In-Line Force Analysis During Vial Filling

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-01-02-2018, Volume 42, Issue 1

Measurements by a drone-based online pressure monitoring system help identify weak points in the filling line, enabling the process to be optimized.

Smart Skin Technologies has developed a drone-based online pressure monitoring system to measure forces influencing container integrity during the filling process. Online measurements help identify weak points in the filling line. The information can then be used to optimize the process. 

The motivation for in-line force analysis was mainly driven by the need to reduce losses in parenteral production. Pharmaceutical manufacturers want to avoid glass defects and interruptions of filling lines but realized that there was insufficient understanding of the problem affecting the production process. 

“In-line analysis is all about understanding where on the manufacturing line forces occur that create damage to the product,” says Joe Norris, head of New Product Development at Smart Skin Technologies. “With the help of data, critical areas and opportunities for optimization can be identified. Following the analysis, lines can be modified to reduce the force applied to the vials, syringes, or cartridges to reduce the damage events. Oftentimes, small adjustments such as lowering the edge of a wedge or optimizing the synchronization between moving parts of the line can significantly reduce breakage.”

Smart Skin’s drone system is a vial clone with sensitive surface material. “Up to 192 force sensors in the surface of the vial-like drone measure force, and other electronics measure how it spins and tilts as it moves through the production line, and where it is subjected to shock,” explains Norris. “The data are transferred to a Microsoft Surface tablet by Bluetooth and with our Quantifeel software, which prepares easily understandable reports. With help of the data, the software can also calculate where scuffing occurs.” 

“One drone moves though a certain section of the line at a time,” he says. “After six to 10 rounds, the customers can already identify certain patterns. These patterns can be displayed in heat maps, and additional video material can be used to identify sections where action is needed. Later on, the drones can help to validate whether the corrective measure brought about the desired effect.”

Norris highlights that the system works with vials, syringes, and cartridges. “Each customer receives a customized set of drones from us, depending on the type and size of the packaging that is filled or produced on the respective line. The customer also receives the software along with training, and we help them interpret the data in the beginning. After that, they use the system independently-for example, for quality assurance, after
maintenance shut-downs (to ensure a correct restart of the line), for breakage investigations, or line commissioning audits,” he says. 


According to Norris, the roots of Smart Skin Technologies lie in the food and beverage industry. The impetus to apply the technology also in the pharmaceutical industry came from Roche in Switzerland in 2015. “The challenge was to ‘shrink’ the drone, which originally had the size of a drinking bottle, to the size of a pharmaceutical vial. This is exactly the reason why this technology, which easily helps to reduce breakage and increase cosmetic quality, is still new for the pharmaceutical industry,” explains Norris. 

“During the project, a drone system for parenteral vial filling, inspection, and packaging lines was developed. The system helped Roche to define relevant limits for glass damage,” says Norris. “Roche can really be seen as a pioneer in this field, and other leading pharma companies have followed.”

Article DetailsPharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 30, No. 1
January 2018
Pages: 15

When referring to this article, please cite it as A Siew, “In-Line Force Analysis During Vial Filling,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 30 (1) 15 (2018).