Technology Roundup: Seeing (Electronically) Is Believing

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.

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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. Visit to read more about x-ray inspection systems and other equipment used in pharmaceutical packaging that will be featured at Pack Expo.

Sensors MakeTheir Presence Felt

The PresencePLUS P4 AREA & AREA1.3 Series includes application-specificand multi-application sensors for a widerange 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 beface up. The AREA’s Geometric Find tool can tolerate 360 degrees of rotationto find the insert. If the insert is missing, the package is rejected.

Presence-PLUS P4 sensors feature serial, Ethernetand video connections, three bicolorstatus indicators, and inline housing.They combine Blob and Gray Scaletools to capture and analyze images,providing high-speed analysis of up to10,000 parts per minute. Included asstandard with all PresencePLUS sensorsare remote TEACH, configurable I/Os,and live video and communications.

Banner Engineering Corp.,Minneapolis, Minn.

Next-Generation Inspection

Cognex Corp. recently rolled out the next generation of its Checker inspection sensors, the Checker 200 series.These sensors are small and easy to setup. 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 pass/fail results. Unlike conventional photo electric 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 blisterpack; and overcomes varying part positions on the line without requiring precise part handling. All Checker 200 series sensors have an 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 easyarea 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 ora PLC (programmable logic controller),and allows teach data to be selected via PLC. In addition to the ICS, Sick’s vision sensor lines include the IVC-2D (pictured right scanning antacid packages), the Ranger and the Ranger E.


SICK Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

Laser Measurement Sensor Maximizes Flexibility

Omron’s ZX laser measurement sensor system features a single amplifier unit that supports 11 different sensing heads interchangeably, eliminating the need to purchase unique amplifiers for each sensing head. Heads available include eight visible red laser reflective sensing heads and three through-beamheads. The ZX calculating module compares two ZX sensor inputs, performs math functions, and then activates control outputs for thickness and jam detection measurements. The ZX amplifier includes two numeric displays and keys for inputting values and setting values. Teaching functions simplify setup of high/pass/low discrimination outputs and analog transfer output to a SCADA system. The ZX sensor is suited for use on packaging lines to detect rejects, and on production lines to verify proper positioning of work pieces.

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