Even the most advanced scientific companies sometimes face issues that seem almost impossible to tackle. If you fail to look beyond the industry’s conventional technologies, that is. Take Pfizer, for example. To put an end to time-consuming manual quality inspections, the pharma player reached out to CREAX to explore alternatives from other industries. During a technology landscaping project, we transferred several promising solutions from domains such as food, metallurgy, filtration and packaging. And the winner turned out to be … a technology that, ironically, has its roots in the medical world.
Pfizer: focus on quality, across all processes
As one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer aims to extend and improve people’s lives through the discovery, development and production of healthcare products. Its portfolio includes medicines and vaccines, as well as many of the world’s best-known consumer healthcare products. The leitmotif running through all of Pfizer’s processes? A relentless focus on quality. For one of its quality checks, Pfizer was looking for an automated, and thus more cost-effective inspection process.
The challenge: all eyes on automation
Most of Pfizer’s vials and syringes containing pharmaceutical substances are inspected in-line with high-speed vision technology by means of a CCD camera (charge-couple device). However, when the containers held opaque suspensions, the system was unable to detect specific small foreign particles without compromising on performance, speed and accuracy. As a result, and to avoid false rejects, Pfizer had no choice but to run this check through labor-intensive manual inspection. In search of an automated process, Pfizer called in CREAX. Our mission: to explore alternative technologies, beyond the traditional pharmaceutical domain.
The approach: exploring a panoply of technologies
Detecting particles smaller than 1 mm at a rate of 300 vials or syringes per minute: a bold challenge that CREAX was eager to take on. After pooling together ideas, expertise and best practices in diverse business domains, we ran a patent & scientific literature search and explored several options. We found optical, acoustic and electrical technologies in the food, metallurgy, healthcare, filtration and packaging industries. Fine-tuning of ideas and further research yielded a short-list of solutions, revolving around requirements such as optimal resolution, speed and accuracy. Finally, we asked different suppliers whether they could offer the appropriate technologies, without disclosing our client’s details.
The outcome: better, faster, cheaper
After we presented a shortlist of preferred solutions to Pfizer’s production managers, they made a decision based on our recommendations and possible future FDA regulation implications. X-ray technology turned out to be the winner, showing excellent resolution and readily available equipment. The new, automated detection system can now easily handle the production line’s rapid pace. And on top of offering first-class quality inspections, the new X-ray system flawlessly meets Pfizer’s main goal: to significantly cut production costs.
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