The Antares Vision Group has launched a new automatic visual inspection system that guarantees 100% quality inspections of pre-filled (PFS) syringes.
The VRI-VI 060 S series detects particles, cosmetics, and filling level defects, explains Carlo Marconi, General Manager and Business Owner of Inspection Machines.
“Inspection is a mandatory requirement on all injectable sterile products and this machine is for the inspection of syringes sold with a product inside and ready to use. It is a unique and important innovation because it involves the adoption of all the best techniques for handling and inspecting. Some of these individual technologies have been adopted by others, but not all together and not in the combination that we are using them.”
The surge in biotech production and the strong global demand for vaccines have resulted in a growing market for pre-filled syringes, Mr. Marconi explains.
“Inspection originally just focused on particles in the liquid, but recently there have been more and more requests to inspect both the container and the contents. These particular containers have lots of parts that must all be inspected, including a plunger, a piston, a rod, and a needle shield. In addition, the integrity of the glass and the positioning of the parts within the container must also be inspected.”
A gentle-handling mechanical technology is employed to minimize the risk of damage within the machine. Individually motorized grippers and vacuum suckers keep the containers in place within a starwheel and ensure only plastic parts touch the glass.
Mr. Marconi explains:
“Usually the containers are all in one carousel with cameras dedicated to specific defects, but you can then never inspect the small area of the container that is covered by the gripper. The VRI-VI 060 S has two carousels – one takes the syringe from the top and the other from the bottom. That way you can ensure 100% coverage. We have eight different inspection stations, and we adopt a digital camera with a very advanced processor. This is made within our group and has a dedicated frontend unit for driving the camera and illuminators.”
A High-Speed Operation
The various technologies employed are synchronized by a hardware/software platform also created within Antares Vision.
“These high-speed machines provide a continuous motion, which means there is an uninterrupted flow of syringes coming into the inspection cabinet and going out to where we make the selection between accepted and rejected products. To achieve this we have a camera platform we have nicknamed ‘the boomerang’ because it comes home at every cycle.”
The current version of the VRI-VI 060 S can process 400 PFS units per minute, but the machine is already being upgraded to increase this to 600. Achieving 600 units per minute is important for some production.
“Flu vaccine, for example, is produced within a nine-week campaign and the pharma company will require all the vaccine for that entire season within that short period of time.”
The PFS machine has been well received by those in pharma, he stresses. Now the next steps are to integrate it with “denesting” and “renesting” operations.
“This is where a robot takes the product out of the nest – a container with many holes in which 100 to 160 syringes are held – and feeds the machine at high speed.”
They hope to be able to launch this next year.