Packagers are looking to inspection systems for new functionality, and better process control.
As effective as end-of-the-line inspection solutions may be, in-process inspection provides cost and time saving advantages that manufacturers cannot afford to ignore. Easily scalable camera-based vision systems can be used at various stages of the packaging process, for example, to establish 100% inspection and improve process control.
As packagers prepare for serialized bar coding, cameras are often required or preferred for the reading and verification of matrix-style codes and complex linear bar code structures such as GS1 DataBar.
“Our customers are looking for 100% inspection. The last thing they want is an FDA recall resulting from missing or light print, broken characters, or obscured instructions for use,” says John Chris, director, business development, Control Group USA (Norwood, NJ).
Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA) has launched In-Sight Track & Trace, an add-on software package for Cognex In-Sight vision systems. For companies implementing track and trace, the solution provides a preconfigured job file and HMI interface that reduces setup time for GS1-compliant Data Matrix code quality assessment.
“In-Sight vision systems can be configured by the customer to support track and trace applications, and some customers are comfortable doing that. But with stronger traceability standards emerging, many are looking for a plug-and-play solution,” says Robb Robles, track & trace product marketing manager, Cognex. “With In-Sight Track & Trace, we are providing a preconfigured application that will help companies ramp up more quickly. This makes it a lot easier for pharmaceutical companies to standardize inspection globally. They don’t need to employ a local integrator to develop a solution from scratch at every installation,” Robles says.
“We provide all the tools to do comprehensive data identification and verification in an application that executes on our In-Sight camera-based inspection solution. You are making sure that all the information you need for traceability is in place,” he adds.
In-Sight deploys a distributed computing inspection model based on smart cameras. For Track & Trace, the system reads 2-D and 1-D codes and verifies that contents are correctly formatted, including compliance with GS1 healthcare data standards. The system provides process control grading of bar codes. In in-process monitoring, grading tools reference quality metrics to verify that the quality of the Data Matrix code has not degraded, which would indicate a printing/process issue requiring immediate attention.
Coded data is compared with the redundant human-readable data to ensure a match.
The solution can be controlled using the Cognex VisionView 700 Operator Interface Panel or VisionView PC software or can be integrated into a PC-based HMI or custom application.
Multiple smart camera vision systems can be networked with the plant MES system for receiving batch data and broadcasting inspection results.
“We can exchange data with every system on the plant floor. If manufacturing is preparing to run a new batch, we will acquire the codes from MES so the system knows what it is looking for. Then we verify that the numbers are accurate and log that data in the production database so that it can be aggregated to the next package level,” Robles says.
The In-Sight Trace & Trace application is typically installed just after the printing station so problems are quickly discovered and remedied, Robles says.
Control Group USA uses 100% inspection on label and flexible packaging lines to support customers requiring more stringent upstream quality control of printed packaging, says Chris.
The provider of printed pharmaceutical packaging uses a vision inspection solution from AVT (Advanced Vision Technology) for inspecting flexible packaging production. A Nikka camera system inspects labels.
“Both systems are checking for broken or filled in letters, missing print, ink spots, and print blemishes, as well as registration and missing printed product on the web and splices.” Chris says.
“The AVT and Nikka systems check against referenced images of known good quality that are scanned in by the operator,” Chris says.
AVT also inspects for lamination integrity and defects such as bubbles on the substrate. QA data retention software permanently stores every job. Operators retain samples of defects for analyzing trends and finding the root cause of a problem, Chris says.
“With the Nikka solution, the operator maintains a log book where samples of defects are retained and an accounting of deviations are recorded,” he says.
“In the vision inspection process we are scanning bar codes only for print integrity to ensure that they will appear as originally intended and will be readable in subsequent use. Actual reading of all bar codes is performed at other stages of our process,” Chris says.
The automated inspection yields savings for customers. “Customers validate our process and validate the process through their system. The technology has allowed customers to introduce a leaner incoming QA inspection release process. They are able to identify measurable savings when we can ensure 100% inspected product,” Chris says.
Vendors are offering systems designed to achieve fuller inspection of bottles and capsules.
Mettler Toledo (Aurora, IL) uses four cameras to complete a seamless complete image of a bottle in the 360° Full View bottle inspection system.
The unit from Mettler Toledo’s CI-Vision division captures four simultaneous images as bottles of up to 1.5 liters are conveyed at speeds of up to 400 bottles per minute.
Software calculates the bottles’ coordinates and determines whether the correct label has been placed in the proper position, diverting failures through a soft reject mechanism.
Proditec’s InspeCaps 150 is the first sorting system to achieve full 360° inspection of capsules, which includes both ends, and print and banding inspection, the company says.
As a versatile system that handles every type of empty or filled capsule, the InspeCaps 150 employs a new single-file vision inspection system that removes foreign capsules and capsules with cosmetic defects and shape irregularities.
A patent-pending process uses high-definition cameras to capture simultaneous views with overlap. The system provides a perfect image of the entire capsule without rotating the capsule, inspecting up to 120,000 capsules per hour.
“This unique imaging process enables InspeCaps 150 to reject capsules for all appearance problems including nonconforming color, dirt, V-notch, telescoped, holes or scratches, as well as shape problems such a dented end or mashed, double cap, bent, and banana shape,” the company says.
Integrity of tamper-evident sealing bands and print position, orientation, and quality is also inspected.
CapPlus Technologies (Phoenix, AZ) has launched a capsule and tab vision inspection system the company says is offered at a fraction of the cost of competing machines. The Insight 100 automatically inspects any capsules and tablets. A seamless rotary feeding and silicone belt conveyor avoids the need for costly change parts.
The speed of the vision inspection is enhanced by fiber optic “triggers” that allow a high-speed camera to make preestablished decisions in 0.33 microseconds.