This invention relates to a method and apparatus for printing indicia on
pharmaceutical pellet-shaped articles and placing them in a moving blistered receptacle.
In particular, the invention relates to an apparatus using a transporting device to place a
pellet-shaped article in a blistered receptacle such that the articles are uniformly oriented
with respect to color and/or indicia as they appear through the clear portion of the
blister. The present invention has special applicability towards two types of pellet
shaped articles. First, substantially round tablets having first and second differently
colored sides can be oriented within the blister package such that the same color is
visible through the clear portion of the blister package. Typically, a predetermined
(colored) side of the tablet will be selected to receive indicia, which will face the clear
portion of the blister package. Second, substantially oblong capsules or caplets having
differently colored ends can be oriented within the blister package such that ends having
the same color will face the same direction.
The concept of providing solid medication in unit doses for oral
consumption is well known and commercially available wherever pharmaceutical
products are sold. Typically, the medication is packaged for distribution and sale in a
blistered or bottled package. The present invention is primarily concerned with the
blistered package and the orientation of a pellet-shaped article bearing printed indicia
and/or dual colors so the orientation of the indicia and/or the dual colors remains visible
to the consumer through the clear portion of the blistered recess.
The blistered package is known as a package composed of a thermoformed
plastic film having a plurality of recesses or blisters arranged in a symmetrical pattern
for receiving a dose of medication. The blistered package is typically covered by heat
sealing a film of usually opaque material, such as aluminum foil, to the face of the
package with the product contained in the blisters. Each capsule or tablet is then
removed by placing pressure on the article through the respective blister causing the
article to break through the sealed material.
To inform the user as to the type and strength of the medication, a package
contains a trademark, logo and/or dosage indicator printed on the article prior to the
article being placed in the recess or blister. Unfortunately, arbitrary placement of the
articles in a blistered package often obscures the printed information, thereby requiring
additional effort to determine the type of medication, and possibly exposing the user to
mistakenly ingesting the wrong medication, which may lead to catastrophic or fatal
results. In particular, tablets may be placed within the blister such that the indicia
(printed on only one side) cannot be viewed through the blister. In the case of capsules
or caplets, the differently colored ends may be oppositely oriented from one article to
the next thus giving a disorganized appearance. In each case, such packaging gives the
impression that the medication placed in the blistered package was not subjected to
quality control during manufacturing.
Numerous methods and machines have been developed to package such
pharmaceutical products. Typically, the tablets or capsules initially have indicia printed
upon them, then they are forwarded to be packaged, yet the capsules are not color
organized and/or the tablets are not oriented for the user to read the indicia. One method
to obviate the indicia orientation problem is to place indicia on two or more sides of the
capsule or tablet so the printed indicia will be visible regardless of the article's
orientation. However, this method results in increased costs due to the multiple
apparatuses necessary to carry out the process, as well as the additional printing. This
method may also have drawback that, although the indicia is visible on the tablets, the
background base color of the tablets facing the clear portion of the blister package are
USP 3,933,239 discloses a capsule positioning machine. The machine
includes a hopper supplying radially ordered capsules to transporting and inverting
drums where the capsules are oriented to be positioned on a moving conveyor system.
Although the capsules are positioned in the conveyor in a uniform manner, no printed
indicia is placed on the capsules, thereby requiring the capsules to be printed at another
station, or even worse, the capsules have no printing placed upon them leaving the user
uninformed as to the contents of the capsules. In addition, the capsules are placed on a
conveyor, indicating a necessity of having to be packaged at another station or machine
thereby adding cost to packaging the pharmaceutical products. Also, Yoshida does not
provide a mechanism for color based orientation of caplets having differently colored
ends because caplets cannot be gravity oriented due to their uniform cross-sections
USP 5,415,321 discloses a apparatus for feeding a plurality of tablets
simultaneously onto a matrix of blister packaging. The apparatus comprises a feeder
having a rectangular housing including a product bin with a plurality of openings
through which capsules fall when the feeder is vibrated. The capsules are placed in
blistered packaging, however, the capsules are not marked with printed indicia, as well
as being randomly positioned within the blistered packaging thereby making it unsure
whether consumers will be able to read any information printed or indicated on the
capsule, and know the nature or type of medication they are ingesting.
USP 3,545,164 discloses a apparatus and method for filling packaging
receptacles. The apparatus has a top plate for supporting a number of randomly grouped
capsules. The capsules are then agitated by a vibrator and separated from the supply.
The capsules pass through guide mouths and are deposited in blistered packaging where
the packages are closed and sealed once they are filled. Again, no device is provided to
mark the capsules with printed indicia and no tool is until to uniformly align the
positioning of the capsules within the packaging.
USP 4,790,118 discloses a medication packaging and dispensing machine
for packaging medication specific to a patient. The unit dose package includes the
patient name, day, and hours of administration prescribed for the patient. However, the
tablets or medication is not labeled, and thus the orientation of the capsule in the
packaging system is of little importance.
USP 4,999,979 discloses a machine for continuously packing
pharmaceutical products in plastic material containers. The machine comprises a station
for receiving and unwinding reels of the plastic material, heating stations, a
thermaforming station, a dosing station, a sealing station and a cutting station. There are
also chains for moving the plastic material step by step from one end of the machine to
the other as they pass through each station. However, the system does not have a station
for printing indicia upon the pharmaceutical products. Also, the produets are not
oriented in a predetermined manner within the plastic container.
It is an aspect of the invention to provide a pharmaceutical product
packaging apparatus capable of separating randomly grouped capsules or tablets.
It is another aspect of the invention to provide a pharmaceutical product
packaging apparatus that marks the capsules or tablets with informative indicia while
simultaneously maintaining the product's orientation.
It is yet another aspect of the invention to provide a pharmaceutical product
packaging apparatus that places the capsules or tablets into a moving blistered package
such that the uniform color orientation of dual-colored capsule/caplets and/or the
indicia of the tablets are visible to the consumer through the clear portion of the blister.
In order to achieve the above, and to overcome the shortcomings in the prior
art, a packaging apparatus according to the present invention includes a transporting
device capable of placing capsules or tablets in blistered packaging with the uniform
color orientation of dual-colored capsules and/or the printed indicia of the tablets visible
through the clear portion of the packaging. Preferably, the transporting device can be a
drum having a plurality of peripherally spaced cavities adapted to receive and maintain
pellet shaped articles. Preferably, the drum is in rotary arrangement to the feeding,
printing, and packaging stations. The cavities receive the articles from the feeding
station and transport the articles to the printing station.
At the printing station, trademark or logo information and/or dosage
strength are marked on a face of the articles. Preferably, the drum and the packaging
station are synchronized so that the cavities of the drum and the blistered receptacles of
the packaging station are aligned, so that when the drum delivers the printed articles to
the packaging station, the articles are placed in blistered receptacles such that the
uniform color orientation of dual-colored capsules/caplets or the indicia of tablets is
visible to the consumer through the clear portion of the blister.
The feeding station comprises, for example, a gravity feed hopper located
above the transporting device. The hopper is designed to frictionally feed the randomly
ordered articles into the cavities of the drum in a controlled manner.
The articles are then transported to the printing station where a printer
marks indicia upon the articles. The printer can be an ink jet or contact printer.
In a preferred embodiment, the drum of the transporting device will contain
a vacuum for maintaining the articles in their respective cavities. By drawing air into
the cavities, the orientation of the articles will be maintained through the printing
station. When the cavities with the printed indicia are aligned with the blistered
receptacles, air drawn into the cavities is stopped, thereby forcing the articles to drop
into the receptacles with the uniform color orientation or the indicia visible through the
clear portion of the blister. It should also be noted that other devices, such as amp
feed, maybe used to sport the articles through the various stations.
The packaging station has a conveyor system that continuously supplies
packaging material. The packaging material comprises blistered receptacles having a
clear portion capable of receiving and retaining a tablet or pellet. Because the conveyor
and drum are operatively associated with each other, the blistered receptacles are aligned
with the cavities. Therefore, once the articles pass the back guide they drop directly into
the blistered receptacles with the uniform color orientation or the printed indicia facing
through the clear portion.
Downstream on the conveyor system is a sealing station where a seal is
applied to the blistered receptacles. A film of material, typically opaque, such as
aluminum foil, is heat sealed to the receptacles, alter which the packaged material is fed
to a cutting station where it is separated by a blade in packages of four, six, eight, or
such doses per packet for use by a consumer.
In an alternative embodiment, rather than vacuum, the drum may have an
arcuate back guide provided having curvature substantially similar as the drum to
maintain the orientation of the articles. The guide is adjustably positioned with respect
to the drum to allow different sized articles to be transported.
The novel method accurately and automatically controls the movement of
the articles from the feeding station, through the printing station and deposits them at the
packaging station into the blistered package with the proper orientation.
The resulting apparatus and method for packaging printed pharmaceutical
capsules or tablets places the articles with dual colors or printed indicia in blistered
receptacles in a predetermined manner. In addition, the articles need only be printed on
one side, saving time and money. Also, the visibility of the indicia provides the
consumer with the required information to help prevent improper administration of
dosages. The need for less procedures to package the articles results in a more efficient
apparatus wherein the manufacturing to process additional articles fester, resulting in a
more economical apparatus that also provides a better informed consumer.
Consequently, the present apparatus and method for packaging pellet-sped
pharmaceutical articles can be used so consumers can take doses of medication more
easily, safely, and with less dangerous consequences.
The invention will be described in conjunction with the following drawings
in which like reference numerals designate like elements and wherein:
- Fig. 1 is a perspective view of the apparatus for printing indicia on a pellet-shaped
pharmaceutical article and orienting the article within blistered packaging
according to one embodiment of the present invention;
- Fig. 2 is a perspective view of another preferred embodiment of the
apparatus using a vacuum drum as the transporting device;
- Fig. 3 is a perspective view of a alternative embodiment of the apparatus
using a drum and back guide as the transporting device;
- Fig. 4 is a multiple package of capsules showing tablet indicia through the
clear portion of a blister package;
- Fig. 5 is a flow chart diagram for the method of printing, orienting, and
packaging a plurality of pellet-shaped pharmaceutical articles within blistered packaging
- Fig. 6 is a perspective view of additional feature of a drilling station for
use with the apparatus of Figure 1.
While the invention will be described in conjunction with preferred
embodiments thereof, it is evident that many alternatives, modifications and variations
will be apparent to those skilled in the art. For example, the disclosure is intended to
cover not only the various combinations of elements, but also the individual elements
themselves. Accordingly, the preferred embodiments of the invention as set forth herein
are intended to be illustrative, not limiting. Various changes may be made without
departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.
Figure 1 is a perspective view of one example of an apparatus 10 for
printing indicia on pellet shaped pharmaceutical articles 12 and orienting the articles 12
within blistered packaging according to a preferred embodiment of the present
invention. Apparatus 10 includes a transporting device 24 that coopates with a
feeding station 20, printing station 36, and packaging station 42. The feeding station 20
is designed to distribute a plurality of randomly ordered pellet shaped pharmaceutical
articles 12 to the transporting device 24. The transporting device 24 is synchronized
with the feeding station 20 and packaging station 42. Therefore, the transporting
device 24 is able to continuously receive the articles 12 from the feeding station 20,
guide the articles 12 through the printing station 36, deposit the articles in the packaging
station 42, and repeat the cycle uninterrupted. Of course, the printing station 36 can be
upstream of the transporting device 24, especially if the articles are preoriented such that
a desired portion (e.g. end or side) of the articles will be visible in a proper orientation
within the clear portion of the blister package.
Referring to Figure 1, the transporting device 24 is depicted as comprising a
drum 26. However, the transporting device 24 is not restricted to this design and may be
comprised of any number of transporting apparatus, such as a ramp-feed type device, for
example. The drum 26 has cavities 28 adapted to receive the articles 12 from the
feeding station 20. Once in their respective cavities 28, the articles 12 are taken to a
printing station 36 having a printer 38 for marking the article 12 with printed indicia 40.
The cavities 28 may be specially shaped to maintain the positioning of the articles 12
until forwarding the articles 12 to packaging station 42. The data is marked by a
printer 38 such as an ink jet or contact printer, located tangentially to the transporting
device 24 and between the feeding station 20 and packaging station 42 along the
transporting path of the drum 26. The indicia 40 may provide information such as the
manufacturer's trademark, a logo, and/or the dosage strength as well. From the printing
station 36, the articles 12 are taken to the packaging station 42.
The packaging station 42 has a conveyor 44 for continuously supplying
packaging material 46 defining blistered receptacles 48. Each blistered receptacle 48
has a clear portion 50 capable of receiving and retaining the articles 12. Since the
drum 26 and the blistered receptacles 48 are aligned, the drum 26 is able to deposit the
articles 12 into the blistered receptacles 48 with the article 12 oriented so the proper
color and/or printed indicia 40 on the article 12 is visible (in proper orientation) through
each clear portion 50.
Downstream of where the drum 26 deposits the articles 12 into the blistered
receptacles 48, there may be a sealing station 52 where a seal 54 is applied to the open
side of the packaging material 46. Ideally, the sealing material comprises opaque
material. In addition, downstream of the sending station 52 there may be a cutting
station 56 where the filled packaging material 46 is separated by a blade 58. As shown
in Fig. 4, the marerial 46 is separated into multiple packages 60 of articles 12 with the
indicia 40 visible through the clear portion 50 of the blistered receptacles 48 and ready
for sale or distribution.
Referring to Figures 2 and 3, an optional configuration of the feeding station
is depicted. As is depicted in both figures, the feeding station 20 may provide a
hopper 22 designed to contain and distribute the articles 12 to the transporting
device 24. Although may alternatives exist, the articles 12, for example, will be
gravity fed to the cavities 28 in the device 24 as the cavities 28 pass underneath the
opening (not shown) of the hopper 22.
Figure 2 depicts a alternative embodiment of the present invention where a
vacuum 34 is placed inside the drum 26. The drum in this case may include a shell 26A
having pores that communicate the cavities and the vacuum. The shell 26A is guided
about a non-porous stationary guide 27 such that the vacuum 34 is maintained along the
path between the hopper and the conveyor 44. The vacuum helps the drum 26 maintain
the orientation of the articles 12 within the cavities 28 along the path. The vacuum 34
maintains the orientation by drawing air into the cavities 28 through the pores, creating a
negative air pressure, thereby keeping the articles 12 secured in the cavities 28. The
negative air pressure is only applied along the section of the drum 26 between the
feeding station 20 and the packaging station 42. The negative air pressure is cut off
when the cavities 28 are aligned with the blistered receptacles 48 on the conveyor 44.
Consequently, the articles 12 drop or are guided into the receptacles 48 with the
indicia 40 being visible to the consumer through the clear portion 50 of the
Figure 3 depicts a optional apparatus for maintaining the orientation of the
articles 12 in the transporting device 24. After the articles 12 have passed through the
printing station 36, a back guide 32 having a curvature similar to that of the drum 26 is
provided. The back guide 32 prevents the articles from losing their orientation within
the cavities 38 and from falling out of the drum 26. Once the printed articles 12 pass the
back guide 32, the drum deposits the articles 12 into the blistered receptacles 48 so that
the printed indicia 40 on the articles 12 is visible to the consumer through the clear
portion 50. After depositing the article 12 into a corresponding receptacle 48, the
vacated cavity 28 continues around to the feeding station 20 to pick up another
article 12. It should also be noted that the position of the back guide 32 is adjustable in
relation to the drum 26 so that articles 12 of different dimensions may be printed and
Turning to Figure 4, it can be seen that the printed indicia 40 on the
articles 12 is visible through the clear portion 50 of the blistered receptacles 48. Each
article is then removable by placing pressure onto the article 12 through the respective
blister 48, causing the article to break through the seal 54.
Figure 5 explains the method in using the apparatus 10 for printing,
orienting, and packaging the pellet shaped pharmaceutical articles within packaging
material 46 with blistered receptacles 48. Step 1 of the method entails distributing the
articles 12 onto a transporting device 24. Step 2 involves delivering the articles 12 on
the transporting device 24 to a printing station 36 having a printer 38. Step 3 includes
printing of indicia 40 onto the articles 12. Step 4 includes delivering the printed
articles 12 to a packaging station. Step 5 entails depositing the printed articles 12 from
the transporting device 24 onto a packaging station 42 having a conveyor 44 for
continuously supplying packaging material 46 containing blistered receptacles 48, each
having a clear portion 50 and capable of receiving and retaining an article, wherein the
printed indicia 40 on the articles 12 is visible to the consumer through the clear
Figure 5 also includes step 6, delivering the packaged articles 12 to a
sealing station 52. Step 7 involves sealing the open side of the packaging material 46.
Step 8 entails delivering the scaled packages to a cutting station 56. Step 9 requires
separating the packaged material 46 with a blade 58 resulting in multiple packages of
articles 60 ready for sale or distribution.
In other aspects of the invention, the articles 12 may be arranged in a
predetermined order prior to being fed to the transporting device 24. See Figure 1A.
The articles 12 may first pass through a drilling station 62 where a mechanical time-release
mechanism 64 is created. The time-release mechanism 64 is formed by creating
a depression or hole in the coating of the article 12 with a laser or other drilling
device 66 so saliva and assorted body acids interact with the chemical composition
within the article 12. This allows certain portions of the interior of the articles 12 to be
immediately exposed to the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream when ingested.
From the drilling station 62, the articles 12 are transported to the feeding station 20
and/or the transporting device 24 as indicated by arrow 67.
Optionally, it may be desirous to conceal the depression or hole using the
printing station 36. Therefore, the drilling station 62 may be located between the
feeding station 20 and the printing station 36. See Figure 3. The portion of the
article 12 that will have the indicia 40 placed on it and exposed through the clear
portion 50 of the blister receptacle 48 will also have the time-release mechanism 64,
thereby resulting in the indicia 40 camouflaging the depression or hole. See Figure 3.
Of course, the drilling station can be located downstream of the printing station 36
(Figure 2) depending on the desired appearance of the final product.