Pierre Fabre’s slogan is “From health to beauty”, and putting this underlying concept into effect demands a lot of the manufacturing and packaging processes. The quality and hygiene standards for processing cosmeceuticals are extremely high.
The French company Pierre Fabre develops and manufactures cosmeceuticals, along with oncological and dermatological drugs. A great deal of time and money goes into researching plant-based and synthetic substances: According to the company's own figures, Pierre Fabre reinvests approximately 14 per cent of its pharmaceutical turnover in pharmaceutical research and development.
Pierre Fabre is therefore very familiar both with the very high pharmaceutical standards for aseptic processing and with the requirements of the cosmeceuticals themselves. Pharmaceutical ingredients and the substances in cosmeceuticals have a great deal in common, because many of the substances used in cosmeceuticals are also very cost-intensive to obtain and difficult to process. The hygiene requirements for filling and packaging are correspondingly high. Technologies from pharmaceutical engineering can be used as the prototype for processing cosmeceuticals but cannot simply be copied.
One segment in Pierre Fabre’s successful cosmeceuticals range is bodycare products. In order to comply with the special requirements for filling and packaging these products, Optima has developed a bespoke machine concept based on the OPTIMA Moduline. The OPTIMA Moduline offers the greatest flexibility for filling and sealing different containers. For André Raynaud, who was in charge of the project at Pierre Fabre, another important factor in the investment decision was that this was a standard (modular) machine model and had therefore been tried and tested.
The so-called two-phase products from Pierre Fabre pose a challenge for the filling process. These dermatological cosmeceuticals are intended, for example, to both cleanse and nourish skin (see text box). The Moduline is able to process fluids ranging from free-flowing to highly viscous and even foaming: lotions, water, gels, oils, and milky products. If products with such different properties need to be combined in one container, a special technical solution is required.
Optima has developed a specific filling module that has separate filling nozzle hubs for the first three and the second three filling stations. So each two-phase product is bottled in two stages: the first three filling stations deliver the first-phase dose and the second three filling stations the second-phase dose.
This means that, for example, oily and aqueous fluids come together in a continuous, linear process. These two-phase products are only shaken shortly before the cosmeceutical is applied, so the ingredients are mixed together for a short time and then separate again after use.
Since these are expensive ingredients, filling accuracy is vital. On the production line at Pierre Fabre, the OPTIMA Moduline now achieves filling accuracy of no less than 98 per cent. To check the filling accuracy, operators of the HMI can request product samples by switching to sample mode. André Raynaud explains that the sample can be transported to the discharge point without halting production. The operators can choose to send containers filled with the first-phase product, the second-phase product, or the complete mixture down the sampling channel.
The MODULINE can process four container types ranging in size from 20 to 50 ml. The effective output is between 80 and 120 containers per minute, according to André Raynaud. Because of the many different ingredients, there is an immensely wide range of products. “We are currently filling two container types with 20 different formulations. From September 2018, there will be two more container formats for shampoos,” said André Raynaud.
Each change of product requires those parts of the machine that come into contact with the product to be cleaned. At Pierre Fabre, there is a separate machine for washing them. That is why the dosing parts of the machine that come into contact with the product have to be removable. Optima has provided a completely tool-free solution: In a few easy steps, the connections can be undone and the dosing needles safely put away. The parts that have been in contact with the product are taken away on a trolley to the cleaning station. A second set of dosing parts that have already been cleaned will then be waiting at the OPTIMA Moduline machine ready for fitting.
This is not the only special factor to take into consideration when processing cosmeceuticals. “The machine is in an air-conditioned environment that is also supplied with filtered air,” explained André Raynaud. Inside the enclosed machine, a targeted airflow carries any particulates past the filling and sealing stations – and therefore also past the product. He added: “We comply with ISO 8 classification inside the filling and sealing unit.” Pierre Fabre bought the laminar flow unit from a French manufacturer and it was fitted under Optima’s guidance.
An entirely different but also hugely important aspect of processing cosmeceuticals concerns certificates and verification. First of all, manufacturers have to ensure that any materials coming into contact with the product have the necessary material certificate. Furthermore, any welded seams coming into contact with the product have to be made by certified welders. In everything to do with documentation, Optima Consumer was able to draw on the expertise of Optima Pharma, where these procedures and the so-called 3.1 certificates are standard practice.
The project and the collaboration as a whole were very efficient, constructive, and harmonious. Once the contract had been awarded, no further changes were made to the basic concept. The daily communication between Pierre Fabre and Optima and the close contact with other suppliers concluded with joint factory acceptance testing in Schwäbisch Hall. This was followed by commissioning and the start of production in Soual (southern France) in mid-October 2017, both of which ran successfully and according to plan. André Raynaud was full of praise for the way deadlines were kept to throughout the project, for the customer focus and, not least, for the excellent language skills of Optima project leader Kristina König, which made communication and cooperation much easier.
When asked what was the main factor leading to the decision to award the contract to Optima at the start of the project, André Raynaud replied: “Above all, the good experience that we had already had with our first Optima machine.” The new line seems to be living up to his expectations: “So far we have produced about five million items on the machine. It works really well,” concluded the French project manager.
What are the characteristics that distinguish between cosmetics, medication, and cosmeceuticals? The legislation does not yet offer any binding rules or definitions. Like cosmetics, cosmeceuticals are simply subject to the EU Cosmetics Directive and must be safe and skin-compatible. This leaves considerable room for interpretation.
The manufacturers themselves and market research institutes refer to the fact that cosmeceuticals are characterized by having active ingredients which pass through the skin barrier (but are not allowed to enter the bloodstream). They bring health benefits (but must not promise to relieve or cure illness).