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Pharmaceutical Drones Prevent Defects in Filling/Assembly

Drones return information in real-time to show where defects might be occurring during the filling process due to high pressure and shock, allowing operators to proactively repair their machines before batches of defects make it to the end of the line.

Screenshot 2024 03 22 At 11 33 55 Am
Michael Costa

PACK EXPO East 2024 in Philadelphia was its largest ever, with more than 500 exhibiting companies and nearly 8,000 attendees exploring 115,000 net square feet of exhibit space at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

At the show was SmartSkin Technologies. The company has created a two-step, multi-sensor system for detecting areas of container damage and failure on lines for pharmaceutical vials, pens, cartridges, and syringes.

The first step is a SmartSkin drone replica of what is being filled—a 2 mL vial, for instance—placed in a line among a placebo batch of vials being filled with media fill and closed when coming out of bi-yearly shutdowns.

The drone returns information in real-time to SmartSkin’s software to show where defects might be occurring during the filling process due to high pressure and shock, allowing operators to proactively repair their machines before batches of defective containers make it through to the end of the line. The drone can detect out of time worm screws and starwheel handoffs which unnecessarily apply force to the glass vials. This same process can be repeated in inspection and packaging areas where the drone has more freedom to operate in non-sterile conditions.

At the show, SmartSkin displayed a Residual Seal Force (RSF) Sensor Vial. Typically, a manufacturer places a stopper in a vial and crimps an aluminum cap over the top. “We can measure the force between the upper and lower flanges which is the crimping force, which keeps the stopper in place,” says Joe Norris, customer and process technical support at SmartSkin. “Companies have minimum standards—they need enough downward force or RSF on the elastomer to properly seal it, and if it’s too light a load, the elastomer doesn't deform into the neck and seal integrity can be reduced.”

They also showcased an insulin cartridge drone for use in Fill/Finish and in autoinjector pen assembly. The drone can be used on a manufacturer’s production and pen assembly line to gain insight into how they’re handling the glass within their robotic assembly line.

Sterile manufacturers can use SmartSkin’s drone technology as they come back online from maintenance or shutdown to recenter the lines before the VHP (vaporized hydrogen peroxide) process to ensure the best possible start to sterile fill/finish operations. “Before they go sterile, they bring our device in to ensure they’ve adjusted the line under maintenance and put everything back together to have the same centerline as before,” said Norris. “Once the line goes sterile, you have to live with the results, because otherwise you have to take it out of sterilization and shut down again. In the pharma world, that’s a big deal.”


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