Business leaders in pharmaceuticals may be concerned with how machine vision will affect their operations in the clinical and scientific departments more than those of packaging and administration. However, prioritizing these types of operations may not provide the ROI as it’s hyped up to be. Instead, there are many possibilities for machine vision in pharmaceuticals related to packaging, shipping, and data entry.
The pharmaceutical industry and others alike have many companies with large stores of data from years of business operations, but companies may be less focused on innovation with data science than with other business areas. This results in fewer data scientists hired by these companies, as outlined in our interview with Abinash Tripathy, founder and CSO of Helpshift:
Basically what’ll happen is that specific industries like telecoms, like pharma, they have lots of data so they own the data. But they don’t have a culture of hiring scientists. Especially computer scientists and researchers to go and solve AI problems and they’re probably going to succeed by taking platforms like Googles and Amazon where the algorithms are getting created every day and applying them to their data.
Despite this, there are still numerous vendors competing to provide machine learning models best trained to suit each business problem or scenario. We have included an example of one of these vendors in each of our sections in this article.
In this report, we’ll detail the possibilities of machine vision software in the pharmaceutical industry. Because we have found that manufacturing, shipping, and data processing are the most common use cases for machine vision in this space, we will focus on the possibilities within those departments.
We’ll explore the following potential applications of machine vision software in the pharmaceutical industry:
- Quality Control for product and Packaging
- Shipment tracking and product Traceability
- Digitizing physical documents for database entry
Our exploration of machine vision possibilities in the pharmaceutical industry begins with quality control and packaging inspection for pharmaceutical products:
Quality Control for Product and Packaging
A prominent application for machine vision software in pharmaceuticals is in the quality control and packaging departments. The possibilities for these range from quantity and condition detection to the inspection of packaging and included items such as printed instructions and dose applicators. Companies can utilize machine learning on the production and packaging lines to ensure each unit meets a company’s quality requirements.
The business problems within pharmaceutical quality control and packaging inspection most often addressed by machine vision software are as follows:
- Counting the number of pills each bottle is filled with
- Inspecting each pill for accurate shape, size, and any damage
- Inspecting packaging for quality control or damage
- Quality control for secondary items such as instruction leaflets
- Label validation for product information and barcodes
Pharmaceutical companies can set a standardized fill amount for each container of their products, and train a machine learning model on the shapes and sizes of all pills currently produced by the company. A machine vision software solution would be able to detect how much of one product is being dispensed into the container at a time, as well as if any of the pills are damaged or otherwise misshapen due to a production defect.
Quality control can also be extended to a product’s packaging when used to detect the presence of child-proof caps, plastic wrappers over bottle caps, the correct box, or any other packaging element. A camera at the end of the production line could feed a machine learning model footage of each unit being packaged, and it would scan the video for each item being attached properly.
Printed barcodes and labels for pharmaceutical products also need to adhere to strict quality guidelines. Machine vision software can help companies make sure their barcodes are visible by industry standard scanners as well as verify all product information for accuracy and visibility. For printed text, solutions will typically require optical character recognition (OCR) technology.
Depending on how specific the label validation system is, the machine learning model for OCR may also require a natural language processing (NLP) component. This is because if a system is made to correct text mistakes as well as detect them, it will need to have more substantive training on the language than simply detecting which characters are used.
A machine vision software for any of these applications may be programmed with the ability to temporarily stop the production line in the case of any mistakes or deviations from the standards set by the company. Microscan Systems is a machine vision hardware and software provider that offers solutions with those capabilities.
Microscan Systems offers solutions to manufacturers across industries and pharmaceutical companies are among their most frequent clientele. Their cameras and software can be integrated into many existing manufacturing and production lines, as well as individual pieces of machinery. This could involve mounting a camera somewhere along the production line and connecting it to a machine vision algorithm within the system.
Alternatively, the software could be incorporated into the production machinery itself, allowing for “self-checking” devices. For example, Microscan Systems offers their LVS-7510 print quality inspection system, which is used to detect errors in printed labels for manufactured products. The software can signal the machine to change a light affixed to the top from green to red, indicating that it has stopped printing labels so a human employee may check for any errors.