Seeing Is Believing

New-generation, high-speed cameras record processes historically difficult to see.

By Daphne Allen, Editor

High-speed cameras from 20/20 Hindsight helped uncover vial-capping problems.

Fifteen years ago, a leading drug manufacturer began using a high-speed camera on some of its packaging lines to research and solve problems. It gave the packaging team a precious 16 seconds of recording time at 1000 frames per second. Even with this limited amount of recording time, the technology enabled them to find and correct a multitude of inefficiencies. “The camera was originally thought of as a novelty,” recalls the firm’s senior process specialist. “But once we got the camera, we easily justified its cost. And it has lasted a long time.”

But as this professional’s responsibilities shifted from the packaging side of the business to the aseptic side, he was finding it increasingly difficult to use the older camera in such a restricted area. “Basically, we had the camera looking through the window into the aseptic core, hoping to capture what was happening with the inside equipment. But we had to be qualified to go into the aseptic core, so we still needed experts on hand. It still wasn’t any easier. We had to babysit the camera to adjust it to find the actual activity.”

At a Pack Expo show a few years ago, the company came across a family of compact digital cameras from 20/20 Hindsight (Monitoring Technology Corp.; Fairfax, VA). With its decoupled camera head, the firm’s core product, 20/20 Hindsight, offers a tool that enables operators to locate a problematic area, zoom in on it to target the process, and locate the problem. “We can walk away with the data we need with very little time spent finding or sorting it out,” says the process specialist. A stainless-steel kiosk with a monitor, camera controls, and lighting control allows users to roll right up to a line. Frame speed and memory can be adjusted to achieve a ratio customized to the application.

Intrigued by the cameras’ capabilities, the specialist says, “We challenged 20/20 Hindsight to design a camera system and housing we could take into the aseptic core and guide remotely.” For slower-speed applications like aseptic processing, the camera could be slowed down to record up to 48 hours at 60 frames per second. “Slowing the frame rate gives you an even longer recording window. The time-lapse recording of the lyophilization process (the freeze drying of a solution to a dry powder), for instance, allows users to determine the freeze rates of different products.” (The company also offers Hindsight GigE for high-speed recording ranging from 200-3000 frames per second, with a recording time of 5.5 hours.

Jill Miller, regional sales manager for 20/20 Hindsight, says that to prepare the camera for an aseptic area, her company built a special sealed containment box that could be wiped down with sterilant. The wireless camera was then installed and sealed within a washable enclosure along with a transmitter that sends recorded data to a receiver and CPU unit positioned outside the sterile area.

Lighting was also important to fulfilling this drug company’s requirements. High-wattage lights are hot, so the firm needed plastic coating on all exposed glass surfaces. Miller reports that traditional systems require 10–12 times more light than Hindsight, and with these lights, there is no way to coat the glass without the coating burning off. Hindsight provides a 35-W high-efficiency Xenon light that is cool to the touch and has a plastic coating.

The drug company says that the cameras aren’t just used for finding machine inefficiencies, but also for operator training, finding alarm faults, and improving operator aseptic techniques, right down to monitoring material movement.

“We are seeing things we couldn’t see with the normal eye,” says the process specialist. For instance, he reports that he has been able to review how laser coders mark labels and cartons and why they create open characters. They have also helped in and studying the capping process and detecting how and where incomplete cap crimps are being generated.

The system offers ScanBack Technology (patent pending) to review recordings, enabling users to easily replay jams or process upsets over the last several hours, while still recording. You can find a small section of recording to review for a frame-by-frame analysis, he says. Such reviews weren’t possible in older systems, he adds.

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