HP: Serializing the Tablet, Courting Big Pharma

Jan. 12, 2006
The world’s largest ink producer, Hewlett-Packard, is looking to put its stamp on pharmaceutical tablets and capsules. It’s assembled a team of partners for printing and serializing drug products, and now just needs a commitment from a major drug maker.
By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor
Pfizer recently announced that it had begun a web-based service by which distributors, wholesalers and retailers could log on to the web and verify a drug bottle’s EPC code. (See "Pfizer’s Staver on RFID: 'Technology Isn’t the Only Solution' ") Hewlett-Packard is behind an effort to offer a similar service, but one that would allow consumers, if they so desired, to use the Internet to verify each and every pill they take. The initiative would use software and services provided by Verify Brand, Inc. (Minneapolis), which is partnering with HP and several other vendor companies to offer full-service tablet- or capsule-level anticounterfeiting solutions.HP has been working on its inks and fluids for on-tablet printing for some time now, particularly at its Puerto Rico facilities. It is in talks with Pfizer and other major pharmaceutical manufacturers to apply the technology to a product and have it approved by FDA, says Homayoun Akhbari, strategic alliance manager for Hewlett-Packard.“We can’t just make one pharmaceutical ink and have it work with any pharmaceutical product,” says Akhbari. “It has to be compatible with different substrates of tablets.”The equipment to serialize the tablet with non-contact, inkjet technology has already been developed in collaboration with inc.jet (Norwich, Conn.), which is providing the printing cartridges and components, equipment maker Efficient Automated Machine Corp. (Long Island City, N.Y.) and system integrator Luciano Packaging Technologies (Somerville, N.J.).
A. Tablet and capsule feed hopper and conveyor feed assembly
B. System control screen
C. Ink cartridge printing station
D. NIR drying station
E. 100% vision camera inspection system
F. Tablet and capsule individual reject station with verification
G. Tablet and capsule “firm grip” conveyor puck system design
H. System fabricated in all stainless steel, pharmaceutical-grade materials

The printing equipment (illustration, above) has been designed by former Pfizer tablet handling and printing expert John Kawochka, EAM’s VP. It operates at speeds of up to 800,000 tablets per hour, and will be displayed at March’s Interphex show in New York City.HP is also working with pharmaceutical manufacturers on thermal inkjet printing for capsules. Non-contact printing offers clearer, cleaner printing than traditional pad printing, says Akhbari. “The print quality and ease of use is usually the first thing that printing experts notice,” he says. “But the anticounterfeiting aspect is the clear driver behind this. They see the value of printing on-demand, unique serialized codes.”