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Materials handling: the advantages of intermediate bulk containers

Published on 06 July 2017

Pharma hands in design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plant

Depending on the size of the pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, manual or continuous materials handling methods can be used to move ingredients and products along a production line. We discuss the benefits that Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) offer over these materials handling methods, both in terms of efficiency and design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. But first…

What is an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC)?

IBCs in design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plant

IBCs are specialised containers for handling in bulk, powdered or solid particle materials. IBCs are filled, then moved between and connected directly to the process equipment in a production line. This means that IBCs can be directed to whichever processing step needs material and can be cleaned off-line. 

Traditional materials handling methods

Some pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities may handle materials manually using generic tubs, drums or boxes. Although this is commonplace, if you take a closer look you will see that it can be a slow process, involving a lot of physical effort for the operators, may incur health and safety hazards for staff, and creates a lot of waste.

Containers that are not completely dust-tight can introduce contaminants into your product, and if not handled carefully, segregation could occur, thus disturbing the uniformity of the blended recipe.

At the other end of the materials handling scale is continuous processing. In this type of manufacturing system, each piece of equipment needed for each processing stage of the production line is directly coupled to the next. This significantly reduces the number of people needed for materials handling and the effort involved.

However, the specialised nature of continuous procontinuous pharma tablet production in the design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plantduction lines makes this system costly, and inevitably, some steps of the process are slower than others, meaning the whole production line is only as efficient as the slowest step. It is difficult to modify a fixed production line to increase capacity, or to change a recipe, and if contamination or a fault occurs, then the entire line must be closed to resolve the problem, and an entire batch of product wasted.

Benefits of IBCs

Matcon IBCs offer the benefits of both manual and continuous processing, while at the same time reducing or removing many of their drawbacks.

Unlike the boxes or drums used in manual materials handling, Matcon IBCs are completely dust-tight. This eliminates much of the potential for contamination, of paramount importance in pharmaceutical manufacture, especially GMP facilities.

Cone valve seal in the design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plant

Furthermore, Matcon’s precision-engineered Cone Valve technology allows complete discharge of materials from the IBC, so no residue (i.e. wasted product!) is left inside.

Compared to a fixed, continuous production line that can be subject to bottlenecks, using IBCs to move materials between processes means that each process can operate at its optimum rate, increasing efficiency and capacity. Continuous lines can only handle one product at a time, while with IBCs it is much easier to feed the outputs of one common process into multiple different lines. 

Improve your facility design with IBCs

Another, and very important advantage of IBCs, is that they are incredibly flexible – they can fit into almost any manufacturing facility, whatever size or shape and however many floors, and can even be installed alongside existing manual or continuous processes. This opens up exciting new possibilities with the design of pharmaceutical manufacturing plant or modifying your pharmaceutical OSD facility to be as ‘lean’ and profitable as possible.

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Posted by Richard Lockwood

Topics: Pharmaceutical