GlaxoSmithKline Manufacturing and Packaging, United States of America

Glaxo Wellcome, (now known as GlaxoSmithKline), a UK-based pharmaceuticals company, instigated a project in 1999 to expand the 652,000ft² manufacturing and packaging plant in Zebulon, NC. The new 220,000ft² stand-alone facility was purpose built for light manufacturing of dry powder inhalers containing medicines that treat respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The adjacent plant is the main centre for the production and packaging of the migraine treatment Imitrex (sumatriptan), a triptan drug, which has a sulphonamide group.

In 1984, Glaxo, as it then was, opened the Zebulon plant as its only US manufacturing and packaging site.

The merger between Glaxo and Wellcome in 1995 meant that the site was used by both companies with the former Wellcome site in Greenville, NC, being sold to Catalytica Pharmaceuticals in June 1997.

The facility currently manufactures aerosols, tablets and dermatology products and packaging for all products. It supports an administrative area, quality assurance laboratories, warehouse space and a cafeteria. GlaxoSmithKline is a leader in respiratory, central nervous system, AIDS/HIV and anti-infective research.

The Zebulon plant received a vote of confidence in autumn 1999 when the company announced that it was investing $90m in a 220,000ft² expansion. At the time, around 1,300 workers were already employed at the Zebulon plant — 800 full time and 500 as temporary or contract workers. The expansion would allow the firm to employ a further 200 people at the plant.

"In autumn 1999 the company announced that it was investing $90m in a 220,000ft² expansion of the Zebulon plant."

As part of its funding the plant received a $1.39m job development investment grant and also a $500,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund..

The expansion was completed in 2003. In 2005, the company announced another, $92m expansion, the third since the plant began operations. The expansion was expected to create another 200 jobs over a period of four years and was scheduled for completion in 2007. GlaxoSmithKline was offered $1.4m in state incentives for the jobs created by the expansion.


In 2008, however, GlaxoSmithKline forfeited the amount when it announced layoffs, a result of a decline in the company’s revenues due to reports linking bestselling drug Avandia to heart attacks.

Sales of Avandia were suspended in Europe and the US, and elsewhere it carried stricter warnings about its risks. Production of Avandia was halted at the Zebulon plant; it is now being manufactured in limited quantities at GlaxoSmithKline’s facility in Spain.

The plant is reeling under excess capacity after Avandia production was stopped. The company is now considering using the plant to produce and package more drugs for other pharmaceutical companies. The plant is currently operating with 500 people, and continues to produce Advair, a drug for Asthma.

Zebulon plant

Glaxo Wellcome awarded Jacobs Engineering Group the contract for construction of the Multi-Dose Dry Powder Inhaler (MDPI) facility in Zebulon in North Carolina in the US. Construction commenced January 1999 and this was completed by December 2000. The facility was fully functional by 2001.

"A pallet switching system was introduced in 2001 to prevent contaminated pallets coming into contact with the production area."

Jacobs Engineering Group, which is a well-known name in the pharmaceutical contracting industry, provided complete engineering and architectural services. Construction took around 24 months and following approval of the new facility by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the plant started operations in 2001. The FDA approves all new sites for production of medicines to be sold in the US, even those that manufacture and fill inhalers – which could be classed as medical devices.

The 220,000ft², stand-alone facility provides light manufacturing capacity for Glaxo Wellcome's MDPI products. It also includes production lines for blending, filling, assembly and packaging. The new plant incorporated advanced technologies using custom-designed equipment. The facility also has space for quality assurance, employees, maintenance, and warehousing functions.

Palletising upgrade

A pallet switching system was introduced at the plant in 2001 to stop possibly contaminated wooden pallets coming into contact with the production area. This means that product boxes are stacked on sterilised plastic pallets in an inverted position then moved to the shipping area and restacked (and inverted the correct way up) onto the wooded pallets for shipping.

Dillard Packaging Systems provided a fully automatic pallet swapping and stretch wrapping line that can handle 50 pallets an hour (saving $100,000 per year in labour costs). The system uses two Whallon robotic pallet placers to centre the loads before changeover from one pallet to the other during the process. The pallet inverter itself was supplied by Cherry's Industrial Equipment.

The stretch wrapping is carried out by a Lan-Wrapper V-Series turntable stretch wrapping system supplied by Lantech. All of the line equipment is controlled by Allen Bradley plc. The system can handle UK or US pallet formats and also a range of heights from 24 to 60in. The stretch wrap material used is Mobilrap Pro 70 linear low-density polyethylene stretch film.