The packaging revolution
Whilst there are many applications for vision in the pharmaceutical
industry throughout the manufacturing process, more recently there
has been a lot of developments with regard to packaging inspection.
Packs are no longer merely transport or storage boxes. They are
dispensers, information sources, functional extensions of the
product and even lifestyle accessories. For optical inspection
systems, the resulting requirements are for more pack-specific data
and a growing need for high-density code verification and imagebased
quality inspection on high-speed lines.
The packaging challenge
Mis-labelled products not only present a tangible threat to public
safety but have major implications with respect to damage to the
pharmaceutical company’s brand and reputation. Since
considerable costs can be associated with recall notification,
product retrieval and liability, the overall effect on the finances and
credibility of a business during and post recall can be significant.
For example, cartons inadvertently packed with the incorrect
patient information leaflet can result in a product recall. Integrating
a vision system into a packaging line goes a long way to eliminating
such errors. There are also many logistics and quality control
strategies, such as the EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive – the FMD
(2011/62/EU) – or the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) Annex 1-
121. GMP Annex 1-121 requires a check on the plug position on vials.
Pharmaceuticals manufacturers have only until this year to comply
with the FMD by printing serialised 2D codes on each pack.
These serialised 2D codes will provide traceability from the point of
sale back to manufacture. This will allow product authenticity to be
checked at any point in the supply chain to reduce counterfeiting of
pharmaceutical products. Serialisation requires that the packs are
labelled, the labels verified by machine vision and all data passed
upstream to the appropriate place, and all at production line speeds.
A number of companies have implemented solutions for the
inspection of serialised codes. In the past, inline inspection was a
compromise between speed, precision, functionality, ease-of-use
and cost. That is changing. New, fast pattern-matching capabilities
mean image processing speeds are increased and errors reduced.
New algorithms address the effects of machine vibration and
changing light conditions. They allow fast processing of multicamera
and high-resolution inspections and simplify finding
optimal image processing parameters.
Interestingly, the tobacco industry has also begun to introduce
serialised 2D verification for its so-called ‘dot codes’. Although the
verification of alphanumeric codes – such as date and lot codes –
remains standard, many printed promotions have started to use