High-Performance Optical Inspection Supports GNC’s Continuous Process

Dec. 3, 2014

GNC, the well-known global retailer of nutritional supplements, is respected for its focus on quality. To achieve it, GNC relies on its subsidiary, Nutra Manufacturing, to apply the company’s “quality first” principle to manufacturing. Over the years, Nutra has deployed high performance optical inspection systems to verify product quality.

Recently, Nutra installed several Symetix systems on their continuous drying lines for softgels. “VeriSym SE is the right size and capacity for our encapsulation lines, and it’s cost appropriate,” said Don Deegan, Nutra’s senior director, Softgel Operations. “This little vision system achieves 100 percent in-line inspection of softgels to assure product quality. It’s enabled us to replace a batch process with a continuous process, which reduces product handling and increases uptime. We’ve wanted this in-line inspection system for years.”

Designed to verify softgels continuously, in-line, following a single encapsulator or continuous softgel drying line or off-line in batch mode, the system inspects up to 200,000 softgels or tablets per hour within its compact footprint. Like its full-size cousin which can inspect up to 1,000,000 softgels or tablets per hour, the smaller VeriSym SE recognizes each object’s color, width, length and shape, and automatically removes product or items that do not meet physical appearance specifications including those with defects such as spots, color variation, air bubbles or misshapen softgels.

When processes were batch oriented, Nutra deployed size graders in-line after the continuous dryers to remove twins, clusters, empties and over- and under-diameter softgels. Nutra then batched the softgels and took them to the finishing room for inspection by one of their two high-volume inspection systems. Nutra manually inspected softgels when their volume exceeded the combined capacity of the two full-size inspection systems.

“Our main motivation in looking for this small, in-line vision inspection system was to ensure the consistency of our finished product. Whenever you replace a batch process with a continuous process, you take away opportunities to introduce variables into the product. With VeriSym SE, we’ve improved product consistency, product segregation and control of the lots,” said Chris Gossett, Manager of Softgel Engineering and Maintenance. “The fact that we gained efficiency because we don’t have to handle the product twice is an added bonus.”

With inspection in-line after the continuous dryers on discreet encapsulation lines, Nutra has repurposed its graders for use elsewhere. The company has eliminated the need to batch softgels for off-line inspection in the finishing room and eliminated the need to manually inspect softgels. “Before we submit a capital request, we calculate the equipment’s expected return on investment,” said Jeff Tweedy, production director for Softgels. “With VeriSym SE, that ROI projection created a one year payback. We based these calculations on very conservative estimates for three factors. We considered the gain in capacity, the elimination of manual inspection and the reduction in changeover time.”

“Changing over the VeriSym SE to handle the next product run is quick and easy. It takes about 10 minutes, and that includes clearing and cleaning the system as well as setting it up for the next product,” explained Tweedy. Deegan added, “Having this vision system in-line is a failsafe that mitigates the risk of any carry over between runs. There is still segregation during changeover, but the downtime between runs is reduced. We’ve increased our uptime on these lines by more than 10 percent as a result of the VeriSym SE systems.”

Symetix designed VeriSym SE for both nutraceutical and regulated pharmaceutical manufacturers. The system is FDA 21 CFR part 11 compliant with secure and encrypted logs, secure passcode management, parameter histograms and guided changeover. It meets FDA requirements and complies with GAMP guidelines.

“We put the VeriSym SE through a formal qualification process, beyond what the nutraceutical industry requires. We have successfully performed IQ, OQ and PQ on the systems,” said Tweedy. “As part of our normal quality oversight system, we still submit AQL samples from these lines. Since implementation of the VeriSym SE, we have not had a product put on internal hold. That is one of several measures of success.”