized, and going forward, that we generally know from the industry that is important and will be important in the future, but we also, from time to time, get a particular customer that comes to us with a unique container or closure that is something that we haven't seen before, and they need to be able to have a solution for.

                        More and more, it seems like in pharma, there's the drive towards isolators and and on diagnostics, it's special-shaped containers and closures that come to mind. It's material handling sometimes. It's a different type of product, something that's very viscous, or the need for clean in place is something that we see more and more of. Marrying up the right metering system, the right material handling to solve those issues is what we do.

Todd Y:             Ken, when I think of a filling and capping system, if I’m the guy running the plant, consistent high performance is critical and ease of maintenance is critical. Talk to us about those two critical factors.

Ken:                 Yes, twenty-plus years ago, we were one of the first companies that started using servo technology and servo drives. They allow us to, and our customers, to very quickly change over from one size to another, to store recipes so we can easily go back to what was run previously.

                        There's changeovers that don't require as much of a mechanic now to come out with a set of tools and make mechanical adjustments. Those can be made directly from the HMI or operator station.

                        We know that uptime is critical, and so being able to service and help customers with questions is something that we place a lot of importance on, and we have a large group of tech service people that are standing by to help on the phone, and then to be able to go out in the field and help customers get back up and running, if they need it.

                        The bulk of the time, we're able to help a customer over the phone, but we have equipment that we've been manufacturing for sixty years. Not that you've come across equipment that's sixty years old anymore, but certainly 30 to 40 years is not unusual.

                        We've done a great job of being able to keep our customers running even on very old equipment. We have our own machine shop, and so it's something that, if we don't have the part in stock, we can make it for them, and that's important to customers as well.

Todd S:             I'll second that. Goodness. Well, Filamatic is exhibiting here at Interphex. Why are you here? Why does an organization such as yours invest time and treasure at an event like this?

Ken:                 This is really the show for pharma, and I'd roll in the diagnostic side of it as well, because that's a growing part of our business also. It's important for us to be here, to get back with the customers that we haven't seen in a while, or make new customers. It's just to show that we respect from that standpoint, and know, with our business being primarily around diagnostics and pharma, this is the place to be.

Todd Y:             Pull out your crystal ball for a second, Ken. What do you see coming at us over the horizon in the next three to five years?

Ken:                 We are looking at some innovations that will allow us to help our existing customers with improving their equipment they already have. We are also looking at more single use-type technology for metering products.

                        That seems to be really growing in the last few years, and I expect to continue to see that. The desire for some companies to not have to go through a cleaning validation pushes them more towards a single use type metering system. There are a couple things that I can think of right on.

Todd S:             Ken, we're running low on time. Before we let you go, how can people get in touch with you and where can they learn more about Filamatic?

Ken:                 Well, we're in Baltimore, Maryland, and of course they can find us at Filamatic.com, as many customers do already. That's the primary that folks find us or learn about our equipment, where they can see video and photos and learn more about our equipment.

Todd S:             Alright, Ken Himes, sales manager with Filamatic, Ken, it was great to have you. Thanks for stopping by and joining us.

Ken:                 Thanks very much. I appreciate it.

Todd S:             It's our pleasure. Good luck at the show. Alright, that wraps this broadcast on behalf of our guest, Ken Himes, my co-host, Todd Youngblood, I'm Todd Schnick, Life Science Connect Radio's live coverage at Interphex. We'll be right back.