Multicomponent herbal preparations packed in blisters
PADMA AG is a Swiss pharmaceutical company that specialises in the manufacture of Tibetan medicines. The firm trusts Romaco Noack and Promatic to pack its multicomponent herbal capsules in blisters and folding cartons using strictly GMP-compliant solutions.
Tibetan medicine originally spread to Switzerland via Russia. In 1850, the Tibetan physician Sul Tim Badma accepted the Tsar’s invitation to his palace in St Petersburg. His descendants left the Tsar’s court during the Russian Revolution and set up a practice in Poland. The first contact with Switzerland was established in the mid-1950s. It was then that the decision was taken to manufacture Tibetan medicines according to modern, European pharmaceutical standards.
PADMA AG was founded in Zurich in 1969, and only 3 years later, the first Tibetan medicine was approved for sale by the responsible Swiss agency.
The company’s portfolio currently comprises a range of herbal preparations, which can be purchased from retailers as pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements. Around 60% of these products are marketed in Switzerland and two are actually reimbursed under the statutory health insurance scheme. PADMA also serves several other European markets, notably Austria, Denmark, Hungary and Poland.
The formulas for Tibetan medicines have been handed down for thousands of years. Their pharmacological action is based on the secondary substances that are found in all plants. These so-called phytochemicals safeguard against ultraviolet light or vermin and are additionally used in the plant’s reproduction process.
The herbal substances have this same special effect on the human organism. Tibetan medicines adhere to the multicomponent principle, with up to 30 different dried or powdered plants being processed in each formula. These complex mixtures of substances activate the body’s own immune system and are used to treat modern lifestyle diseases such as arteriosclerosis, digestive and sleep disorders, or chronic inflammation.
Tibetan medicine often complements conventional, academic medicine. Representatives of integrative medicine claim that the highly specific action of synthetic drugs is more noticeable if the body is holistically stimulated by natural remedies. “Many Swiss patients who are prescribed a PADMA medication by their GP are not even aware that it’s based on a Tibetan formula,” comments Dr Herbert Schwabl, PADMA Chairman of the Board. “It’s the positive effect that matters — where the formula comes from is irrelevant to the therapy’s success.”
PADMA sources its raw materials from all over the world. Some of them are grown in specialised regions, such as India, Nepal, Switzerland and Germany. Geographical origin is not a selection criterion: however, top of the list is premium quality. European medicinal plants such as calendula flowers, Iceland moss or columbine are just as likely to be preferred as Nepalese mombin fruit, aloe extract or cloves.
All production processes comply strictly with good manufacturing practices (GMPs), good agricultural and collection practices (GACPs) and the European Pharmacopoeia. When it comes to medicinal plants, these regulations also cover seed inspections, cultivation, harvesting and drying. The identity of all herbal raw materials is unequivocally established in the laboratory before they are processed. Furthermore, contamination with pesticides, aflatoxins, heavy metals or micro-organisms must be ruled out.
The raw materials are delivered to PADMA’s headquarters in Wetzikon in powder form and then processed further in manufacturing campaigns. In the first step, the formula is homogenously mixed and filled into capsules. The finished product is mainly packed in blisters with 20 capsules each; four-capsule blisters are also produced as samples. The products destined for sale can be supplied in packs of 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10 or 27. Considerable flexibility is required to pack the blisters in seven different box sizes.
To meet these complex requirements and satisfy the steady growth in demand, PADMA’s management decided to install a high-tech, Romaco-built line that includes primary, secondary and final packaging units. A Noack 921 blister machine with a Promatic P 91L intermittent motion cartoner and a Promatic PAK 100 case packer were chosen to master this challenge. The line was configured in a U-shape owing to the limited space available.
“Romaco went to great pains during the planning phase to accommodate our very specific needs and convinced us with innovative solution strategies,” Schwabl explains. The Romaco blister line was commissioned at the PADMA facility in late 2014. Approximately two million capsules are processed per batch. PADMA currently employs around 30 staff and generates about ten million Swiss francs in revenues annually.
The blister line is designed to handle extremely diverse stack heights. The cartoner was built with two separate feed units for this reason. The blisters for the size 27 pack are fed via a special bypass with a turnover starwheel, which turns the stacks vertically 90 degrees. They are then placed in the cartoner’s bucket chain standing up on edge. A counterslide is used to support the large stacks as they are fed into the open boxes. An output of eight size 27 packs per minute is achieved with this format.
For packs with ten blisters or fewer, the standard feed unit is selected by means of a vertical twist, which turns the blisters horizontally 90 degrees and places them in the stacking magazine, where they are counted and conveyed directly to the cartoner via the bucket chain. In this configuration, the line has a maximum output of 400 sample blisters or 300 20-capsule blisters and 75 boxes per minute. The feed unit is determined by the format selected on the cartoner’s HMI panel plus a mechanical switch at the transfer conveyor between the blister machine and the cartoner.
The blisters themselves are manufactured in a three-lane rotary sealing and die-cutting process. Foil waste is thereby considerably reduced. Two people are normally charged with operating the blister line as well as format changes and cleaning the machine. PADMA ships its products in cases, which is why a case packer is attached to the cartoner. The Romaco Promatic PAK 100 is a semi-automatic machine: the folding cartons are grouped, stacked and inserted automatically; the only manual steps are case erection, feeding and closing.
PADMA was supported and assisted during the installation and commissioning phase of the new blister line by Trimaco, Romaco’s Swiss agent. “The support we received from Trimaco was – and still is – vital to a small company like us because the machines have to provide very high flexibility,” Schwabl emphasises.
“Trimaco and Romaco are competent partners who can be trusted to help us at any time with user training or technical support.” And if the Dalai Lama pays another visit to PADMA at some time in the future, the official photographs will no longer show him in front of the predecessor Noack DPN 760 but against the backdrop of a fully automatic blister line made by Romaco. The Tibetan formulas used by PADMA may have been handed down for millennia, but the production process is definitely twenty first century.