With this year’s Pack Expo (Las Vegas) coming up in a few short weeks (Oct. 15-17), a look at the latest in packaging technologies is in order. Within the finite space of a magazine, however, our focus must be limited to a particular subcategory: vision systems. (Editor's Note: This online version also includes information on x-ray inspection systems and other packaging equipment.)
Machine vision applications in the pharmaceutical industry have broadened considerably over the last two decades, according to consultant Nello Zuech, president of Vision Systems International. Since the first system to perform filled ampoule inspection was introduced more than 20 years ago, machine vision suppliers have added application-specific systems for solid dosage inspection and blister pack inspection, on-line date and lot code verification, 2D matrix code or bar code reading and proofreading of labels/inserts/packages.
As pharmaceutical packaging and associated FDA regulations have become more complex in recent years, drug manufacturers’ expectations of vision systems have risen. Driving their growing adoption of these systems have been technological advances in the cameras themselves and the emergence of an infrastructure that supports machine vision, so that it is no longer an “island of automation,” Zuech points out. “Line information systems . . . seamlessly integrate the data into management information systems that optimize line performance, minimize downtime and yield productivity and quality improvements,” he says. “These systems are also responsive to FDA requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices.”
Many suppliers now offer both single-purpose sensors and integrated systems, systems that can “see” in full color and/or 3D, and sensors that operate reliably at extremely fast line speeds. In addition, connectivity to hardware such as PCs and PLCs (programmable logic controllers) has become commonplace. Software to collect, record and manipulate data from vision systems has proliferated, as both vision systems suppliers and packaging software providers have developed packages to help manufacturers meet FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 requirements, increase line efficiencies and improve supply chain management.
Below, we provide descriptions of selected vision sensors and systems, followed by information on x-ray inspection systems and other pharmaceutical packaging equipment that will likely be featured at Pack Expo.
Sensors Make Their Presence Felt
The PresencePLUS P4 AREA & AREA 1.3 Series includes application-specific and multi-application sensors for a wide range of uses. One key pharmaceutical packaging application is confirming that each package includes a product information insert. The leaflet can be placed in any orientation, but must be face up. The AREA's Geometric Find tool can tolerate 360 degrees of rotation to find the insert. If the insert is missing, the package is rejected. PresencePLUS P4 sensors feature serial, Ethernet and video connections, three bicolor status indicators, and inline housing. They combine Blob and Gray Scale tools to capture and analyze images, providing high-speed analysis of up to 10,000 parts per minute. Included as standard with all PresencePLUS sensors are remote TEACH, configurable I/Os, and live video and communications.
Banner Engineering Corp., Minneapolis, Minn.
Next-Generation Inspection Sensors
Cognex Corp. recently rolled out the next generation of its Checker inspection sensors, the Checker 200 series. These sensors are easy to set up and small enough to fit almost anywhere. They offer built-in lighting, variable working distance, and high-speed inspection at rates faster than 6,000 parts per minute. The Checker 200 can inspect multiple part features and deliver reliable, precisely timed, pass/fail results. Unlike conventional photoelectric sensors, the Checker 200 detects parts by finding an actual feature such as a product graphic; inspects multiple part features simultaneously, such as pills in a blister pack; and overcomes varying part positions on the line without requiring precise part handling. All Checker 200 series sensors have a rugged IP67 housing, quick disconnect cables, encoder-based part tracking, I/O and high-speed USB connectivity.
Cognex Corp., Natick, Mass.
Sensor Combines Intelligence with Vision
The ICS, Intelligent Camera Sensor, can perform object identification by easy area analysis to advanced contour conformity. Its compact housing contains all the components of a complete image processing system such as optics, object lighting, evaluation hardware and software. Suitable for very fast operations, the ICS provides for flexible use through its different evaluation methods and durable design. It can transmit parameters to or from a PC or a PLC (programmable logic controller), and allows teach data to be selected via PLC. In addition to the ICS, Sick’s vision sensor lines also include the IVC-2D (pictured below scanning antacid packages), Ranger and Ranger E.
SICK Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.
Sick's IVC-2D sensor inspects drug packages online.
Photoelectric Sensors Range Far and Wide
Series 31 Opti-Vue photoelectric sensors offer long sensing ranges in a small, rugged IP67 housing. Available in DC voltages with 4-in-1 output or AC/DC voltages with SPDT relay output. Models include Diffused, Retro-Reflective, Polarized Retro-Reflective and Thru-Beam sensors, with choice of cable or quick disconnect.