Therapeutic Dose: Getting to Know Used

June 21, 2006
New equipment isn’t always an option, and used is losing its stigma.

There was a time when used cars got no respect at all. A vehicle could be new or classic, but anything in between was shameful. Thanks to Lexus, BMW and the general acceptance of “pre-owned” automobiles, that has changed.

Used pharmaceutical equipment still has an image problem — one that dealers like the Frain Group (Franklin Park, Ill.) aim to improve. Frain’s suburban Chicago complex is no dusty back lot filled with cast-off mechanical dinosaurs. Its cavernous warehouses, which you tour by golf cart, are clean and organized down to the barcode on each equipment item. The offices are modern, and there’s even a glass-encased showroom with “demo” pharmaceutical (and food) processing and packaging lines. There are private, locked suites for pharmaceutical clients who wish to do FATs while maintaining secrecy about processes and product specs.

It’s all part of the strategy to give used equipment newfound respect, for those who wish to rent or buy. While “used” isn’t a dirty word around Frain, “pre-owned” is preferred because of the positive connotation it carries.

The time is ripe for used, especially in pharma. With budgets slashed, capital expenditures scrutinized, and flexibility and time to market critical for staying competitive, drug manufacturers are increasingly going pre-owned for their processing and packaging machinery. “Our company prefers not to go the used equipment route, but we were forced to due to changing market conditions,” says Sascha Kellermann, project engineer at Boehringer Ingelheim’s Roxane Laboratories, Inc. (BIRI; Columbus, Ohio). When demand for the its Mobic arthritis medication took off, it faced the prospect of waiting eight months for a new packaging line and possibly losing out on a golden opportunity.

It went the pre-owned route instead, sent two pieces of equipment that it had in-house to Frain and had an entire line constructed around them. Getting the line built, tested, shipped and up and running took six weeks. Validation and performance checks took just a week because specs were predetermined, whereas a new line might have taken a month or more, Kellermann notes. BIRI is currently renting another entire packaging line — including a tablet filler it had sold to Frain several years before. Training has not been an issue, Kellermann says, because operators are already familiar with equipment that was selected.

From the project engineer’s point of view, used equipment is always a viable option, Kellermann says. For his internal customers, however, there is still a clear bias towards the new. If, for example, a pre-owned line goes down, the equipment gets the blame. “Nine out of 10 times, it’s more of a perception thing,” he says.

Used equipment isn’t for every situation, Kellermann acknowledges. “It takes the design and specification out of our hands,” he says. “You get what’s available.” As with used cars, reliability and finding the right replacement parts are always concerns. With a tablet press or liquid filler, there’s the fear of cross-contamination from previous campaigns.

Frain addresses these issues by, first of all, having on hand some 7,000 pieces. It carries histories of past owners and products for all equipment, and has a team of engineers who clean and recondition each piece so that it is GMP-ready before it leaves the warehouse.

There’s nothing like new equipment — BIRI is replacing its rented 75-bpm line with a new, 200-bpm one this summer. But pharmaceutical manufacturers, if they’re smart, may want to get used to used.

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Managing Editor