Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cartoners and Case Packers for Track and Trace Serialization

(This is part two in a three-part series on integrating packaging machinery with track and trace serialization systems to meet the 2017 pharmaceutical mandates. Part one is here.)

Robotic Track & Trace Inspection Systems

The simplest application for track and trace systems is the pick-and-place inspection of products. Whether the product is an aggregation or an individual carton or bottle, a properly programmed robotic cell with well-designed end-of-arm tool (EOAT) can pick the object, pass it in front of a vision inspection system or a barcode scanner and place it in a bin or on a conveyor, depending on whether the product is rejected or passed downstream for further packaging.
Camera for inspecting serialization codes on bottles.
Robot Will Hold Bottles Over Inspection Camera Prior to Case Packing
Robotic inspection works well in applications that require an aggregation to be verified after individual products have been bundled, and aggregation scanning equipment cannot be integrated into an existing machine. The stand-alone robotic system can pick the bundle and move it under or over a scanning device. The system allows for rescanning the bundle in the event of a read error. The scanning device can also verify the count, the bottle or carton status and create a list of each item in the bundle. The robot places rejected bundles in a reject bin to be reworked or discarded.

Track & Trace Cartoners

Pick and place inspections systems are not the only robotic application for track and trace packaging machinery. Robotic systems can be used in an end-to-end packaging line to help track the first product in all the way to the finished pallet, ensuring the integrity of every product, every, carton, every case, and every pallet throughout the production process. For example, a packaging line for pharmaceutical bottles begins as each filled and closed bottle is marked with a unique serial number, which may be printed on the label, on the bottle or on an RFID. Sensors verify the code as each bottle enters a robotic case packing cell. The code is read as each bottle is collated into the correct pack pattern to account for the contents that will be placed in the case (the aggregation process). The serialization information is stored by the system microprocessor to be accessed by carton labelers and used in downstream packaging processes.
Serialization camera module integrated on a robotic case packer from ESS Technologies.
Bottles Enter a 4-Camera Serialization Module Where Unique Product codes are Recorded

Track & Trace Case Packers

Automatic case packers with integrated serialization systems allow manufacturers to easily form aggregates and record the contents of each case as they are loaded. As products labeled with unique identifying codes enter the infeed and collation zone, cameras on all four sides of the product capture the code and store it in the system microprocessor. The products are then collated and loaded into the erected case. Robotic case packers for track and trace applications incorporate EOAT that uses a unique suction cup with integrated vacuum sensor for each bottle in the pack pattern. This allows the EOAT to verify that it has picked all of the bottles in the pack pattern via the vacuum sensor. Camera inspection systems can also take a picture of the loaded case and compare it to a picture of a correctly loaded pattern to verify that all bottles have made it into the case.
Aggregated Pack Pattern of Bottles with Serialization Labels

Cases with complete patterns are tagged as “good.” Incomplete cases are not tagged, causing them to be automatically rejected at the case packer discharge. Automatic leaflet feeders with track and trace inspection verification may be added to the case packer to automate the full case load. An overhead camera is used to verify the load in the case. Good cases are then labeled with track and trace information about the contents of the case. The label may include a barcode or human-readable code, a writable RFID tag, which is encoded after the case is packed, or a combination of all three. By tracking each serial number in the pack pattern and applying that information to a unique case, the manufacturer can know at all times exactly where each bottle is in the packaging process. This process would be the same if the product being case packed was a carton, bag, blister pack, or bundle.
Robotic case erector and loader from ESS Technologies with integrated track and trace system.
ESS Technologies Model CEL 5 Robotic Case Erector / Loader with Integrated Serialization System

Next Post: Palletizers for Track and Trace Serialization

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