Freund-Vector Corporation has it covered. The Iowa based manufacturer designs, produces, markets, and services coating and granulation equipment for a wide range of industries. The company was launched in 1972 when the founder obtained the rights to manufacture and market a line of rotary tablet presses. A few years later an agreement was reached with Freund Industrial Company of Japan, to market an automated tablet coating system for the pharmaceutical industry…
“That was back when most tablets weren’t coated,” Marketing Manager Steve Kray recalls. “Remember taking an aspirin as a kid and it started to dissolve right away and it had a bitter taste?” The industry knew that consumers preferred coated tablets, but the coating process at that time was long and arduous – until the Vector Company (as it was called at the time) had a perfect answer.
Traditionally, tablets could take most of a day to coat, slowing production and creating a headache for the pharmaceutical industry. The new automated coating systems along with new coating materials slashed this time to as little as two hours. Not surprisingly, the technology caught on like wildfire. “Tablet coating was becoming more popular, so it was a great market for us to be in,” Mr. Kray explains. “We were at the right place at the right time with the right equipment.”
The pharmaceutical industry still uses the system to this day – as do a number of other industries. In fact, Freund-Vector’s automated coating systems are ideal for products that need a consistent, high quality coating, from pharmaceuticals to airplane rivets to confectionary products like Skittles® and M&Ms®.
Other companies were also selling coating equipment, but one way that Freund-Vector set itself apart was by providing a complete solution, which included every component of the system as well as after service. “Originally, coating pans were only being sold and the customer would have to go out and source the other components of the systems,” Mr. Kray recalls. “We decided to sell a complete system – and to be responsible for the whole system. If something didn’t work, the customer didn’t have to call the air handler person or the controls person, they just called Vector. We were one of the first in the industry in selling a complete system and being a one call, full service company.”
The market responded with great enthusiasm. “Offering a complete system – not just a unit – was one of the things that helped us a lot and made our customer base grow,” Mr. Kray recalls.
Another major step for Freund-Vector was to add a factory acceptance test to its list of services. “We take the complete system and we actually do an installation in our assembly area where we hook up all the auxiliary components to the main unit,” Mr. Kray explains. “The system is calibrated; the whole system functions.” The advantages are clear. “It minimizes the start-up time and the start-up expense for the customer.”
Freund-Vector designs each and every system, so each customer gets exactly what they require. “Our equipment is custom manufactured. We have a standard system that we offer and then we partner with our customers to customize it for their specific process and specific installation.” In fact, nearly every system that the company produces is unique in one way or another. “Our engineering group always are commenting that we never sell the same two systems,” Mr. Kray laughs.
After service is an equally important part of Freund-Vector’s complete solution. With service representatives in the United States, South America, and Europe, as well as a full stock of spare parts ready for shipment, the company can fully support its customers. This ability sets Freund-Vector apart from many overseas competitors. “We’ve seen additional competition in the last five or six years coming out of China, Taiwan, and India, but they don’t have that customer service that we offer,” says Mr. Kray. “If something goes down and they [the customers] need a part, they have to go to China or Taiwan or India to try and get parts.” Many customers are realizing that lower initial costs simply aren’t worth the long term headache. “The advantage of someone buying something out of China or another foreign country – if there is an advantage – is just price,” Mr. Kray points out. A number of Freund-Vector customers have tried switching to foreign manufacturers to save a few bucks, “and then they will come back and buy a system from us because they have had too many problems. It [buying less expensive imports] looks good upfront – you are saving dollars – but you don’t really save in the long run.”
Freund-Vector has expanded its reach in recent years in order to adapt to an ongoing market trend. “The multinational companies have been expanding their operations and putting their manufacturing facilities in other parts of the world; it has become a very international market. So we have gone from being a domestic equipment sales company to an international company selling equipment all over the world. We have installations in South America, Asia Mexico, Canada, Europe – all over the world.” The company’s reach was enhanced when it was bought by the Japanese Company Freund Corporation in 1997 (after which Vector Corporation was renamed Freund-Vector). “Freund handles all the Asian countries,” Mr. Kray explains. “So the two of us basically have a worldwide coverage for the sale of granulation and coating equipment for solid dosage products. Between the two of us, we have over 5,000 installations in 50 plus countries.”
The newest market challenge that Freund-Vector intends to master is continuous manufacturing. “A big push in the last few years by the pharmaceutical industry is continuous manufacturing of products, so that is an area that we are moving into.” Instead of manufacturing huge batches of products, an increasing number of pharmaceutical manufacturers are opting for a smaller consistent stream of products rather than a stockpile. “This ‘just in time’ or continuous manufacturing will eventually become the new norm for new products,” Mr. Kray says. “Instead of 300 to 500 kilos per batch, continuous machines produce anywhere from five to 50 kilos an hour so they don’t have to have a large stockpile of drugs.” Freund-Vector is working closely with the pharmaceutical industry to develop the best systems for the job.
Freund-Vector’s equipment is also getting increasingly high tech. “The computer technology continues to improve,” Mr. Kray points out. The advantages are clear, particularly for an industry as tightly monitored as pharmaceuticals. “The automated process has been a great benefit to the pharmaceutical industry [because it] controls processes and verification of processes,” Mr. Kray explains. Not only is the process carefully controlled, but “they are able to record the history and help prove to the FDA that the process runs are the same time after time after time.”
As technology and the market continue to move forward, even more exciting advances are on the horizon. “We are just trying to keep up with the market,” Mr. Kray remarks. “So many of the pharmaceutical companies are doing different research; they are developing different technologies or techniques and we work with them to develop a product that suits their needs.”
A biotech focus may be another next step for Freund-Vector. “New drugs are using new types of manufacturing and new base products,” Mr. Kray explains. “It is a whole new industry.” The team has already forged a number of new paths over the last four decades, so it is only natural that they are considering taking on a new challenge. From pioneering a complete solution to helping the industry adopt continuous manufacturing, Freund-Vector has always been ready to lend a hand.