Pharmaceutical inspections place stringent demands on vision systems

LOUIS ROY is president of Optel Vision (Quebec City, QC, Canada;, which he founded in 1989.

VSD:How is Optel Vision using OEM peripherals such as cameras, frame grabbers, lighting, and other components?

Roy:First, it is important to mention that Optel Vision is a manufacturer of vision inspection solutions. We provide our customers with a turnkey solution that is fully integrated into their existing packaging lines.

We develop our own software and design both our electronic and mechanical components. Our engineers use a systems-engineering approach in which we combine optics, electronics, mechanics, and software to build a modular platform that delivers multi-inspection capabilities using one unique interface. Building secure systems requires dedicated and proven OEM components.

We use OEM components such as frame grabbers, motherboards, encoders, cameras, and processors. What we ask our OEM component suppliers is to deliver components that are robust, stable, and reliable. They must be designed and built to the highest possible standards and adapted to work in the harsh environments of different packaging industries, including high temperatures, electronic noise, vibration, and dust. Furthermore, the OEM components must be able to facilitate high-speed inspection capabilities and support enhanced line efficiency.

VSD:How is each component more or less important to the systems that you develop for different types of packaging-inspection applications?

Roy:We have learned over the last 15 years that every component is important. The components within our systems work as part of an ensemble, therefore each cable, connector, sensor, camera, through to the processor is essential to the final product. When we design our products, we establish what components we want to use and which ones we do not want to change. For example, our products are certified, and changing components may render that certification invalid. Therefore, to meet industries’ requirements, we rely on the flexibility of our software for customization.

VSD:What market changes are driving the implementation of new technologies that you choose for these applications?

Roy:Over the last couple of years we have seen a trend toward lowering prices for vision inspection systems, therefore we have chosen to optimize the hardware and ensure that we get the best possible quality/price ratio available. We must be aware of what the market is doing and where it is going-but we must do so without compromising the quality and safety of our systems.

Our systems play a critical role in the packaging process. Production teams rely on vision inspection systems to obtain zero-tolerance packaging errors, as well as assurance in brand integrity. For these reasons, many packaging facilities demand 100% product inspection. Vision inspection is at the heart of packaging line, and our role is to provide the packaging process with inspection tools that product packaging is consistent before it is released.

VSD:What types of inspection features are users demanding from you in the design of new systems?

Roy: Users are demanding flexibility, reliability, line efficiency, and robust systems. They want systems that deliver powerful data-acquisition tools for more refined inspections of their products, such as multilingual code symbology analysis. They also want easy-to-use systems that offer rapid line integration, tooless changeovers, and short learning curves.

Today’s vision inspection must have multiple capabilities. For example, our Package Integrity Inspector can perform up to eight inspections simultaneously using one unique interface. Multiple applications include label inspection, lot-number and expiration-date verification, RSS/2-D Data Matrix code reading, cap and tamper evident inspection, leaflet inspection, container counting, and fill-level inspection. The Package Integrity Inspector uses high-end processors combined with a white LED lighting system. There is a lot of data acquisition and processing going on that can only be supported by quality OEM components.

The packaging industry has little place for inefficient and unreliable vision inspection systems, which can deliver high false-reject rates and complicated product changeovers. The rework cost of a production lot can be two to three times the cost of production of that same lot. Reducing business risk is becoming a key element in the vision inspection market. A line shutdown can result in thousands of dollars in loses, and product recalls can be costly on various levels.

VSD:What types of networks are you using when integrating vision inspection systems into a customer’s facility?

Roy:We have to adapt to our customers’ needs, and every customer has their own specifications. For example, communication with PLCs, serial links, and even the protocols for Ethernet can be different from company to company. Our flexibility in integrating our systems at a customer’s facility is our forte.

VSD:Does Optel Vision perform its own systems integration or look to third-party integrators for support?

Roy:One of the major setbacks in purchasing a vision inspection system is the actual in-house integration process. Most companies rely on third-party integrators. We prepare and plan each step of the installation process taking into account the complete context of the application, as well as the actual on-site integration onto the packaging line. We also provide direct customer service. Customers deal directly with our vision inspection team from day one of the vision project, and they know that afterward we are there to support the systems that we integrate.

VSD:How do you envision the future of vision inspection in the industries you serve?

Roy: With the growing need for vision inspection systems on packaging lines, future systems will have to deliver increased capabilities. This will require a new way of thinking. We believe that data acquisition will become faster, and resolution will be improved. Faster data analysis will likewise have to follow, and algorithms will become more powerful. Vision inspection system interfaces will become easier to use and the operational learning process will become much, much faster. As the applications become more demanding, advanced OEM components will play a key role in developing the next generation of vision inspection technology.

LOUIS ROY is president of Optel Vision (Quebec City, QC, Canada;, which he founded in 1989. He has a M.Sc. in physics from Laval University. Editor in Chief Conard Holton talked to him about packaging-line inspection systems for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and cosmetic industries.

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