Sensors & Transducers

Steierl-Pharma uses smart cameras to modernise its labelling processes

January 2022 Sensors & Transducers

Steierl-Pharma of Herrsching, Germany, relies on the support of Omron automation experts for state-of-the-art labelling technology. By using a new labelling system with smart camera technology, the company can label its pharmaceuticals fast and reliably. These labels are printed with variable data on batch designation, expiration date and if required, a dispensing notice like ‘Sample not for sale’.

3600 units pass through the line every hour

The producer has the legally required manufacturing licence for medicinal products as well as the GMP certificate. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification guarantees process integrity in drug production and conformity with applicable regulations. When it comes to filling and packaging the drugs, Steierl-Pharma uses a production line designed for around 3600 units per hour.

It consists of a filling and capping machine, a labeller and a packaging machine. The line ensures a continuous and seamless process consisting of filling and closing the bottles with a dropper insert and a screw cap. The closed bottles then leave the cleanroom and enter the labeller, where they are labelled and then packed in a folding box together with an information leaflet in the packaging machine.

In 2019, a project team at Steierl-Pharma began initial considerations to introduce a replacement for an already older labelling machine. “The labelling machine used until then already had a smart camera-based inspection system to check the identity of the label and the variable data,” explains Steffen Wegner, managing director, Steierl-Pharma. This, however, had two drawbacks: firstly, labels were repeatedly misread as bad labels and secondly, bad units were not rejected, but the labelling process was stopped. This meant that when the machine stopped, the bottles backed up into the filling machine and the packaging machine ran empty. That’s why we worked with the manufacturer HERMA to find a suitable inspection system. The focus here was on high reliability and pricing.”

FHV7 smart camera supports testing and quality control

The central component here is the inspection system. Wegner explains: “We decided on the Omron FHV7 smart camera after a test on our label material on site, supported by an Omron application engineer. We were effectively supported throughout the entire development process up to commissioning and qualification of the machine and beyond.”

With the help of the FHV7, the HERMA labelling machine at Steierl-Pharma checks the identity of the label based on the pharmaceutical code and verifies batch and expiration via OCV (optical character validation) for compliance with the specifications.

The FHV7 series smart camera provides illumination and image processing functionality for enhanced visual inspections. Due to its world-first multi-colour light and a powerful high-resolution 12-megapixel camera, only a single FHV7 camera is needed to perform high-precision visual inspections of the production line.

During performance qualification the project managers involved were surprised by the performance of the FHV7. “We could not believe how reliable the Omron FHV7 inspection system is. As part of the challenge testing, we deliberately introduced mislabels, all of which were reliably detected – but with a throughput of several 10 000 labels, not a single good label was incorrectly read as a bad label,” reports Wegner.

Even a single faulty unit could cause a lot of trouble in the GMP environment. By using the new camera, such situations do not occur and the machine outages caused by the incorrect reading of actual good units can also be prevented.

Another advantage of the camera is the software, which is intuitive to use and does not require lengthy training. “I also really like the option of a customisable user interface and so do the users,” concludes Wegner. “There is only one window in which, for example, the target code, batch designation and expiration date can be entered. Code verification and optical character validation can also be performed. It’s all very clear and simple.”

The software runs on any current Windows system and communicates directly with the FHV7 via the local network. The inspection speed of the Omron system is impressive. The complex individual inspection of a label now takes just 80 milliseconds.


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