Image via Camosun College on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)
Manufacturing facility managers and teams need to be able to guarantee that their products are not contaminated with pathogens or other elements while supporting a smooth and efficient process at the same time. This is where solutions such as aseptic filling equipment have a big part to play.
But what exactly is an aseptic filling machine, and how does it work? Read on to discover more.
Aseptic filling machines defined
An aseptic filling machine is a piece of equipment that is used to fill containers with liquid, solid or hybrid materials. These machines are a common sight on production and distribution lines around the world, but the aseptic machine is a little different — this type of machine sterilizes the containers before the filling process begins, maintaining this sterile environment throughout the whole process.
The aseptic filling machine ensures not only that materials are free from pathogens or harmful contaminants but also that packaging is also free from contamination. This allows pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, as well as facility managers in other industries, to protect public health while maintaining regulatory compliance.
The difference between aseptic and antiseptic
The word “aseptic” is still a technical one and is not yet in common public usage. Members of the public are likely to be more familiar with a word like “antiseptic” and may consider aseptic and antiseptic to be interchangeable. However, there are key differences between the two concepts.
Antiseptic practices involve the sterilization of equipment, surfaces and other elements either immediately before, after or during a task. In this sense, an “antiseptic filling machine” would undergo sterilization before filling begins, and then again afterwards, to achieve a reduction in contamination. Aseptic practices work in a similar way but are executed differently.
An aseptic process involves a more comprehensive approach. This type of practice ensures complete sterilization and isolation of the working environment — in this case, the filling or packing environment. The entire process of receiving the materials, preparing the containers, and then filling and sealing the containers, is sterile at every step, resulting in a far more effective defense against contamination.
How does an aseptic filling machine work?
Let’s take a look at the different components of an aseptic filling machine in more detail.
The sterilization component
The machine will feature a sterilization component that is used to clean all of the materials or items that will enter the system. This cleaning task is carried out automatically, with no need for human intervention, further reducing the chance of contamination. Cleaning is thorough and will include both the inner and outer surfaces of any ampules or containers.
The heating and cooling components
Applying high temperatures helps to make sure that the sterilization process is completed to a satisfactory level. To achieve this, the aseptic filling machine will include heating chambers. Containers pass through these chambers and are heated to a high temperature, killing any remaining pathogens. Different types of filling projects will require different levels of heating, and some industries will apply minimum heating requirements as part of their regulations.
Before filling and packaging can take place, the containers will need to be cooled. This occurs in a cooling chamber where the temperature of containers is reduced to a safe and usable level.
The filling component
Asepsis is a very important aspect of the machine’s operation, but the equipment still needs to fulfill a practical purpose — transferring materials into their containers. This will take place in the filling area of the machine, where batches of containers move through the production line to be filled by the machine’s nozzles.
Typically, containers will move through the machine on a conveyor system. This is likely to be a belt or track that guides each container or vial tray through the machine in sequence, ensuring that containers remain evenly spaced and that no materials are lost and wasted during the process.
The sealing component
After the containers have been filled, they will need to be sealed before they leave the machine. The specific type of sealing required depends on the product and the container — for example, some pharma products require vials with childproof caps that will need to be applied and sealed according to industry regulations and requirements.
This sealing process is critical to the entire operation. It allows manufacturers and distributors to guarantee the sanitary and aseptic credentials of the products they handle.
A closed system
The entire filling process takes place within a closed system, similar to a pharmaceutical clean room. The only objects that can enter this system are loaded onto the conveyor belt and must pass through sterilization and heating chambers before they continue their journey, eliminating the risk of contamination at any other point within the process.
This means there is no human intervention in the process. Screens protect the interior of the machine, and no human operators or external agents can reach its inner workings. Basically, facility managers can guarantee that all containers and products are fully sterilized and that no contamination events can take place.
Control of the system is often administered via a touchscreen panel on the outside of the machine. This allows facility personnel to make changes and manage the process without the risk of contamination.
The benefits of an aseptic filling machine
Aseptic filling machines provide a wealth of benefits across a number of different industries. Key advantages include:
- A comprehensive sterilization process that is more reliable than topical antiseptic procedures
- A closed system to guarantee end-to-end sterilization
- Full compliance with industry protocols and recommendations
- Minimized wastage and product loss when compared with manual processes
- A swift and efficient process that can be scaled to meet increased demand
- Full control over the system, delivered via touchscreen technology that prevents contamination within the system
Aseptic filling equipment is a modern solution to the contamination problem
Aseptic filling equipment provides a forward-thinking answer to an age-old problem — that of contamination. By removing manual processes and focusing on a closed system, this equipment supports facility teams as they seek to achieve 100% reliability from sterilization processes. Meanwhile, digital touchscreen technology ensures that teams still have control over the process. The facility’s bottom line is also protected as wastage and product loss are reduced.