Podcast | April 9, 2014

Overcome Pharmaceutical Material Handling With Continuous Processing Solutions

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material handlign and continuous processing - interview at interphex

At Interphex 2014, Todd and Todd interview Sharon Nowak, global business development manager with Coperion K-Tron, about the merger between K-Tron and Coperion and different material handling solutions. Listen to the interview as they discuss the advances in technology and the quality of the equipment in that materials handling is not only changing in the pharmaceutical industry but in the automation of the systems as well.

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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 three. Todd, we have an exciting guest up next, but you know, we're just having a great time this afternoon. This has been an amazing day. I'm learning an awful lot.

Todd Y:            Can you believe it's 3:30?

Todd S:            I cannot believe it's 3:30.

Sharon:           You're actually having fun.

Todd S:            I haven't had coffee yet. Well, that explains everything. If we had solved that problem earlier in the day, we would have been in great shape. As you can tell, we have a fancy guest up next. Say hello to Sharon Nowak. She's a global business development manager with Coperion K-Tron. Sharon, welcome to the show.

Sharon:           Thank you very much.

Todd S:            It's good to have you. Thanks for stopping by and joining us. Sharon, before we get into a conversation, take a few quick seconds and tell us a little bit about you and your background.

Sharon:           I am the Global Business Development Manager for  Coperion K-Tron. I have been with that company for about eleven years now. Prior to that, I've been in the business of equipment supply to the food and pharmaceutical industries for about thirty years, something like that.

Todd S:            I didn't hear what you said.

Todd Y:            Should you clarify?

Sharon:           No, we'll just leave it with that. (hahaha). My degree is in chemical engineering with a minor in biochemical engineering and processing.

Todd S:            Outstanding. Go deep on Coperion K-Tron. What do you do and how do you serve your market?

Sharon:           Coperion K-Tron specializes in material handling and feeding equipment specifically for the pharmaceutical and food industries. We have been around as K-Tron for quite a few years.  Actually, K-Tron has over 100 years experience on the feeding and conveying side, and has recently merged with Coperion, which has been dealing primarily in the areas of extrusion and also material handling of difficult  powders specifically for continuous processes like hot melt extrusion and  granulation, that type of thing.

Todd Y:            Why the merger? Give us a little background.

Sharon:           Well, one of the markets that Coperion and K-Tron both work in very well is the plastic industry. On the extrusion side, we've always worked together with Coperion supplying the material handling for the extruders, particularly the feeders and refill systems.  When we were bought by our parent company, which is now called Hillenbrand, they also made the strategic decision to buy Coperion as well, and now merged the two companies because it was a perfect fit as far as our equipment goes.

Todd S:            It's funny that we're talking about material handling. Todd and I just came, and we were broadcasting from a supply chain show, down in Atlanta, Georgia. It's amazing to me – well, it certainly blew my mind. I can't speak for Todd, but the advances in technology and the quality of the equipment in that materials handling, and the technology and the innovation happening even there is mind-boggling. How is that impacting the work that you're doing?

Sharon:           Quite a bit, actually. I mean, one of the things, as I said, the initial industries that Coperion and K-Tron  got involved in were on the plastics side. Now handling the pharmaceutical side, which is one of the reasons why I started with them about ten years ago, it completely requires a different fit in terms of the actual execution of the equipment and how it's taken apart, how it's cleaned.

                 Not only on that end, but on the automation side, these days now, everything has specific sensors, and detailed PLC Programming. They're requiring a lot more detail and accuracy as far as the information that the systems supply. All that is very important, and it's part of the innovation of the equipment. So now it's not just a piece of equipment anymore. We're now supplying completely integrated systems, which is what our customer base is looking for.

Todd Y:            Sharon, I've been around a few years myself, and I remember when the whole idea of continuous flow manufacturing was a concept. Now it's old news by now, within the factory. It's getting extended now, across the whole supply chain, huge impact. It has to have a huge impact on your business. Talk about how that's changed.

Sharon:           Well, again, in terms of the food, just like you talked about, in terms of the food and chemical industries, continuous manufacturing has been around for a very long time. When we're talking, however, on the pharmaceutical side, the pharmaceutical industry has always done everything specifically by batch processing.

                        However, now with the availability of online instrumentation through the process automation technology, or PAT, we're now able to get the feedback control that's required to make those processes continuous. The big development in the pharmaceutical industry is to make the transition in manufacturing from a batch to a continuous process.

                        The Coperion K-Tron feeding line and material handling, as well as the extrusion line, are all geared specifically for continuous manufacture. The extremely high accuracy gravimetric feeders that Coperion K-Tron supplies are used primarily to feed the material, ingredients, into the continuous process, and then the rest of the material handling to get the material to the feeders is also supplied by us.  Our current designs, from a systems approach, provide integration of everything together and supply one system to the end user.

Todd S:            I just want to reiterate here and be really clear. I want to show the audience. Let's think about pharmaceutical manufacturing. There's obstacles and challenges that your products and solutions can help them overcome. Let's be sure that we're real clear on exactly what those obstacles and challenges are that you can help them deal with.

Sharon:           Well, again, there's two different ways of doing things, because we also get involved in the Batching side as well. Our main function is in  the automation of the handling and dispensing of materials that are being used to produce these pharmaceutical products.

                        One of the main obstacles on the material handling side, things like active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are very potent, that have exposure issues that they have to deal with , are handled  by our equipment. There are also issues in terms of how these materials can be handled, because they're difficult-flowing powders. Also there's an explosivity concern with a lot of these materials, too.

                        For all of those obstacles, by using an automated piece (or pieces) of equipment by Coperion K-Tron to deliver those materials to the process, we're not only containing and keeping the operators safe, because now there's no interaction with the powder, but at the same time, we're also protecting the material, too. We're dealing with active pharmaceutical ingredients that are very expensive, very difficult to handle, and may have, as I said, toxic problems as well.

Todd Y:            Sharon, talk a little bit about the dollars and cents and aspects of it. You described lots of value in a qualitative sense, but if I'm the guy with the green eye shade on, I want to know. Tell me what the bottom line is.

Sharon:           The big thing is not only in the automation of the process, so that you're now not using manual labor to accurately transfer the powders or powder to the process. But at the same time, there's the whole safety issue, because what we're doing is, as I said, isolating the product from the operator, but also isolating the product from the environment.   There's no contamination issues, as far as from the outside environment to the process, and it's also helping, again, on the continuous side when we go from a batch to a continuous operation. You require smaller equipment, you can do your overall process time in a much smaller amount of time.  With a continuous process, when using a highly accurate feeding device like Coperion K-Tron it's been proven that you can actually use less of the more expensive active ingredient for the process. All of that relates to dollars and cents, and what ends up happening is the overall process is a lot less expensive to manufacture.

Todd S:            I'm just curious as to how you keep doing all this great stuff. The industry, as we all know, is continuously evolving and changing and growing and adapting and innovating. How is Coperion K-Tron staying on top?

Sharon:           We do a lot of extensive research with our customer base. One of my jobs, as business development manager, is to constantly go out and sit down with the project and process engineers to ask them exactly what they're looking for, as far as from an equipment perspective, but also what their end goals are, like you were just talking about.

Everybody want to be able to save money as far as how they develop process, but what are the key things that they need in an overall system to make their job easier? Coperion K-Tron has not  only an extensive global R&D group that not only develops new innovations into our equipment, but we also have a global systems engineering  group, throughout the world that develops brand new systems, specific for different processes, with all the most innovative automation and engineering designs.

Todd Y:            Lots of time, effort, money involved, and coming to Interphex? Why bother?

Sharon:           Oh yes. We've been doing this show – I was just saying, it's probably as long as -

Todd Y:            You don't have to say.

Sharon:           But it's always, for me, the same thing, being able to deal directly with our customers, to show them what we have new, as far as our product line goes, to give them a hands-on feel in terms of what we do, but also to get their feedback in terms of what we need to do for the future, in terms of equipment design and also in terms of system supply.

Todd S:            That's the take from Coperion K-Tron, but we're inching towards the end of day two. What do you expect at this point will be the key takeaways for Sharon Nowak?

Sharon       I travel the world. My position is global, and I go to different customers in China. I was just in India. For me Interphex is a key place, in one location, where people from all over the world come to us, and I get a chance to talk to them in terms of what they're looking for. Right now, we have had some very good meetings, both today and yesterday, specific to some of the new designs that we're implementing. In addition, the marriage of Coperion and K-Tron is relatively new to the industry, so it's a lot of making sure that there's still that connection.

Todd S:            So this is the first show that you are showing  both brands together? -

Sharon:           Correct. The two brands were combined as early as November, so this is new to this show– we're still going through those obstacles to make sure that people know that we're still here, we're together, and we're actually improving.

Todd S:            Wow that’s a fun obstacle to overcome….

Sharon:           Oh yes, the branding is a real fun thing. But it's important that they know that K-Tron has been around for a long time. It's still here and our objectives with the merger are being able to supply equipment and designs that are even better, and that meet our customers' needs from an overall system supply.

Todd S:            Sharon, I hate to say it, because it's been a real pleasure, but 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 Coperion K-Tron?

Sharon:           Coperion K-Tron – I'm actually out of the Pitman NJ office. You can either go on CoperionKTron.com and find out more about our product line, or contact me directly through email or whatnot. I'm also on LinkedIn, so for those people that are in the LinkedIn, I'm quite active in that. They can always contact me that way as well.

Todd S:            Sharon Nowak, global business development manager with Coperion K-Tron, Sharon, it was a real pleasure having you. Thanks for stopping by and joining us.

Sharon:           My pleasure.

Todd S:            Alright, that wraps this broadcast on behalf of our guest, Sharon Nowak, my co-host, Todd Youngblood, I'm Todd Schnick, Life Science Connect Radio's live coverage at Interphex. We'll be right back.