Pharma Printers Develop Tech For Pharma Printing

by Keith Whisler, James Mauro, & Dr. Mark Bohan

Pharma Printers PrintingTechnological developments continue to play a vital role in the pharma printing industry. As it continues to expand, innovative companies benefit from investing in technology that offers improved production capabilities and new business opportunities. Vision inspection is one such technology that has the potential to be a game changer.


Vision inspection systems were initially introduced in the pharma printing industry within the roll-to-roll environment where it was difficult to review printed material during production. Security and currency, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, and other high-quality-minded market segments influenced pharma printers to take advantage of vision inspection systems to improve quality control and zero-defect delivery.

Challenged by the cost of high-end cameras and limited computer and network capabilities, vision inspection systems were difficult to implement and often provided disappointing results for pharma printers. However, technological advancements helped vision inspection systems continue to develop and improve. Now these systems are utilized in a larger number of market segments, and on a wider range of pharma printing and finishing devices.

There are two types of vision inspection systems used within the pharma printing industry: sampling and 100%. Sampling is the most common and captures only a portion of the printed material at a given time. It is used primarily to help maintain consistency. 100% or line-scan systems utilize a line of cameras to capture the entire width of the printed area, ultimately capturing 100% of the print run. This technology is preferred by pharma printers for zero-defect delivery products, which demand strict quality control requirements.

The three phases of vision inspection systems are image capture, analysis, and reporting. Cameras are typically either grayscale or color. Grayscale cameras provide higher resolution, faster run speeds, and are often used when barcode and text verification is critical. Reference targets are established during make-ready and used throughout the press-run as the standard to match. Some pharma printers use pre-press systems that utilize pre-press PDF files to help establish the reference target. The system will identify out-of-range items within the press-run based on sensitivity settings established during setup. Defects are identified within the press load or roll, and detailed reports containing the location and number of defective areas are generated. Pharma printers can use this information downstream in other production areas as well as for quality verification reports.

Pharma printers chasing zero defects have traditionally been the primary users of vision inspection systems. Currency and security, pharmaceutical, tobacco, food and beverage, premium brands, and foreign language print providers depend on vision inspection to maintain the strict quality control requirements of these industries. Many implement this technology as a prerequisite for business in zero tolerance markets as well as protection against potential fines, litigation cost, reprints, or loss of business. As technology becomes more affordable and powerful, a larger number of pharma printers have been implementing vision inspection as a means to reduce waste, improve quality, and broaden the capabilities of their existing equipment, which can lead to new market opportunities.

Vision inspection system investment is typically justified through an ROI based on reduced waste, increased productivity, and reduced labor requirements. The investment can also be justified by saving from reprints or lost business.

As technology continues to expand so will the use of vision inspection systems. Sheet-fed, wide web, and digital print environments will continue to adapt vision inspection systems. A larger number of market segments will influence pharma printers to include vision inspection systems as standard quality control tools. As vision inspection technology continues to evolve with press controls, we will see these systems become more commonplace within press configurations. Similar to how color control went from featured add-on equipment to standard, so too will be vision inspection systems. A high level of integration will be available for automated press control and correction, enabling the opportunity to move toward a continuous production environment without stopping for make-ready and setup. Defect detection data use in other production environments will increase accuracy, quality, and productivity. Vision inspection systems will be the centralized quality control tool in the pressroom and finishing departments.

The original white paper can be found in it’s entirety at www.piasc.org/pdf/business/2013VisionWP_Print.pdf‎.