BRIEF: Photonics for Improved Pharma Process

July 1, 2015
From tablet marking to quality assurance, lasers and machine vision are boosting functionality and efficiency.

Editor's note: this is a 60-second version of the original article. To read the full length feature, click the link at the end of the brief.

In the multidisciplinary pharma industry, photonics plays an increasingly crucial role in the manufacturing process. From quality assurance to marking, the scope of photonics is wide-reaching. Specifically, the use of lasers and machine vision in oral solid dose (OSD) manufacturing is revolutionizing functionality, security and speed while reducing costs and boosting efficiency.

In certain regions of the world, a growing problem concerns medication quality, stemming from poor manufacturing processes. When medicine is inexpensive in less-developed countries but moves through the gray market to be resold in countries without drug pricing regulation, such as the U.S., the availability of cheaper drugs in developed markets can take away from a manufacturer's margins and profit. Laser marking of unique product identification, both overt and covert, helps control and promote an orderly supply chain.

Lasers now are used in several ways for pharmaceuticals, particularly where traceability and security are important considerations. Packaging is being laser-marked with a unique identification number, allowing for manageable tracking through the supply chain. A given product can be traced to a specific manufacturing facility, batch number or manufacturing date, providing transparency and accountability and ultimately boosting consumer confidence.

With OSD tablet marking, high-speed lasers have the capability to mark on the fly with a unique identification number – even down to individual tablet level – without slowing down process speed.

Several types of sensors are in commercial use today, including inductive, photoelectric, fiber optic, ultrasonic, magnetic and camera-based vision systems. Some sensors can identify not only the location of the conveyor but also the presence of the OSD form, directing the laser to fire when the tablet is properly placed.

Laser-based machine vision technology truly automates pharmaceutical manufacturing, making the process systematic, highly efficient and cost-effective. Lasers significantly increase production uptime, streamline the process and reduce costs, all while delivering new and improved capabilities ranging from product identification to functionality.

Adding identifying marks and barcodes to tablets, other dose forms and packaging is important, but without automated inspection and quality assurance, this process would be inefficient. Across companies, machine vision systems are being added to printing devices, ensuring that dose forms are complete and unbroken, while also verifying print quality.

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