Title:
Semi-automatic vial closing apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A vial closing machine includes an indexed mechanism to facilitate movement of vial fixtures between a plurality stations—loading, filling, sealing, and unloading; integration of a filler and manifold system, to dispense a pharmaceutical product equally into each of the vials; an electrical enclosure containing a programmable logic controller or a series of timers to control filler, sealing mechanism, indexer movement; a moveable heat sealing device providing pressure against an opposing respective device which creates pressured system required for sealing process; a material flattener, attached to the moveable heat sealing device, used to pre-flatten a vial below a sealing area in order to create a reliable seal without damaging the integrity of the vial material; and a means for removing filled and sealed vials from vial fixture. The vial closing machine may be one of two types—a Ferris wheel design type or a stadium design type.



Inventors:
Lippman, Glenn W. (Boca Raton, FL, US)
Lippman, Gerald (Delray Beach, FL, US)
Application Number:
10/280443
Publication Date:
04/29/2004
Filing Date:
10/25/2002
Assignee:
LIPPMAN GLENN W.
LIPPMAN GERALD
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B3/00; B65B51/14; (IPC1-7): B65B3/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PARADISO, JOHN ROGER
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GLENN W. LIPPMAN (BOCA RATON, FL, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. An apparatus for filling and sealing vials, the apparatus comprising: one or more vial fixtures for holding one or more vials to be filled with a substance; an indexed mechanism to facilitate movement of one or more vial fixtures between a plurality stations, the plurality of stations including: a filler station comprising a filler mechanism and manifold system, attached to the indexed mechanism, to dispense a substance into at least one of the vials; a sealing station comprising a sealing device for providing pressure against an opposing sealing device for creating the necessary force to seal one or more vials, wherein at least one of the sealing device and the opposing sealing device are movable so as to pinch the one or more vials while sealing to create a reliable seal without damaging the vial; and an unloading station for removing filled and sealed vials from vial fixture; and a control system electrically coupled to one or more of the stations and the index mechanism in order to control the movement of the vial fixtures between the plurality of stations.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the indexed mechanism comprises a Ferris wheel design so as to move the vial fixtures in an orbital path from station to station.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the plurality of stations further includes: a loading station connected to a trough to hold vial fixtures to be loaded onto the indexed mechanism.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the indexed mechanism comprises a stadium design so as to move vial fixtures along a conveyor track from station to station.

5. The apparatus of claim 4, wherein the stadium design type includes one or more levels of indexed mechanisms and stations such that each level is positioned tandemly to prevent interference.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the sealing station includes a material flattener, attached to at least one of the sealing device and the opposing sealing device, so as to pre-flatten one or more vials below a sealing area to facilitate sealing the vials in order to create a reliable seal without damaging the vial

7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the moveable sealing device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the opposing respective device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener.

9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the means for removing filled and sealed vials from vial fixture comprises one of a mechanical cam and a second level return.

10. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the moveable sealing device is a heat sealer using at least one of an impulse heat sealing, an ultrasonic heat sealing, a high frequency heat sealing device and a wedge sealing device.

11. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the sealing device is operated by one of electrical means, pneumatic means and hydraulic means.

12. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the indexing mechanism is operated by one of electrical means, pneumatic means and hydraulic means.

13. A Ferris wheel type apparatus for filling and sealing vials, the apparatus comprising: at least one vertical wheel assembly with one or more vial fixtures pivotally attached thereto for holding a one or more vials, wherein the vertical wheel assembly is rotatably mounted on a horizontal shaft for positioning the one or more vial fixtures to a plurality of stations placed at different elevations with respect to the shaft, the plurality of stations comprising; a filler station mounted at first circular position with respect to the vertical wheel, the filler station comprising filler mechanism and manifold system for dispensing a substance into at least one of the vials; a sealing station mounted at a second circular position with respect to the vertical wheel, the sealing station comprising a moveable sealing device for providing pressure against an opposing sealing device thereby creating the necessary force to seal at least one of the vials, wherein the sealing station includes a material flattener, attached to the moveable sealing device, so as to pre-flatten one or more vials below a sealing area to facilitate sealing the at least one vials in order to create a reliable seal without damaging the vial; an unloading station mounted at a third circular position with respect to the vertical wheel for removing filled and sealed vials from vial fixture; and a control system electrically coupled to one or more of the stations and to a motor for rotating the vertical wheel in order to control the movement of the vial fixtures between the plurality of stations.

14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the vial fixtures pivotally attached to the vertical wheel assembly includes a roller wheel which is adapted to engage a stationary race-way attached to the horizontal shaft, so as the vial fixture is positioned from one station to another station and the vial fixture passes by the stationary race, the vial fixture is rotated in a direction opposite to a direction of the vertical wheel and to an angle sufficient to cause at least one of the vials loaded into the fixture to fall out of the fixture due to gravity.

15. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the vial fixtures pivotally attached to the vertical wheel assembly includes elongate troughs attached to a second vertical wheel assemble rotatably mounted on a second shaft which is coaxially positioned to the shaft of the vertical wheel, so that when both the vertical wheel assembly and the second vertical wheel assembly rotate, the vial fixtures are moved to the plurality of stations positioned along a circular path around the shaft.

16. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the moveable sealing device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener.

17. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the opposing respective device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener.

18. A stadium type apparatus for filling and sealing vials, the apparatus comprising: a horizontal conveyor system with one or more vial fixtures attached thereto for holding one or more vials, the conveyor system adapted to position the one or more vial fixtures to a plurality of stations placed at different locations along the conveyor system, the plurality of stations comprising; a filler station mounted at first position with respect to conveyor system, the filler station comprising filler mechanism and manifold system for dispensing a substance into at least one of the vials; a sealing station mounted at a second position with respect to conveyor system, the sealing station comprising a moveable sealing device for providing pressure against an opposing sealing device thereby creating the necessary force to seal at least one of the vials, wherein the sealing station includes a material flattener, attached to the moveable sealing device, so as to pre-flatten one or more vials below a sealing area to facilitate sealing the at least one of the vials in order to create a reliable seal without damaging the vial; an unloading station mounted at a third position with respect to the conveyor system for removing filled and sealed vials from vial fixture; and a control system electrically coupled to one or more of the stations and to a motor for positioning the conveyor system in order to control the movement of the vial fixtures between the plurality of stations.

19. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the unloading station is positioned at an elevation lower than a top surface of the conveyor system so that at least one of the vials fall out of the fixture due to gravity.

20. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the moveable sealing device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener

21. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the opposing respective device comprises at least one of a stack, anvil and flattener

22. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein at least one of the stations is operated manually.

23. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the vials are interconnected by strips to form a collection of vials.

24. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein a single generator is electrically connected to a plurality of stacks for sealing the vials, whereby the generator is electrically switched so as to sequentially energize each of the plurality of stacks for a predetermined period of time.

25. The apparatus of claim 8, wherein a single generator is electrically connected to a plurality of stacks for sealing the vials, whereby the generator is electrically switched so as to sequentially energize each of the plurality of stacks for a predetermined period of time.

26. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising an exit slide for receiving the vials, which have been filled and sealed.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 1. Field of the Invention

[0002] The present invention relates generally to the field of heat-sealing apparatus and more particularly to a semi-automatic and automated heat-sealing process to effect high speed sealing of interconnected polymeric vials after filling each vial with a pharmaceutical product.

[0003] 2. Description of Related Art

[0004] As the pharmaceutical industry has grown, there has been a demand for vial closing machines to be compact and located at each pharmacy. Today's high-speed machines are physically too large for the pharmacy. Single stand-alone heat sealers are limited to manual or automatic vial entry, then filling, then sealing, then unloading all in a sequential order. Although some operations can take place concurrently such as loading and filling or loading and sealing, the basic current apparatus is a sequentially based operation.

[0005] Previously, stand-alone machines such as that described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,336,489, “Method and Apparatus for Impulse Sealing Polymeric Vials in Tandem” filed on Jun. 1, 2000, not only operate in a sequential manner, but also depend upon heater bars for the sealing operation and often toggle clamps are required for accurate positioning of the vials. The constant opening and closing of the toggle clamps promotes wear on these parts and therefore requires frequent replacement causing unnecessary downtime and expense.

[0006] As production demands increase, so does the productivity of the apparatus. This requirement was initially addressed by increasing the size or length of the sealing machine such that more interconnected polymeric vials are positioned in tandem, and sealed in the same time period. Productivity was addressed with size. However, there is a need to produce a vial sealing machine with increased productivity without significantly increasing the overall size of the machine.

[0007] Ultrasonic sealing has been used to close vials in the past, however one of the more prevailing problems using ultrasonic sealing is when the rounded or straight edge of an ultrasonic horn comes into contact with the vial material. Since the vial material is formed, it has an elasticity that will cause the material to form around the ultrasonic horn, thus creating burn holes into the vial material.

[0008] Thus, there is a need to overcome the disadvantages of the prior art as discussed above, and in particular to provide a semi-automatic and automated heat-sealing process to effect high speed sealing of interconnected polymeric vials after filling each vial with a pharmaceutical product.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0009] An integrated indexed mechanical system is comprised of several stations including loading, filling, sealing and unloading. Each station is active concurrently with the all other stations. So, at the same time the filler station is filling each vial, the sealer is sealing each vial, operator is loading vials, and the machine is expelling filled and sealed vials. This turntable approach is formulated in the embodiment of a Ferris wheel type mechanism and also in a stadium type mechanism.

[0010] The Ferris wheel type mechanism has each of the four stations positioned 90 degrees apart. Multiple sets of interconnected vials effect increased production rates.

[0011] The Stadium type mechanism uses an inline approach such that loading, filling, and sealing is on one level and unloading is on a lower level. Multiple levels facilitate an increase in the number of vials filled and sealed within the same production rate. And as additional levels are added, the total number of filled and sealed vials increase without necessarily increasing the footprint size of the machine.

[0012] Both machine design types are expandable. The Ferris wheel type expands by increasing the number of interconnected vial sets thus increasing the width of the machine. The Stadium type expands by increasing the number of levels for increased machine height, and/or increasing number of interconnected vial sets for increased machine width.

[0013] The present invention provides a high speed heat sealing mechanism capable of exceeding the current vial productivity rate of approximately 60 vials per minute without increasing the relative size of the apparatus to produce filled and sealed vials. The present invention reduces maintenance and replacement parts, provides modularity, increases handling efficiency, maximizes quality, decreases overall cycle time, and increases machine safety. Further, the present invention increases throughput by coupling the integrated indexed mechanism to one or more automatic vial loading stations. The use of automatic vial loading stations enables the cycle time to remain constant even while the number of vials processed concurrently increases.

[0014] Moreover, the present invention provides a mechanism that pre-flattens the vial in an area within close proximity of sealed area. With this mechanism, burn holes are avoided. This mechanism and its use will substantially reduce this problem from occurring with other ultrasonic sealing applications for vial closing.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] The subject matter that is regarded as the invention is particularly pointed out and distinctly claimed in the claims at the conclusion of the specification. The foregoing and other features, and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

[0016] FIG. 1 is a side-view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Ferris wheel design type showing each of the four indexed stations according to the present invention.

[0017] FIG. 2 is a front-view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Ferris wheel design type showing relative position of stand alone or interconnected vials as it relates to FIG. 1 according to the present invention.

[0018] FIG. 3 is an isometric full assembly view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Ferris wheel design type according to the present invention.

[0019] FIG. 4 is a front-view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Stadium design type showing each level of two levels such that the top of each level is for loading, filling, and sealing, and the bottom of each level is for expelling filled and sealed vials and for return of fixtures to loading station according to an alternate embodiment of the present invention.

[0020] FIG. 5 is a side-view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Stadium design type showing relative and tandem position of each level as it relates to FIG. 4 according to an alternate embodiment of the present invention.

[0021] FIG. 6 is an isometric full assembly view of an automated vial sealing machine of a Stadium design type according to an alternate embodiment of the present invention.

[0022] FIG. 7 illustrates an example of a strip of interconnected vials in accordance to the present invention.

[0023] FIG. 8 is an exemplary schematic defining control logic used for machine operation of either Ferris wheel or Stadium design types according the present invention.

[0024] FIG. 9 is an isometeric full view of the automated vial sealing machine of a Ferris wheel design of FIG. 1, according to the present invention.

[0025] FIG. 10 is an isometeric full view of the automated vial sealing machine of a Stadium Wheel design of FIG. 6, according to the present invention.

[0026] FIG. 11 is an isometeric full view of an embodiment of a portion of the heating stack used with the designs of FIGS. 9 and 10, according to the present invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Overview

[0027] It should be understood that these embodiments are only examples of the many advantageous uses of the innovative teachings herein. In general, statements made in the specification of the present application do not necessarily limit any of the various claimed inventions. Moreover, some statements may apply to some inventive features but not to others. In general, unless otherwise indicated, singular elements may be in the plural and vice versa with no loss of generality. In the drawing like numerals refer to like parts through several views.

[0028] The present invention, according to a preferred embodiment, overcomes problems with the prior art by providing an integrated indexed mechanical system comprised of several stations including loading, filling, sealing and unloading. Each station is active concurrently with the all other stations, and any of the stations may be automatic, manual or a combination of both. So, at the same time the filler station is filling each vial with a substance, the sealer is sealing each vial, an operator is loading vials, and the machine is expelling filled and sealed vials. This turntable approach is formulated in the embodiment of an indexed mechanism in the form of a Ferris wheel type mechanism and also in a Stadium type mechanism. The substance contained in each vial may be any liquid, powder, solid, or gas that is dispensable into a vial such as vitamins, pharmaceuticals, candies, food, beverages, whether organic or inorganic and equivalents. The vials may be made of plastic such as polymeric materials.

[0029] Two exemplary embodiments are described in the present invention to meet the requirements of automatic or semi-automatic, a small footprint, a high throughput, and low maintenance. These two designs are described as the Ferris Wheel design and the Stadium Design.

[0030] A first exemplary embodiment illustrating the Ferris Wheel machine design is now described. A more detailed description for this Ferris Wheel machine design follows. Turning now to FIG. 9, shown is an isometeric full view of the automated vial sealing machine of a Ferris wheel according to the present invention. The machine frame 902 is designed to sit on a counter top (not shown). A series of vials 112 are placed into a vial fixture 114 which are rotated in an orbital direction from station to station. The stations are various positions in the orbital path of this Ferris Wheel embodiment include loading, filling, sealing, and unloading. The front loading station 914 is positioned to enable easy loading of a plurality of vials 112. It is important to note that all of the stations may be fully automatic, semi-automatic or manual. The automatic attachment is not shown for simplicity and is shown in FIG. 1 as more fully described below. In this exemplary embodiment there are four fixtures 114 mounted between two octagonal wheels 912. A filler station 104 with distribution manifold 910 is used to fill each of the vials 112 with a predetermined amount of a substance. As the vial fixtures 114 rotate towards the interior of the machine, a sealing station 916 seals the top of the vials. Continuing in the same direction of rotation, an unloading station 918 is used to invert each vial fixture 114 for unloading as shown in FIG. 1 as described further below. An optional housing 908 for the electronics and controls 906 is situated on top of the machine as shown. The electronics are more fully illustrated in FIG. 8. A one-way clutch 904 is shown to make sure the Ferris Wheel only turns in one direction and this is especially important when the vials are being sealed against an anvil as further described below.

[0031] A second exemplary embodiment illustrating the Stadium design is now described. FIG. 10 illustrates an isometeric full view of the automated vial sealing machine of a Stadium Wheel design according to the present invention. Like the Ferris wheel design, the machine frame 1002 is designed to sit on a counter top (not shown). A series of vials 112 are placed in the vial fixture 114. In this example, the Stadium Design has two redundant levels, an upper level and a lower level. These levels run in parallel to permit higher throughput of the machine in the compact space. For each level a vial fixture 114 is rotated in an orbital direction from station to station. The stations include a loading station, a filling station, a sealing station, and an unloading station. The loading station 102, the filling station 104, and the sealing station 120 are placed side-by-side along the width of the machine. The unloading station 108 is placed at a bottom portion of each level the machine 108. The filler station 104 with distribution manifold 1010 is used to fill each of the vials 112. As the vials rotate towards the right side of the machine they are sealed and as the vials rotate towards the lower end of the machine, the vial fixture is inverted for unloading as shown in FIG. 4 described further below. A housing 1008 for the electronics and controls 1006 is situated on top of the machine as shown. The electronics are more fully illustrated in FIG. 8.

[0032] Common to both of these machine embodiments of the Ferris Wheel and the Stadium, is sealing station 120 which includes a sealing apparatus as shown in FIG. 11. The sealing apparatus includes an ultrasonic horn 120, a pre-flattener 124 and an anvil 122 for working in cooperation with the pre-flattener 124. The area of the vials 112, typically the top open end, are positioned in the vial fixture 114 between the horn 120 and the anvil 122. This is more easily understood by referring to FIG. 1 below.

Details of Ferris Wheel Embodiment

[0033] Now a more detailed description of each design and the electronics follows. Beginning with the Ferris wheel design, shown in FIG. 1 are four stations positioned 900 apart. Multiple sets of interconnected vials effect increased production rates. The Ferris wheel design type includes four indexed stations revolving about a center shaft 110. Each station consists of vial fixtures 114 such that vial fixture 114 is contained within a long trough 128 with dividers separating each strip of interconnected vials. Circular rods 126 at each end of the trough 128 attach each trough to a set (first and second) of vertical wheel assemblies 130, support the trough 128 and enable the trough to rotate to an upside-down position for unloading. Each station provides a different, albeit concurrent, function. Loading station 102 is for loading individual vials 112 or a strip of interconnected vials 112. The Loading station 102 in one embodiment is automatic and uses a plunger 132 to push a vial 112 biased up against the wall 138 down through opening 134 as shown by direction 136 to be received in Loading stations 102. It is important that in one embodiment, several vials are loaded at once in groups in Loading station 102 (not shown). This facilitates a higher throughput in the Loading station 102. The vials are either joined as shown in FIG. 7 or separate. Filler station 104 is reserved for filling each vial by using a distribution manifold containing a filler mechanism 302 (shown in FIG. 3) located above the vial fixture 114 located at station 104 or filler mechanism 302 could be located at another location away from the Filler station. Sealing station 106 is where vials are sealed. In the preferred embodiment, the welding method used is ultrasonic welding, and as such, a moveable sealing device such as an ultrasonic horn 120 and material flattener 124 move horizontally against vials 112 towards an opposing sealing device such as anvil 122. It should be noted that other means of sealing, such as heat sealing using a heated platen or impulse welding, could be used in place of the ultrasonic welding. The use of the material flattener 124 to pre-flatten the vial 112 below sealing area creates a better, more reliable seal without damaging the integrity of the vial material. When in position, the horn 120 is energized to ultra sonic levels of vibration, creating heat between the compressed walls of the vial 112. While under pressure with heat, and subsequently without heat, (also known as cooling), the vial 112 is closed and sealed. Alternately, the ultrasonic horn 120 may be stationary and the anvil 122 may be mobile, or both anvil 122 and ultrasonic horn 120 could move together in an opposing motion. In the embodiment where both the anvil 122 and ultrasonic horn move together in opposing motion, it has been shown through experiments that the flattener 124 is optional and depends on how the vial is clamped or held during the sealing process.

[0034] The purpose of the flattener 124 is to pre-stress the vial, and not to seal the vial 112 when only the anvil 122 or the stack moves to seal the vial. The flattener 124 is made from any material including metal, ceramic, plastic, composite or a combination thereof and may be formed in a wide variety of shapes depending on the vial 112 and the geometries of the anvil 122 and fixtures to hold the vial 112 during the sealing process. The edge of the flattener is coming into contact with the vial 112 is rigid and can be any geometric shape including a straight edge, convex, a point which permits pre-stressing of the vial. When the flattener 124 is used with an ultrasonic means, then the flattener 124 may not touch the horn 120. If another heating or welding means is used, then the flattener may or may not touch the sealing apparatus based on the selection of flattener material and whether or not the material would distract energy flow direction. For example, if the method of heat sealing uses a heated platen, and the flattener 124 is made of aluminum, then intimate contact would sink energy from platen to flattener, and the flattener 124 would become the heated platen, which would not be desirable.

[0035] The sealing device described above for the ultrasonic horn 120, anvil 122 and flattener 124 has several variations. For convenience, the term “stack” refers to an ultrasonic horn, ultrasonic sonotrode and ultrasonic booster. The stack is powered by an ultrasonic generator. If another means of welding is used, the stack and anvil are not applicable. For example, if an impulse sealing means is used, the sealing device is comprised of impulse sealing bar and anvil or impulse sealing bar against another impulse sealing bar.

[0036] A sealing device and method, which has been found to be used advantageously in the present invention is disclosed in U.S. patent application, Ser. No. 10/0321,119 entitled “Method for Semi-Automatic Retrofit of Vial Closing Machines” filed on Dec. 31, 2001, which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

[0037] Further in one embodiment several vials are sealed at once using a generator matched to each horn to permit sealing the vials simultaneously. Alternatively, a single generator may be sequenced to one or more horns. Each horn would seal a vial using the generator for a predetermined period of time, before the generator is sequenced to the next horn in the series. A single generator sequenced to a series of horns. A “sequencer” for a generator in this embodiment is available by DuKane. Still, in another embodiment, only a single horn and generator is used and moved quickly from vial-to-vial for sealing. After vials 112 are filled and sealed, the vial fixture 114 holding the vials 112 move through a roller wheel 116 which turns the vial fixture 114 upside down in Station 108 causing vials 112 to drop down through an unloading slide. When the vial fixtures move from Station 108 clockwise towards Station 102, the vial fixtures 114 move through a roller wheel 118 similar to roller wheel 116, acting as a mechanical cam device, which pivots the vial fixture 114 90°, or right side up, for sequence of operations to begin again by loading new vials 112 into vial fixture 114 at loading station 102. FIG. 2 illustrates the location of filler station 104 as it relates to unloading station 108. It is important to note that the exact number of stations is not important and a various number of stations are within the true scope and spirit of the present invention.

[0038] FIG. 3 illustrates an isometric front and side view of the Ferris wheel design type and illustrates relative position of distribution manifold 302 shown above trough of vial fixtures 114. Machine controls consist of ultrasonic generator 308, line filters, programmable logic controller, and other control devices and are located in the control section 304. Ultrasonic mechanical components known as a stack 306 consist of a sonotrode, booster and horn. The stack 306 is encapsulated within an acoustic tile material rated specifically to reduce the noise associated with ultrasonic sealing.

Details of Stadium Embodiment

[0039] The Stadium type mechanism, an alternate embodiment of the present invention, uses an inline approach of a conveyor system such that loading, filling, and sealing is on the top of upper level 424 and lower level 426, respectively, along a stationary raceway (conveyor track) and unloading is on the bottom of upper level 424 and lower level 426, respectively, along a second stationary raceway (conveyor track). Multiple levels facilitate an increase in the number of vials filled and sealed within the same production cycle. As additional levels are added, the total number of filled and sealed vials increase without necessarily increasing the footprint size of the machine. The relative front and side view layout of the Stadium design type with two levels is shown in FIGS. 4 and 5. A vial fixture 422 is a carrier or buggy that moves from station to station along a chain 410 for the upper level 424 and chain 412 for the lower level 426. Movement of chain 410 and chain 412 around roller wheels 414 and 416 for the upper level 424 and roller wheels 418 and 420 for the lower level 426 is concurrent. Movement is from left to right. A set of interconnected vials 112 is loaded into vial fixture 422 at station 402 for upper 424 and lower 426 levels. After a predetermined cycle time, vial fixture 422 moves to station 404 where the vials 112 are filled. Filling is accomplished by using a filler pump 602, and a distribution manifold 608 and 610 located above the vial fixture.422 located at filler station 404 for upper 424 and lower 426 levels. Refer to FIG. 5 to see relative position of upper 424 and lower 426 levels. FIG. 5 also illustrates relative position of Camco indexer 502, which is the indexable motor used to move vial fixture 422 from one station to the next. When vials 112 are filled, and after a predetermined cycle time, vial fixture 422 moves from the filling station 404 to sealing station 406 for upper 424 and lower 426 levels. At the sealing station 406, ultrasonic horn 520 and material flattener 524 move horizontally against vials 112 towards anvil 522. When in position, horn 520 is energized to ultrasonic levels of vibration, creating heat between the compressed walls of the vial 112. Again, as with the Ferris wheel design, while under pressure with heat, and subsequently without heat, (also known as cooling), the vial 112 is closed and sealed. After vials 112 are filled and sealed, the vial fixture 422 moves along chains 410 and 412 and around roller wheels 416 and 420 such that vial fixture 422 returns to station 408 in an upside down position. While vial fixture 422 returns and is moved through three indexed return stations, the vials 112 drop from the vial fixture 422 to an unloading tray positioned to expel filled and sealed vials. Vial fixture 422 continues to move along chain 410 and 412 until vial fixture 422 moves about roller wheels 414 and 418 positioning vial fixture 422 in right side up position for loading at station 402. The sequence of operation begins again. As shown in FIG. 4 there may be six vial fixtures 422 moving along chain 410 for upper level 424 and an additional six vial fixtures 422 moving along chain 412 for lower level 426. The number of vial fixtures may be increased or decreased within the true scope and spirit of the present invention. For example, at the exact time when vials 112 are in vial fixture 422 at the filler station 404, another set of vials 112 are in another vial fixture 422 at the sealing station 406, and at the first indexed unloading station 408 directly below station 406, and at the second indexed unloading station 409 directly below station 404, and at the third indexed unloading station 407 directly below station 402, and at the loading station 402 on each of the two levels. As shown in FIG. 4, each level is positioned such that the levels are in tandem as they relate to each other. Additional levels could be added in the same manner. It is important to note that the exact number of vial fixtures is not important and various number of vial fixtures are within the true scope and spirit of the present invention.

[0040] FIG. 6 illustrates an isometric front and side view of the Stadium design type and illustrates the relative position of each level as it relates the loading, filling and sealing stations. For this design the filling of each vial 112 is accomplished with a distribution manifold, which is located above the filling station 404 over each level. So, for a two level Stadium design type machine, there are two sets of distribution manifolds, one positioned above the upper level 424 and the other position above the lower level 426. Since the Stadium design type 400 uses tandem positions for each stackable level, there is no interference created by having more than one manifold. There is an ultrasonic generator and stack 606 consisting of a sonotrode, booster and horn for each level. Each stack 606 is encapsulated within an acoustic tile material rated specifically to reduce the noise associated with ultrasonic sealing. Controls 604 for the Stadium design 400 are similar to those described for the Ferris wheel design 100 and will be discussed in detailin FIG. 8.

[0041] These compact integrated designs use either impulse sealing or ultrasonic sealing methods to heat-seal and close the vials. Impulse sealing cycle times may range from 10-30 seconds whereas ultrasonic sealing cycle times vary from 1-5 seconds. Machine productivity is equal to number of vials processed multiplied by number of cycles in one minute. So, for example, a 5 second cycle time produces 20 cycles per minute, and if each cycle is sealing 24 vials, then total production is 24 vials per cycle multiplied by 20 cycles per minute or 480 vials per minute. Ultrasonic sealing provides the quickest cycle time, thus can increase productivity by as much as 800% over conventional existing methods or heat sealing apparatus as disclosed to date.

[0042] Both machine design types are expandable. The Ferris wheel type 100 expands by increasing the number of interconnected vial sets thus increasing the width of the machine. The Stadium type 400 expands by increasing the number of levels for increased machine height, and/or increasing number of interconnected vial sets for increased machine width.

Details of Vials

[0043] FIG. 7 illustrates an example of vials 112 and illustrates how vials could be interconnected to form a strip of vials. A strip of vials may contain any number of vials 112. FIG. 7 also illustrates relative regions A and B of a vial 112. Region A is the region sealed. Medicines are filled into the vial 112 and pass from region A to region B. Fill level resides in region B. The vials can be loaded as a unit using Loading station 102 in one embodiment where the strip of vials forms one unit. In FIG. 1, the strip is not shown and the perspective would be perpendicular to the paper. Vials from several manufactures have been shown to be used advantageously with the present invention including vials manufactured and/or distributed by STAT, AVERY, LETCO, BMJ/Adept vials.

Details of Control Logic

[0044] FIG. 8 illustrates exemplary control logic used to program the programmable logic controller of the control system used to manage the order of sequential and concurrent operations. The sequence of operations, as shown on the schematic, includes the following steps. Operator presses “Start” switch to begin operation. Relay 1 closes and is maintained. Index motor moves Indexer 1 to first station. After this first movement, Relay 5 is operated by the Microswitch 242 to close. Relay 5 energizes Relay 2 and Filler mechanism, holds if closed, and energizes Hydraulic Valve to move the Hydraulic Cylinder to prepare for heat sealing. At the end of Cylinder stroke, Microswitch 89 is closed, Relay 3 is energized and holds, and closes the Sealing Timer for Generator 1 and Generator 2 and Generator 3 (provided that these three Generator On/Off switches are closed). Sealing Timer starts and, when timer completes time cycle, Cooling Timer starts. After Cooling Timer completes, Relay 4 is energized which locks-in and also energizes the Cylinder's return stroke. Only when the Cylinder is in the return position will Microswitch 73 energize Relay 6, which opens Relay 1. This resets everything as well as the emergency STOP switch, if used. This system is foolproof because every action is consecutive, depending on the completion of the previous action. Pressing the Start Switch operates the Camco Indexer, Filler Pump, hydraulic cylinder, ultrasonic generators, cooling cylinder return, and Completion of Cycle. Operations are sequential. Filler circuit assures filling is completed before a cycle may continue. A safety feature is used to assure loading is completed before a cycle may continue.

[0045] An optional loading slide (not shown) is added to both the Ferris wheel embodiment and the Stadium embodiments so as to assist an operator in quickly loading strips of vials without the automatic attachment.

[0046] Moreover, an optional exit slide (not shown) to either of the embodiments described above for stadium and Ferris wheel is added. The exit slide gathers vials from the machine. The slide in one embodiment is motorized, as in a conveyor. In another embodiment, the slide works with gravity; and slide can expel vials either to a side of the machine or to front or back, or below machine.

[0047] Although specific embodiments of the invention have been disclosed, those having ordinary skill in the art will understand that changes can be made to the specific embodiments without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Additionally, many modifications may be made to adapt a particular situation to the teachings of the present invention without departing from the central inventive concepts described herein. Furthermore, an embodiment of the present invention may not include all of the features described above. The scope of the invention is not to be restricted, therefore, to the specific embodiments, and it is intended that the appended claims cover any and all such applications, modifications, and embodiments within the scope of the present invention.