The pharmaceutical companies are pushing their manufacturing capabilities and throughput to the limits, however are not allowed to sacrifice quality, because the quality requirements for the final products are higher than ever. In manufacturing, considerable efforts are put in detection and ejection of low quality products, either manually or automatically. In general, automatic inspection machines need to efficiently replace human hands by automatic mechanical manipulators, human eyes by digital video cameras, and most importantly and challenging, human brain by artificial intelligence, i.e. by advanced software for image processing, analysis, understanding and decision making. The complexity of such technology is very high and the final equipment itself has considerable investment costs (machine costs, installation and validation, training), as well as operation, performance and maintenance costs.
The STREAM Core handles described challenges with the following innovative technical solutions.
Product manipulation before inspection: The products are released into feeding system through an input container. The feeding system organises the products into parallel lines for stable and continuous inspection on conveyor belt. The first unique technology of STEAM Core is customizable number of independent parallel lines, where each line adds to machine’s throughput.
Product manipulation at inspection: once organized in lines, the products are transferred to the imaging area. The second and the most important technology feature of STREAM Core is that the products are not only conveyed with conveyor belt, but are at the same time, also rotated around their axis. Because capsules are rotated, the whole surface of each capsule can and is inspected.
The imaging system relies on advanced imaging technologies composed of a fast image acquisition system (2 high-resolution industrial cameras) with powerful illumination system that allows to acquire more than 150 images of each object during its transition on the conveyor belt. The images provide data on whole product surface in different illumination conditions, including 3D information of the object, for robust detection of surface defects.
The software: the product quality is analysed on images by real-time software solutions based on the latest scientific developments. Although the algorithms for image analysis are sophisticated, the machine handling does not require any scientific background or computer vision expertise. The operation allows quick machine setting. For example, the setting for inspection of new products is guided by a user friendly software wizard. During this procedure, the operator requires no defective products, since a collection of all possible defects is impossible to have for each product. Simple training without defective products, which still allows robust and sensitive machine for detection of all types of defects in pharmaceutical production, is also one of the major competitive advantages of the STREAM Core technology.
The sorting: fast imaging system allows tracking of each product on the conveyor belt, which enables the machine to accurately sort products into bins for defective or good products. The system uses compressed air to sort out good products from the rest. Such concept provides a reliable and fail-safe mechanism, which considerably reduces the risk in sorting. Sorting is also equipped with optical sorting verification, which double-checks, that products were sorted exactly according to software classifications.
The overall machine design concept is modern and allows modularity and quick adjustments for customer’s needs. Higher throughputs can be achieved by adding additional parallel inspection lines and inspection systems, which allows to address different capacity requirements with simple machine modification. Machine operational autonomy requires minimal human intervention and helps to reduce risk of human errors. The ergonomic and tool free design with low number of parts contributes to high efficiency, where changeover and cleaning is done in a few minutes. The mobility, versatility and simple use make the STREAM Core well suited for agile production, where the same machine can be used in various production stages (e.g. before capsule filling and/or after capsule filling). Furthermore, machine can be simply upgraded to completely isolate inspection chamber from clean room and technical area for high containment applications.
STREAM Core offers innovative solutions which represent another step for automatic inspection technology that make the machine more economically accessible, easier to operate and maintain in rapidly changing pharmaceutical production.
This article was originally published in Manufacturing Chemist: