Whether it is a cold, an upset stomach or insomnia - “Klosterfrau Melissengeist”, known for its blue packaging and the three characteristic nuns in the logo, has been considered a traditional remedy in Germany's medicine cabinets for almost 200 years. To fill its liquid products, the pharmaceutical manufacturer relies on a Syntegon FLK filling machine and three VRM capping machines. This combination offers both flexibility for many filling formats and a safety concept in accordance with the Atex guidelines for explosion protection.
The roots of this traditional company date back to 1826. Founded in Cologne by the nun Maria Clementine Martin, the Klosterfrau Healthcare Group is now one of the most important German pharmaceutical manufacturers with more than 1,000 employees. The company sells over 400 articles in 48 countries worldwide, including products such as “Franzbranntwein”, disinfectants and the well-known “Melissengeist”. A product portfolio this broad requires a great amount of flexibility. Therefore, Klosterfrau relies on established technologies from its long-term partner Syntegon, formerly Bosch Packaging Technology. After an intensive project planning phase, the new filling and capping line for liquid products was installed in spring 2020. The combination of the linear FLK piston filling machine with three VRM rotary capping machines can now process multiple formats with different packaging types.
The FLK filling machine is able to fill 14 bottle formats, including eleven different glass bottles and three plastic bottles - each holding between 47 and 700 milliliters of liquid. The combination with three VRM rotary capping machines provides high flexibility after filling and makes sure the caps are safely and tightly sealed. Depending on the intended use, the first VRM applies the appropriate pouring spout, before the bottles are equipped with closure caps in the second machine. The third VRM optionally puts the typical multi-step measuring cup on top of the caps of products such as Melissengeist. An object slide system conveys the containers through the line and ensures easy format changeovers. As only the object carrier needs to be changed, the time-consuming changeover of different bottle format parts is no longer necessary. Set-up times, including validated cleaning, are optimized and reduced to a minimum.
A particular challenge in production: Melissengeist is an oral drug, while products such as Franzbranntwein and disinfectants are intended for external use. They are all filled on the same line without endangering consumer safety. Hence, the requirements related to the cleaning system for format changeovers are particularly high. “Our products differ significantly in taste, smell and application. Since we process all products on the same line, residues of one product might contaminate the next. The innovative CIP+ cleaning system from Syntegon is essential for safe and contamination-free products,” says Tobias Pabst, Senior Production Engineer for the ‘Liquida’ and ’Lozenges’ plants at Klosterfrau. The integrated CIP system (Cleaning in Place) of the FLK filling machine ensures safe cleaning without any product residue. Since the cleaning programs can be customized and adapted individually, the cleaning process remains reproducible and can be validated for many different products.
In addition to the contamination risk, another challenge consisted in filling potentially explosive liquids. Klosterfrau uses alcohol in the production of herbal medicines. In the distillation process, it releases active ingredients from the herbs and improves the products’ shelf life. However, due to their high alcohol content, products such as Melissengeist, Franzbranntwein and disinfectants are highly flammable and can form explosive gas/air mixtures. Consequently, the new line had to meet the necessary Atex (Atmosphères Explosibles) standards. Thanks to about 40 years of cooperation with Klosterfrau, the mechanical engineers at Syntegon knew what was needed and developed a tailor-made solution with Atex certification and an air suction device.
“The customized configuration of the system made it possible to merge three production lines and combine existing components such as a bottle sorter or bottle labeler with the new filling and closing machine. This not only saves valuable space. It also makes the line a closed system. Highly flammable vapors cannot escape, so we didn't have to convert the entire room according to Atex guidelines,” explains Tobias Pabst. The system is also equipped with special plastics and sensor technology. This makes sure that product residues do not ignite on hot surfaces or due to static charging of the conveyor belts. What’s more, a suction device continuously sucks air out of the machine to avoid alcohol concentration in the inside air.
Other than the topic of explosion protection, the installation of the complex filling line in the production room presented the project team with another challenge. Combining several machines required extensive planning and installation work. Klosterfrau relied on Syntegon's solution competence, which really paid off: the line is running at full capacity; output has increased compared to the previous system, and the efforts have decreased for the operators.
Apart from technical aspects, Tobias Pabst emphasizes the good collaboration with Syntegon. “Our contact persons always supported us with good advice, even when things got tricky. The Syntegon experts had a solution-oriented approach and could use their experience to meet the challenges of flexible filling options while complying with Atex standards. We hope that we can continue to use these synergies for future projects.” Klosterfrau used their newly gained flexibility to convert the filling and capping closing line for disinfectants, which were urgently needed during the ongoing Corona crisis - 500,000 bottles were donated to the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.