Pharmaceutical Packaging and Tracking Pick Up, Aided by Automation

Robotics Business Review

CHICAGO — “Pharmerging” countries, atypical innovation, and an increase in generic drugs from expiring patents are helping create unprecedented growth in pharmaceutical packaging and processing, according to a report from PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. Robotics is a key ingredient to business success, noted several people at the Healthcare Packaging Expo here last week.

By 2021, global pharmaceutical brand spending will approach $830 billion, while generic expenditures could push past $500 billion, said PMMI in its 2018 Pharmaceutical Packaging & Processing White Paper and accompanying infographic.

Pharmaceutical packaging companies based in the U.S., Europe, and other “non-emerging countries” need automated traceability solutions to ensure that counterfeit products don’t make it into the market, said the report. In addition, drug makers need to be able to quickly recall any defective products.

Automation and traceability solutions for pharmaceutical packaging were on display at the Healthcare Packaging Expo, which was co-located with Pack Expo International.

Food and pharmaceutical traceability

New U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules and pharmaceutical firms’ own interests are leading to greater demand for a variety of automated traceability systems, said Keith Kersten, marketing communications manager at Omron Automation.

With better traceability, pharmaceutical companies can limit the amount of product they need to take back in the event of any recall. They can just recall those with a certain barcode or a similar market, explained Kersten.

Omron's barcode readers enable traceability in pharmaceutical packaging.

Omron’s barcode readers enable traceability in pharmaceutical packaging. Source: Maggie Liu, Omron

In addition to pharmaceutical packaging, food producers are also recognizing the value of traceability, he said.

Barcodes and other markers can provide pharmaceutical and other companies with a fully traceable chain of custody throughout the entire supply chain, Kersten said.

Omron offers several traceability solutions:

  • The MicroHAWK ID industrial barcode reader features a compact design that can be easily embedded within space-constrained equipment, which Omron said is ideal for semiconductor manufacturing, packing equipment, automated laboratory testing, or any other situation that requires barcode readers to be included inside machines.
  • The LVS verifiers and print quality inspection systems can help ensure that 1D/2D barcodes, direct part marks (DPMs), and printed labels are readable and properly formed. Omron said this is important because, without a solid verification system, unreadable symbols and labels containing errors could be distributed throughout the production line or even into the market, causing valuable information to be lost.
  • The NX/NJ series controllers are designed to directly transfer traceability information to a SQL database without hampering machine control performance with embedded SQL connectivity.

Vision for pharmaceutical packaging

Vision systems can also help with positive identification of pharmaceuticals, helping to eliminate counterfeit products, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The annual total cost of counterfeit products is $200 billion, said the OECD.

Antares Vision offers a program in which it takes over management of a medicinal product starting from the finished product — capsule, tablet, vial, etc. — to final packaging in the pallets that are shipped to hospitals and pharmacists.

The Moorestown, N.J.-based company can also analyze pharmaceutical packaging and products in detail to ensure they fully comply with quality standards for things such as flaws, breakages, cracks, or broken blister packs.

There were several other automated systems with applications around pharmaceutical packaging, among other industries, at the Healthcare Packaging Expo.

RND Automation & Engineering integrates technologies such as FANUC and Epson SCARA and six-axis robots, rotary and linear indexers, MagneMotion assembly transport systems, and machine vision into both assembly and packaging machines. The company said it provides turnkey solutions for the most demanding assembly operations.

Bradenton, Fla.-based RND’s Kanga vertical pouching system is able to fully validate the pharmaceutical packaging process. The company’s MiniPack Servo, featuring an M-style gripper, is designed for packaging medical devices that need to be sealed, such as syringes.

Saukville, Wis.-based Matrix Packaging Machinery introduced the MVA3 Pharma, a compact vertical form fill seal (VFFS) sachet packaging machine for single doses of pharmaceuticals. A model for cosmetics, food, and other products is also available.

The MVA3 Pharma can form, fill, and seal up to four sachets per cycle and is rated at up to 70 cycles per minute. The compact MVA3 measures 5.5 ft. high by 2.7 ft. deep by 3.8 ft. wide (1.67 x 0.82 x 1.15 m).

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