Integrated serialization systems topped the agenda of many exhibitors and attendees at this year’s INTERPHEX show (Apr. 23&ndash25, 2012, at the Javits Center in New York City). With California’s 2015 e-pedigree deadline rapidly approaching, serialization technology providers presented integrated solutions and emphasized retrofit capabilities. Serialization and collection of code data at each stop in the supply chain serve as the foundation of pedigree records.
Serialization depends on a complex interaction between packaging line hardware and software to apply a unique code at the item level; confirm code quality and correctness; aggregate code data and label bundles, cases, and pallets; communicate with line-, plant- and enterprise-level software; handle manual operations and rework; and decommission codes on rejected packs.
Seidenader Maschinenbau GmbH displayed its T&TSolutions hardware and software integrated into a serialization-capable line from primary-container marking to pallet-label generation.
Mettler-Toledo ran demonstrations on a line capable of handling up to 400 packs per minute. The integrated line consists of the DataMatrix Station (DMS) XMV marking and verification system, the Advanced Bundle Station, and the Shipping Case Station, plus a manual pallet-labeling station (see Figure 1). For less automated lines, there is provision for a manual case station. Pilot Line Manager software manages the serialization function from the operator interface on one machine (including code printing, verification, and aggregation). The software also typically communicates with the Pilot Site Manager software, which oversees multiple packaging lines and transmits serialization data to the enterprise system. Another function is grading the quality of the serialized human-readable information and DataMatrix codes. If print quality does not meet specifications or the code itself is incorrect, the pack is rejected.
|Figure 1: Mettler-Toledo’s integrated line for packaging with serialization includes several stations. (Image courtesy of Mettler-Toledo.)|
Serialization can generate valuable data beyond the information needed to track and trace product through the supply chain. For example, the Integrated Bottle Center from Uhlmann Packaging Systems LP embeds production and quality details, such as cap torque and number of desiccants, in the serialized code on each container.
Other serialization news at INTERPHEX included the US introduction of the Traceable Quality System from OCS Checkweighers. This modular system provides single-point control, sends code data to the printer and camera at the same time, and includes Line Manager software, as well as unit- and bundle-level systems. A TQS-HC-A module combines serialization with checkweighing to ensure packaging is not only coded properly, but also complete.
With thousands of lines in operation, implementing serialization frequently depends on retrofits. To meet this need, MG America has engineered coding and verification modules, which can be added to cartoners, bundlers, and case packers already in the field. The hardware- and software-agnostic technology makes it possible to configure systems with the coding, vision system, or serialization software options preferred by the end user.
Retrofits also are supported by a turnkey serialization solution from Acsis. Serialization in a Box consists of Acsis Site Management and Line Management Software, printers from Domino North America, and vision components from Cognex.
Moving beyond the packaging line to the warehouse, Optel Vision relies on track-and- trace technology from ROC IT Solutions to handle rework and shipping of serialized products. Working in conjunction with Optel’s TrackSafe platform, the ROC IT Track & Trace hardware and software prints, applies, captures, verifies, aggregates, decommissions, and submits serial numbers on products being shipped.
A case-packing cell that supports serialization for track-and-trace requirements integrates the TaskMate Robotic Case Erector/Loader from ESS Technologies with the Xyntek-Antares Turn-key Serialization solution from Xyntek. Although shown with a FANUC LR Mate 200iC/5L multi-axis robot with ESS-designed end-of-arm tooling, the case packer can be built with other robot models to meet payload needs. During the show floor demonstration, bottles were conveyed through the Xyntek-Antares Omnivision 360° Bottle Tracking System, which captured and aggregated codes on the label and base of the container. The robot picked up a four-by-three collated group of 12 bottles. Before placing the bottles in the case, a high-resolution smart camera from Cognex read the codes on the bottom of the bottles and the Xyntek-Antares Tracking System software confirmed the serial numbers and printed a case label. The robot then pushed the loaded case onto an exit conveyor for manual or automatic sealing. Capable of handling up to five cases per minute, the system provides an alternative to manual case packing.
Another serialization-ready machine and a first-time exhibitor, the entry-level Compact 4 Vertical End Load Cartoner from ADCO prints and inspects DataMatrix codes on tablock or glued cartons and verifies the code on any leaflet. Light-curtain guarding and automatic indexing help operators manually load products and/or leaflets at speeds of up to 40 cartons per minute. However, loading can be automated if higher throughput is needed. A patented eight-pocket, quick-size-adjust starwheel and quick-adjust levers and scales expedite changeover. Other features include stainless-steel construction and standard or washdown configurations. Carton sizes range from a 25 x 18-mm (1 x 0.71-inch) opening with a 60-mm (2.36-inches) depth to a 120 x 90-mm (4.72 x 4.54-inch) opening with a 180-mm (7.09-inch) depth.
INTERPHEX is always a great place to see packaging innovations. Next year the show returns to Javits Center in Manhattan, but is scheduled a bit earlier than in recent years, March 18-20, 2014. In the interim, the Pharmaceutical Pavilion at PACK EXPO Las Vegas (Sept. 23–25, 2013 at the Las Vegas, Nevada Convention Center) provides an opportunity to address packaging needs.
—Hallie Forcinio is Pharmaceutical Technology's packaging editor, firstname.lastname@example.org.