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Outsourcing Done Right

Wed, 04/25/2012 - 6:21am
Mike Auerbach, Editor in Chief

Many times we get caught up in the numbers – the measurements of this industry. How many tablets can you produce? How many bottles does that machine output? How many pounds of product can you process? While these numbers might be useful in getting an overall feel for what a particular company can do – it’s almost always not the entire picture.

Take for example Pharma Tech Industries (PTI), a contract manufacturer and packager based in Royston, Georgia. The company, self-described as the largest contract processor and packager of powder products in the world, can process a staggering amount of products. For example, the company produces over 1 billion effervescent tablets a year, moves over 50 million pounds of powders yearly, and the numbers for their cotton swab and injection molding production lines are equally large.

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But what sets them apart from others in the contract manufacturing industry is their ability to take a product, and not just package it but make every single component of that product in their facility, while making sure every product is given the attention to detail and customer service it deserves.

History

The facility that PTI currently occupies in Royston is a little over 268,000 square feet located on 70 acres. The company also operates a smaller 100,000-square-foot facility in Union, MO. PTI, has been around since the early 70’s, but the defining moment for the company was in 2005 when they acquired their Royston facility from J&J, who was using the site to manufacture some of its consumer products. When J&J wanted to outsource these products, PTI jumped in – but soon realized that if they wanted to manufacture J&J’s products they were also going to need the facility.

According to Tee Noland, PTI’s Senior Vice President: “It soon became obvious that, in addition to the products, the company also was going to need the plant. J&J wanted to outsource all the products made here – and no one had the capacity to do the volume needed. The initial reason why PTI was involved was our core expertise in topical powders – but then it became evident that whoever was going to make these products needed the capacity to do it and had to get involved with the facility as well – so we got involved. The acquisition of the Royston facility was a huge thing for us because of the space it offered for further expansion, the diversification into new technical areas, and the strategic relationship with J&J.”

Today most of PTI’s products are OTC and, while J&J is still their biggest customer, the company has relationships with Sanofi Aventis, Merck, GSK and Prestige Brands among others. Manufacturing such a high volume of effervescent products in 2008 was a milestone for the Royston facility because it was its largest technology transfer to date. Its first was in 2006, when PTI brought in an OTC oatmeal bath product which got them into the pouch filling business. The company now manufactures approximately 1 billion effervescent tablets a year, using Fette tablet presses for the compression step.

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PTI's facility manufactures 1 billion effervescent tablets a year.

The tech transfer of the effervescent business was complicated, as Noland explains: “The brand was sold by Pfizer to J&J and was being made in a Pfizer facility in Puerto Rico. J&J wanted to transfer the assets to a supplier in their network. We bid for the product and developed a total solution for them to transfer the entire process turnkey into our plant. We built out custom low humidity suites for the manufacturing and packaging process and engineered a whole new manufacturing operation,  then transfered the compression and packaging lines from Puerto Rico to our Royston facility.”

Aside from the effervescent product and bath products transfers, Noland points out, moving into the Royston facility was a tech transfer as well. “The start-up of this facility - integrating it from a J&J facility to a Pharma Tech facility - was a tech transfer in itself. We had to build in a new ERP system and basically build all of our systems from the ground up, as well as transform the operation from an in-house to external manufacturing approach.”

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PTI's pharma suite offers Class 100,000 clean room space for prescription products.

Today,  PTI has a lot of available capacity for both OTC products and prescription Rx products as they have made a sizable investment in Class 100,000 clean rooms.  In 2010, PTI launched its first NDA prescription product, a cholesterol medication that is manufactured as a powder in a sachet. The product was previously available in tablet form and the company helped the client, a major global pharmaceutical company, reformulate it into a powder so consumers can take the drug more readily and avoid having to swallow multiple, large tablets for the same treatment. According to Noland, prescription products are a significant growth area for the company.

Strengths

In addition to their strengths with technology transfer PTI also prides itself on its service and quality. When you manufacture and package product in such large quantities as PTI does – these two traits are paramount. “What we think we execute well on is service and quality,” says Noland. “We make an effort to collect data and feedback from our clients to measure our overall effectiveness both quantitatively and qualitatively. From the bottom to the top of our organization, we have a culture based on customer service and, from a technical standpoint, we feel we can do just about anything. We hope that these strengths position us well as a long term, strategic outsourcing partner for the industry.”

He continues, “‘Outsourcing Done Right’ is our slogan and approach to how we work with all of our clients – we want them to feel that they are in good hands and we are there for them in good times and bad. We want them to know that we will continue to deliver high quality products to them time after time. Our objective is to be the best turnkey pharma outsourcing partner for Rx, OTC, medical device and personal care products in the world.”

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The company not only does powder filling, but can also manufacture bottles,
caps and provide graphics for any project.
 

“We like to think of ourselves as vertically integrated,” Noland says. ‘We can process from raw materials to finished goods. We make finished product for our clients that can be shipped right to their distribution centers. Everything from manufacturing, to packaging, to on-site release testing and even component molding can be done in this facility which makes us fairly unique. Actually one of our largest departments in this facility is our molding department – and you don’t typically see people who mold, package and manufacture all in one site.”

Quality and Compliance

The mark of any good contract facility is its record with the FDA, and PTI’s is stellar. The Royston facility was last audited in 2011 and has never had any 483 observations. “This record is a testament to our people here and our focus on quality and compliance,” says Noland. “We also get audited by our clients regularly – every other month or so – it helps keep us on our toes to make sure we have the best quality systems in place.”

To further showcase its desire to expand more into the prescription side of the business, PTI recently hired a senior director of quality to overlook both of their facilities. “Our new quality director has a strong pharmaceutical background,” says Noland “and he is helping us take things to the next level.” Additionally, PTI has made substantial investment into Class 100,000 design clean room suites for manufacturing and packaging Rx and NDA type products.

Facility

One thing you notice inside PTI’s plant is that most of the equipment is running without a lot of human intervention. As Curtis Coile, the company’s plant manager in Royston, explains, “We use as much automation as we can because of the high volumes of product that come and go through our facility.  We move an average of 30 to 40 trucks of finished goods out of our facility each week.”

For example, the process to produce baby powder is a totally closed loop system, run by PLC’s. Talc and corn starch are supplied to bins, then measured onto a weigh belt, fed to a blender where a little fragrance is automatically added – then to a sifter and finally to the filling line and into bottles. Each of the three high speed filling lines are integrated with checkweighing, capping, coding, sealing, bundling, and case packing and all production data is tracked. Robotics for bundling and case palletizing are automatic. The entire system runs on demand with little intervention.

In the effervescent processing area, the company makes up “kits” of all the ingredients needed for a batch, moves these kits into blenders, then to transfer tanks and from the tanks into the tablet presses. The company manufactures over 1 billion effervescent tablets a year and remarkably has the capacity to double that number.

“We are really good at powders,” says Coile. “We are ideally set up for powders – we can put them in a bottle, tablet or pouch – we do it all. The thing that we can offer that no one really grasps – is vertical integration, total supply chain management. If you want to put a tablet into a plastic bottle – we can do the whole thing from A to Z - we can build the tools, mold the bottles, blend your compound, put that compound in a high speed tablet press or a high speed filling line – then send it out the door. We can do all of that in our new pharma suite as well.”

The company also manufactures cotton swabs in a highly automated process that takes raw cotton from bales, converts that into soft cotton and applies the cotton to the sticks – which they also make in house – to the tune of over 5 billion sticks a year.

Conclusion

It’s clear the company has perfected powder processing and packaging – but is not content to rest on its laurels. “We are looking to expand our approach” says Noland, “to not only focus on powders – but to look at other opportunities that make sense – ones that fit into our strategic objectives – to be niche oriented.”

He continues, “We look at both acquisitions and tech transfers as a way to do that. Where we can bring in custom equipment into our facility and build out a custom area for a client that has a specific need or goal. We are able to do that because we have a very strong project team that is able to execute. We have some very strong technical engineers that have a lot of experience in diverse processes. We also have the quality assurance, purchasing, operations, and customer service people that all come together to enable us to successfully execute any future tech transfers.”

 

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