Interpack wrap-up: PAT, RSS, and other trends

At the recently concluded interpack, the exhibitors were pleased, show sponsor Messe Düsseldorf was happy, and even the weather—for the first four days at least—cooperated. Our take-aways:

• PAT—process analytical technology, or basically a way to approach validation—was talked about at many pharma machinery booths and controls vendors. ISPE is planning a forum in Arlington, VA, in June, to discuss process development and PAT, barrier isolation and containment, pilot plants, and global regulations.
• RSS (Reduced Space Symbology) may be giving way to 2-D data matrix symbology. Previously, the cost of the scanners needed to read the data matrix codes was prohibitive. But that cost is coming down.
• Injection pens as a drug delivery package will grow rapidly as more conventional vials lose share. Cost will be overshadowed by convenience: With the pens, there's no need to draw liquid from one vessel and then administer it.
• Much more simple-to-operate machinery. Not necessarily back to mechanical design, but employing sophisticated controls and software in a transparent manner, coupled with an easy-to-use Human-Machine-Interface. Think Tivo versus a VCR.
• In the same vein, controls suppliers are offering up function block libraries in an attempt to get more machine builders to take the plunge into servo technology at a lower cost. As one put it, "We've already completed a bagging machine application. We'll re-use 85 percent of what we already know and only charge you for the 15 percent we need to customize for your machine."
• Although much RFID was present, it was not as red hot as it has been. Folks are clearly tired of RFID "buzz" and want to know how to actually implement real solutions.

China: Sleeping Giant
Haunting the proceedings at interpack was frequent talk of China and its growing capacity for producing and—one day—exporting packaging machinery.

One controls supplier said "walking these halls is like being at a machine tool show in the late 1970s." The Chinese have no moral compunction about stealing intellectual property. And one German OEM remarked, "We do not have dozens of competitors in China; we have hundreds."

Most Chinese OEMs are still in the copycat stage, and they aren't always all that successful. One exhibitor said he saw a coding system built by a Chinese OEM "that looked like Frankenstein: one part Imaje, one part Markem, one part Videojet." Yet it's the specter of subsequent generations of Chinese machines that scares European and U.S. machine builders the most: packaging machinery that's just as good for half the price.

The one salvation may be software. One end user said, "The Chinese will copy what they can get their hands on, but they cannot [easily] replicate controls, software, and engineering."

--By Jim Chrzan, Publisher
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