Canadian machine-builder leverages cutting-edge automation technologies to develop an effective solution in ongoing global war against counterfeit drugs
November 27, 2017
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor; Photos by Naomi Hiltz
Pineberry Manufacturing president David McCharles (inset) oversaw the development and refinement of the fully-automatic CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System that he says can play a very useful role in helping to stem the flow of fake drugs and medicines into the Canadian market.
While the so-called fake news may have been grabbing a lot of media attention lately, there is nothing remotely fictitious about the real and present danger to modern society stemming from rapid global proliferation of fake drugs and medicines.
Blamed for an estimated 700,000 deaths each year by the World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeit pharmaceutical products account for an estimated 30 per cent of all medications in circulation within developing and emerging countries.
In the European pharmaceutical industry alone, counterfeit drugs are estimated to represent a $15 billion illegal industry, according to WHO research.
To safeguard domestic consumers, Canada mandates widespread use of the DIN (Drug Identification Number)—a randomly assigned computer-generated eight-digit number assigned by Health Canada to a drug product prior to it being marketed in Canada.
The main idea is to reassure the Canadian public that the pharmaceutical product has undergone and passed a review of its formulation, labeling and even its instructions for use.
Providing a unique identification for all drug products sold in dosage form in Canada—both prescriptions and OTC (over-the-counter) meds, the DIN must identify the manufacturer; product name; active ingredient(s); strength(s) of active ingredient(s); pharmaceutical form; and route of administration.
For all that, counterfeit drugs are still making their way into Canada, as evidenced by the nation’s current opioid crisis.
Which is why Canada has joined over 40 other nations in a collaborative effort to crack down on counterfeit drugs with new track-and-trace laws and standards to thoroughly regulate pharmaceutical products as they pass through the supply chain with strict new serialization, aggregation and coding requirements, alongside other information technology solutions.
“The current global pharmaceutical landscape is changing, and we believe our company can help affect that change,” Pineberry Manufacturing Inc. president and chief executive officer David McCharles told Canadian Packaging during a recent visit to the company headquarters.
Located in Oakville, about a 20-minute drive west of Toronto, Pineberry’s busy, yet tidy 12,500-squarefoot facility manufacturers dispensing and feeding equipment such as friction feeders, tray denesters and custom automation for the food and direct mailing markets, but recently expanded its scope to include providing a small footprint solution for the global
While the company achieved a lot of its earlier growth through its plastic card solutions for affixing, verifying, inspecting, counting, decorating, punching and other security applications, McCharles says it was important for Pineberry not to be a one-trick-pony.
“That is why we are now becoming more actively involved in designing and manufacturing small footprint serialization and aggregation systems specific to the pharmaceutical industry,” says McCharles, citing the company’s latest mechanical marvel simply called the CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System because, as he aptly puts it, “That’s exactly what it does.”
As McCharles explains, “Our CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System will provide any company involved in pharmaceutical packing with that ability to serialize, which will lend itself to ease-of-mind for pharmaceutical companies.
“The biggest reason for companies to possess proper serialization is to prevent the influx of counterfeit drugs into the legitimate community,” says McCharles, noting by the end of next year every legitimate pharmaceutical company around the world is going to require a serialization number on each pharmaceutical product.
“There are a lot of people getting sick from these fake drugs,” he asserts, “and that’s just not acceptable.”
McCharles says that most counterfeit drugs are fraught with health risks by either containing too much of the correct medicinal ingredients, not enough of them, or simply containing anything except for a fake pharmaceutical corporate trademark or logo.
According to McCharles, the CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System offers an effective solution for stemming the influx of counterfeit drugs from other countries to Canada.
“We have already been quite involved in packaging and pharmaceutical machinery serialization products for some time,” he notes, “but this new system marries aggregation (clustering or gathering) to provide an additional layer of traceability for the consumer of the product.”
In essence, the new Pineberry system provides a more reliable means to gather product in a quick and efficient manner after the product packages have been filled, while maintaining full real-time tracking and traceability for the customer.
In operation, each filled pack travels through an igus alignment section that maneuvers it so that it travels straight through the Videojet Wolke inkjet printhead that applies individual coding data onto each package.
“The igus company supplies us with their DryLin SLW Cross Slide and their Slide Carriage products,” mentions McCharles. “Using the DryLin Slide Carriage, we have integrated a handcrank with dial indicator for precise product guide positioning.”
Unlike recirculating ball bearing systems, the corrosion resistant DryLin linear guides are oil-free and have been designed to run dry, without the need for wet, messy lubricants or costly maintenance.
The igus DryLin SLW linear systems are based on the company’s DryLin W linear construction kit.
According to igus, the DryLin SLW products are a low-cost solution for manual adjustments, but can also be fitted with a motor for electrical adjustments.
“Using the DryLin SLW Cross Slide, we are able to precisely position the printhead to product height, and the printhead distance and product distance to allow for a clean, high-quality print,” he continues, adding that the hand crank easily allows vertical and horizontal adjustments.”
Once done, a Cognex vision system scans each pack to verify that all the required printed data has been placed, applied correctly, and is easily readable.
“We have a pneumatic reject system in place that will blow any poorly packed product right off the production line,” says McCharles.
Each product pack is tracked via an encoder and a Schneider Electric PLC (programmable logic controller) monitoring all of its movements.
Once individual serialization is achieved, the individual packs move to the front of a Schneider Electric-designed gantry robot that gently grabs four of the packs at a time with its EOAT (end-of-arm-tool) gripper and stacks them three levels high—creating tidy blocks of 12 packs apiece.
Driven by several integrated Schneider Electric servomotors, the high-speed gantry system can move at speeds of up to eight meters per second, according to McCharles.
“These servo motors help the robotic system not only be very fast, but steady and very accurate, with the flexibility to modify the stacking patterns as required,” McCharles notes.
“Using anything from Schneider Electric goes a long with our customers, and I can tell you that our pharmaceutical customers definitely appreciate us using such a high-quality entity in the electrical field and energy sector that manufactures controllers, servomotors, and robotics,” McCharles states.
“We have been working with Schneider Electric for eight years now,” he adds, “and we have never been disappointed.
“They supply all of our PLCs, motors and HMI (human-machine interfaces) terminals,” McCharles points out, “and now some of the robotics they have built for use within our projects—like this new custom-built robotic gantry system that enabled us to develop the compact-footprint design offered by the CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System.
“We are very impressed with their gantry robotic system.”
After the cartons have been stacked, the 12-pack blocks are transferred through an automatic Bandall system—distributed by Orangeville, Ont.’s Banding Systems, Inc.—which swiftly bundles the units into a single 12-pack bound by a breadth of clear plastic wrap.
“At this point,” explains McCharles, “another Cognex vision system takes a look at the 12-pack, recording all 12 of the individual pack codes applied previously.
The newly-formed 12-pack then has an additional label blown onto the clear plastic banding wrap by a Weber model 4300 Pro-Apply labeling system, with the label containing a single QR code that combines all of the data from each of the one dozen individual packs of product.
The 12-pack then exits the Pineberry CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System to await further packing into a master carton where another label is added containing data of all its contents. Further downstream, when the master carton is palletized with other such cartons, another label can be added for complete identification of what it contains.
“It’s a full track-and-trace solution that leverages aggregation and helps to improve the customer’s inventory management performance,” says McCharles.
“For example, if you need to determine a case’s contents but do not want to open up the case, you can now scan the QR code on the outside of the case to get the serial number, and then using the aggregation relationship, you can determine the identity of all the contents.”
The key end-user benefit, McCharles says, is that the system removes the need for customers to open up the case and scan all of the individual products just to determine if the one pack you are looking for is there.
“Manufacturers, wholesale distributors, repackers and pharmaceutical supply chains would all benefit from utilizing our CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System,” notes McCharles.
“And that Schneider Electric robotic gantry arm is pretty amazing too,” says McCharles, while also reserving special praise for Pineberry’s software technology partner Adents, a leading French software developer with North American operations in New Jersey.
“Adents developed the whole serialization software suite through a partnership with Microsoft to create a very nice software program—the best we have seen on the market,” McCharles proclaims.
“It helps bring together, or integrate if you will, all of the different elements and components of our CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System into a highly effective system solution,” says McCharles, underlying the importance of finding the right automation partners for developing new Pineberry equipment.
“With our name on the line,” he states, “having confidence in our partners, both new and old, is exceptionally important for us.
“Not only do we like to work with hard-working, robust equipment that we know won’t let the customer down, but we also enjoy working with good people,” McCharles adds, “such as those we know through Schneider Electric.
“For us, being a small business, it amazes me sometimes at how well they treat us,” he states, complimenting Schneider Electric’s efficient product distribution network. “I know that if there’s a part I need right away, I can make a call and get it delivered the next day. It’s the same with their global network, an important element considering so many of our projects are literally installed around the world.”
Having acquired Pineberry in 2009 after joining it five years earlier, McCharles says he is pleased with the company’s accelerated growth in recent years, along with development of high-quality friction feeding, printing and custom automation solutions for the packaging, pharmaceutical, e-commerce, distribution, food and beverage, plastic card, graphic arts, and mailing and fulfillment industries.
“We have gone from being a local Canadian company to more of a global one, with installations around the world, including South America, Europe and Australia, with a lot of our new business derived from customers in the U.S.,” says McCharles, saying he expects a warm market reception for the company’s CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System solution.
“Companies can start getting serious about new track-and-trace requirements now or they can start later,” he says, “but obviously becoming more familiar with the technology as soon as possible can only be an advantage to any company.
“Our CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System provides a practical and cost-effective way for pharmaceutical companies to ensure their products conform to current and even upcoming global track-and trace-efforts.”
As McCharles sums up, “Our primary goal has always been to help our customers be more efficient and thus more profitable.
“To do so, we design and build our systems by working closely with our customers throughout the automation process to ensure they receive an automation solution that is specific to their needs.”
Please see the video of Pineberry Manufacturing’s new CartonTrac Serialization and Aggregation System, incorporating Schneider Electric’s gantry robot and other technologies, in full-action mode on Canadian Packaging TV HERE.