Patent application title: VACUUM TRAY-FILLING
Christian A. Thiede (Bellevue, NE, US)
IPC8 Class: AB65B3102FI
Class name: Methods with contents treating vacuum or gas treating
Publication date: 2012-12-20
Patent application number: 20120317927
An apparatus for lifting a predetermined number of solid medicants from a
supply location and depositing them in a packaging container comprised of
one or more cavities in a predetermined orientation using a pressure
differential across the medicants may include a head assembly including
at least one of a substantially sealed enclosure or a hollow chamber
having a plurality of apertures providing fluid communication between the
at least one of the substantially sealed enclosure or the hollow chamber
and the ambient air, the plurality of apertures spatially arranged to
correspond with a plurality of cavities of a packaging container, the
head assembly including a port having a coupling communicating with the
at least one of the substantially sealed enclosure or the hollow chamber.
The apparatus may also include a vacuum source in communication with said
coupling at least one of directly or via a flexible tube.
1. An apparatus for lifting a predetermined number of solid medicants
from a supply location and depositing them in a packaging container
comprised of one or more cavities in a predetermined orientation using a
pressure differential across the medicants, the apparatus comprising: a
head assembly including at least one of a substantially sealed enclosure
or a hollow chamber having a plurality of apertures providing fluid
communication between the at least one of the substantially sealed
enclosure or the hollow chamber and the ambient air, the plurality of
apertures spatially arranged to correspond with a plurality of cavities
of a packaging container, the head assembly including a port having a
coupling communicating with the at least one of the substantially sealed
enclosure or the hollow chamber; and, a vacuum source in communication
with said coupling at least one of directly or via a flexible tube.
2. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein at least one valve is positioned at least one of inside or outside at least one of the head assembly, coupling, flexible tube, or vacuum source allowing an operator to at least one of temporarily decrease a flow of air between the at least one of the substantially sealed enclosure of the hollow chamber and the vacuum source or temporarily increase a flow of ambient air into a component of the apparatus.
3. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein a surface comprising the plurality of apertures is configured to be removed and replaced with a surface comprising a second plurality of apertures having at least one characteristic different from the plurality of apertures.
4. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein a surface may be at least one of removed or manipulated to allow access to an interior of a housing.
5. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein a handle is affixed to a surface of at least one of the head assembly or the coupling between the at least one of the substantially sealed enclosure or the hollow chamber and the flexible tube for manipulation of the head assembly in a manner which does not obscure the line of sight of an operator viewing the medicants through at least one of a transparent top plate or a transparent bottom plate.
6. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein the coupling communicating with the chamber and the flexible tube is configured to be used as a handle for manipulation of the apparatus by an operator.
7. The apparatus as recited in claim 1, wherein at least one solid or flexible covering is at least one of located upon the surface comprising the plurality of aperatures or extends into at least one aperture to substantially block the flow of air through said apertures.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 The present application claims the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/497,320, filed Jun. 15, 2011, and titled "VACUUM TRAY-FILLING," which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.
 It is common practice in pharmacy, especially long-term care, to package solid-dosage forms of drugs (tablets, capsules, caplets, and the like) in blister-pack cards, where the container is provided with a plurality of cavities, which are typically numbered. The medications are later successively removed from the card by the patient or care-giver, the contents of one cavity at a time, to be consumed at specified times and/or days of the month. Typically, these cards are filled by hand by placing the desired quantity of tablets, one at a time, in each of the designated cavities before sealing the container. This is a time-consuming process which may be repeated hundreds to thousands of times daily. An alternative to this process is pharmacy automation with the use of large robotics to fill the contents of each cavity with the appropriate number of tablets or capsules. This is a prohibitively expensive endeavor for many pharmacies.
 The detailed description is described with reference to the accompanying figures. The use of the same reference numbers in different instances in the description and the figures may indicate similar or identical items.
 FIG. 1 is a partial bottom perspective view illustrating a vacuum tray-filling apparatus in accordance with an example implementation of the present disclosure.
 FIG. 2 is a partial exploded top perspective view of the vacuum tray-filling apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1, further illustrating, by dashed lines, the relative position of one or more removable base plates attachable to the device.
 FIG. 3 is a partial cross-sectional side elevation view of the vacuum tray-filling apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1.
 FIG. 4 is a partial cross-sectional side elevation view of the vacuum tray-filling apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1, further illustrating tablets supported by various aperture designs in and/or attached to the bottom wall.
 FIG. 5 is a partial cross-sectional side elevation view of the vacuum tray-filling apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1, further illustrating the use of one or more magnets within the walls of the chamber and removable base plates to secure said plates.
 One technique for packaging medications uses a pressure differential across surfaces to retain and position tablets in a pre-specified pattern for deposition in blister-packaging. In one type of configuration, a box-shaped suction head having transparent top and bottom walls is connected to a vacuum tube through the top wall. The top wall also includes an opening for allowing an operator to create vacuum pressure by obstructing the opening with one hand when the suction head is connected to a vacuum source via the vacuum tube, and a handle for supporting the suction head with the other hand. The bottom wall includes apertures for retaining medications when the suction head is connected to the vacuum source. However, this type of configuration provides no access to the interior chamber of the suction head assembly for cleaning Because manufacturing tablets typically involves the compression or compacting of powder into a solid dose, while capsule manufacture generally entails enclosing powder in a relatively stable shell, a small quantity of these powders is inevitably present in the primary medicament packaging and is subsequently transferred to the tray or bin from which the suction head "lifts" the medications. During normal operation of the suction head, this powder leaves a residue on the inside surfaces of the vacuum chamber, which decreases optical clarity and may cause cross-contamination.
 Further, this type of configuration does not provide a way to vary the deposition of quantities or arrangements of tablets or capsules based upon the medication regimen of the patient or the needs of the facility distributing the medications. Based upon pharmacokinetics, some patients require dosing intervals of greater than twenty-four (24) hours for some medications. These patients may take some medications every other day, every third day, or at other various intervals. In addition, some long-term care facilities have their medications filled in blister-packaging that is required to correspond numerically with the days of the month. Medications filled for different facilities can therefore have different "starting dates," or corresponding numbers from which the month supply is to be filled. For example, if a facility begins their cycle on the thirteenth (13th) day of the month, all cards must be filled from the thirteenth (13th) cavity through all subsequent cavities until the end of the current month, and then begin the following month with the first (1st) cavity through the end of their particular cycle. Thus, when new medication regimes are started in the middle of a monthly cycle, the blister-packaging must begin with the cavity corresponding to the first date the medication is to be administered and continue until the end of the particular cycle, rather than be filled with a standard month supply.
 Visual examination through the transparent walls of the suction head assembly is essential in ensuring that the correct quantity of drug is retained by each aperture. In the box-shaped suction head configuration described above, the accuracy of the filling operation is limited by requiring an operator to locate an opening on the top of the device and place the operator's hand (or some type of mechanical flap) over said opening to reduce the pressure within the chamber during normal operation. This type of configuration effectively blocks an operator's view of the medications held by the suction head--either with the operator's hand in the case of a blocking operation, or the use of a hand to actuate the flap. The placement of a handle in the center of the visual field of the top wall atop the device further obscures the operation of the suction head.
 The above-referenced type of configuration may also present difficulties for an operator when tablets or capsules become stacked upon each other, or are turned on an axis dissimilar to that of the other medications to be retained. In this type of instance, the flat surface on the bottom of the hand-held vacuum chamber is limited in its downward travel to the greatest height of the supply point. Thus, when the distance between the remaining apertures and tablets or capsules is too great, retention of medication does not occur on said apertures.
 Accordingly, a vacuum tray-filling apparatus is described. The vacuum tray-filling apparatus may be used for packaging in a pharmacy workplace for later distribution and use (e.g., for quantifying and/or arranging tablets, capsules, caplets, and the like). Said packaging may include blister packs, bubble cards, vials, or other means of distributing medications in solid dosage forms. The vacuum tray-filling apparatus may be used for transferring a one month supply (or variation thereof) of capsules, tablets, caplets, and the like from a supply point to a packaging container. In some implementations, the tray-filling operation may be achieved in approximately the same time required for the transfer of one capsule or tablet, thereby greatly reducing the amount of time required to fill the card. Further, this type of implementation provides reduced complexity and cost savings when compared to robotics, while exhibiting a significantly smaller footprint with regards to workspace in the pharmacy than a robotic device. In implementations, the vacuum tray-filling apparatus provides an accurate way to fill various solid dosage forms of medications, and can be easily cleaned to maintain optical clarity and eliminate cross-contamination, while providing the flexibility necessary to meet the demands of both diverse medication regimens of patients and the needs of their providers.
 FIGS. 1 through 5 illustrate vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 in accordance with example implementations of the present disclosure. The vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 includes a source of vacuum (not shown) in fluid communication with a substantially sealed enclosure or chamber defined by a housing 102 and one or more surfaces including a plurality of apertures 104. Portions of the enclosure may be formed from transparent or semi-transparent material for allowing an operator to view the interior of the enclosure. For example, top and bottom surfaces 106 and 108 of the enclosure may be formed from transparent material. The openings 104 formed in the enclosure may be holes on a flat surface, tubes, or other shapes, such as hemispheres of a size and shape to provide adequate contact with objects 110, allowing the desired number and/or configuration of objects 110 to be retained via pressure differential across opposing surfaces. The apertures 104 may be arranged in a spatial pattern which would allow the distribution of objects 110 to corresponding individual cavities in a selected packaging format or into a funnel-like device which would facilitate the deposition of objects 110 into a bulk storage container such as a vial when released. The apertures 104 are designed to facilitate contact with tablets or capsules arranged in a variety of planes and axes on the supply container. When said apertures 104 are placed in contact with the objects 110 to be transferred, the vacuum source attached to the device creates a pressure differential within the chamber sufficient to retain the objects 110 while the device is moved to the desired location.
 When the objects 110 are aligned with their desired packaging location, the source of vacuum to the chamber is momentarily stopped (e.g., via manual, pneumatic, or electrical actuation of a valve (ball, diaphragm, butterfly, or the like)). In implementations, a valve 112 for stopping the vacuum to the chamber may be positioned in the vacuum line, such as positioned within a vacuum tube 114 connecting a vacuum source to the housing 102. When the vacuum supplied to the chamber is terminated, the objects 110 are no longer retained by the device via pressure differential, and gravity deposits the objects 110 in their respective desired locations. The vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 also includes access to the interior of the enclosure or chamber to clean tablet or capsule residue for restoration of optical clarity and prevention of cross-contamination between uses. The vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 includes a handle 116 to couple the enclosure with the vacuum source. For example, a hollow handle 116 can be included with the vacuum hose 114 extending to the vacuum source. In implementations, the handle 116 is configured to provide a convenient way for an operator to support the enclosure, while still allowing a clear line of sight through the transparent walls of the enclosure to the interior chamber. Further, placement of the handle 116 allows an operator to easily rotate the housing 102 to contact the objects 110.
 As shown, the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 may be used with multiple removable base plates 118 to ensure the capacity to fulfill both patient and facility-specific requirements with regards to placement of medicaments in their respective cavities. For example, the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 allows the operator to layer/stack numerous removable plates 118 to effectively block the flow of air through desired apertures 104. For example, one particular base plate 118 can have apertures for cavities 1-28 of a particular card, and no apertures for cavities 29-31 of that card, while another base plate 118 can have apertures for only odd numbered days to create a pattern of, for example, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, and 27. In this manner, various base plates 118 may be utilized to create a desired pattern of tablets or capsules to fill the appropriate cavities relating to the dosing schedule of the patient. In some implementations, customization of open apertures may be accomplished by the use of small plugs (e.g., pegs) or partial plates to block air flow into specific apertures as would be required to achieve the desired array and/or quantity of tablets or capsules. In some instances, a vinyl piece may be used to cover one or more of the apertures 104. The vinyl piece may be adhered to a flat surface of the removable plate 118 to obstruct one or more apertures 104, and then can be peeled away after a filling operation is completed. The plates 118 may be held on by means of friction, magnets, loops and dowels, or other attachment techniques (e.g., as illustrated by magnets 120 in FIG. 5). By providing the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 with a removable base 108, the interior of the housing 102 is accessible to the operator for cleaning In other implementations, this may be accomplished by the use of a sliding panel in any surface of the device, a full or partially hinged wall, or other configurations for allowing access to the interior of the housing 102.
 In implementations, the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 may be configured so that all desired apertures 104 are capable of contacting tablets or capsules when the device is motioned downward towards the supply source. For example, the surfaces containing the apertures 104 may be constructed from a flexible material (e.g., silicone, vinyl, or the like). Further, the shape of the material surrounding the aperture may be configured to provide a bottom plate 118 which increases the number of openings in direct contact with the supply source of medications by creating multiple planes and axes of apertures 104. For example, the material surrounding one or more apertures 104 may be constructed in various shapes, including hemispheres, tubes, and/or other shapes. In one implementation, the apertures 104 may be formed in clear, flexible cups 122 and/or flat surfaces 124 composed of silicone (e.g., as illustrated in FIG. 4). Silicone may be selected for its ability to conform to a tray of tablets that may be non-uniform in height or axial orientation.
 In implementations, the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 may be configured to increase the pressure within the device to facilitate normal operation of the device without obscuring an operator's view of the apertures 104. In some implementations, this is accomplished by terminating vacuum to the vacuum chamber (i.e., stopping the flow of air out of the chamber) via a valve 112 in the vacuum supply to the vacuum tray-filling suction head, rather than by increasing the volume of air supplied to the chamber from outside the device. In some implementations, a push-button momentary switch 126 may be provided on the handle 116 of the vacuum tray-filling apparatus 100 for blocking the flow of air from the chamber to the vacuum source. This may be accomplished by connecting the switch 126 to the solenoid valve 112 via wiring routed through the vacuum hose. In other implementations, a switch may be activated to connect the vacuum chamber to the vacuum source, rather than to disconnect the vacuum chamber from the vacuum source.
 Although the subject matter has been described in language specific to structural features and/or process operations, it is to be understood that the subject matter defined in the appended claims is not necessarily limited to the specific features or acts described above. Rather, the specific features and acts described above are disclosed as example forms of implementing the claims.
Patent applications in class Vacuum or gas treating
Patent applications in all subclasses Vacuum or gas treating