“The concept of “spec conversion” does not necessarily immediately attract the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. However, when looking at the challenges faced in pharmaceutical production, characterized by cost, competitive pressure and strict regulation, intelligent specification changeover means a competitive advantage in terms of efficiency, product quality and process reliability. With automated networking solutions, pharmaceutical companies are able to take a critical step towards Pharma 4.0.
The concept of “spec conversion” does not necessarily immediately attract the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. However, when looking at the challenges faced in pharmaceutical production, characterized by cost, competitive pressure and strict regulation, intelligent specification changeover means a competitive advantage in terms of efficiency, product quality and process reliability. With automated networking solutions, pharmaceutical companies are able to take a critical step towards Pharma 4.0.
Figure 1: Format conversion by labelling machine in pharmaceutical production
In the pharmaceutical industry, the design of the centerline is very important, where the optimal machine settings must always be selected to avoid unnecessary process deviations and thus prevent product quality degradation. It is crucial to optimally link production, technology, maintenance and Electronic data acquisition systems so that plant efficiency can be fully utilized. In addition, increasing product variety and smaller batches in pharmaceutical production require equipment with a high degree of flexibility. This necessitates specification conversion, which can be a critical factor in equipment availability. By optimizing specification changeovers, changeover times for product changeovers can be significantly reduced and process reliability improved. Sensor and positioning system manufacturer SIKO GmbH offers different format conversion solutions, ranging from purely mechanical position indicators to fully automatic positioning drives.
Benefits of Optimizing Specification Conversion
Specification changeover is ubiquitous in pharmaceutical production, especially for the packaging process, labelling or inspection of products. Every time a size has to be changed on a machine for a new product, so-called specs need to be adjusted – either manually using a crank or automatically via a drive. Care must always be taken when changing machine settings as errors can spread and adversely affect product results. Monitoring or fully automated specification conversion minimizes the risk of incorrect settings and allows for more flexibility in the design of the process. The advantages of optimized specification conversion are:
High repeatability for consistent pharmaceutical production to the same specification and quality Faster changeover times for faster processing
Improve efficiency and reduce costs Improve process reliability, which is also a key in pharmaceutical production. Standard specification conversions are divided into manual, monitored and automatic conversions. Which type of specification conversion is most suitable depends on the requirements: the more frequent the specification adjustment and the higher the production quality requirements (this is the norm in the pharmaceutical industry), the more suitable is the use of a monitoring or automated positioning system.
Figure 2: Time-saving comparison, manual versus fully automatic format changeover, cardboard box correction device adjustment
Figure 3: Comparison of optimization potential brought by intelligent positioning solutions
Manual size conversion
Manual specification conversion uses mechanical and electronic position indicators to indicate the actual value of the current position. They are suitable for base machines that require very little adjustment.
SIKO’s best-selling mechanical digital position indicators are precise, easy to read and can be configured specifically for each application. Compared to mechanical position indicators, electronic position indicators have the advantage of being freely programmable and therefore more flexible to use. Parameters such as spindle spacing, decimal places, direction of rotation, mounting position or use in chamfer mode can be easily configured. Convenient and practical: Mechanical and electronic models are compatible for installation, so retrofitting or expansion is no problem.
Monitoring Specification Conversion
The bus-compatible electronic position indicator can monitor the size change by specifying the rating, and the indicator is integrated in the machine control system. The exchange and calibration of actual and setpoint values between the individual position indicators and the higher-level control unit is possible with the aid of the recipe management unit, in which all product types and their recipe setpoint values are stored. Process reliability is increased because the device is restarted only when all nominal and actual values on the indicator agree. This avoids defective or damaged equipment parts. In this version, the axes are still adjusted manually; instead, the correct settings are monitored electronically.The special feature of the electronic position indicator is the LED indicator, which clearly shows the operator the status of the position: green light
It means “Position is correct”, red light means “Position is incorrect”. In addition, an arrow direction indicator is integrated into the Display to indicate the correct adjustment direction.
Figure 4: Application of format changeover monitoring with electronic position indicators in pharmaceutical production
In pharmaceutical production, monitoring format changeovers can be of great help in, for example, cartoner equipment that requires frequent adjustments or the identification of products. A “trace back” device is a relatively new development through which prescription drugs must be clearly and traceably labelled. At the same time, various processes such as printing, reading, labelling and weighing therefore require extensive adjustments. The process reliability of these devices can be significantly improved by monitoring specification conversion.
Fig. 5: SIKO position indicator for format conversion on a traceability device in pharmaceutical production
Automatic specification conversion
If the axis needs to be adjusted without any human intervention, people talk about automatic size changeover via compact drives. Drives networked to the machine control system are moved directly to the desired position. Changeover times can be further drastically reduced through automation. In addition, automation is also a beneficial option if adjustments must be made frequently to inaccessible equipment parts.
The drive is characterized by its highly integrated construction, which combines all components in one device: brushless DC motor (no wear), high-performance gearing with low backlash, as well as position sensors and power and control electronics. Integrating the drive into the machine control system and communicating with the control system is very simple, thanks to a large number of common standard interfaces. These include Profibus or Profinet interfaces according to the Siemens standard, low-cost serial interfaces (eg RS485 and CAN), IO-Link and modern industrial Ethernet interfaces.
Depending on the requirements of the application, different performance classes of drives need to be taken into account: small drives in folding carton magazines only require low power for fine-tuning, while in large carton feeding systems they have to be moved by drives with relatively high torque the entire unit.
Also, when converting models with this specification, the control system will only command the device to restart if the process data exchange between the drive and the control system brings the actual value into line with the nominal value.
Fig. 6: Automated format changeover of a labeller for labeling pharmaceutical packaging with SIKO drives
Fig. 7: Machine retrofit with SIKO drive automation
Fig. 8: Machine retrofit with SIKO compact drive automation
Another feature of the compact drive makes it possible to infer the operating state of the drive itself and the device: diagnostic capabilities. By aggregating and monitoring drive parameters such as current draw in the motor, temperature or Voltage values on the control and load circuits, abnormal conditions can be detected early and maintenance needs can be identified. If the set value is exceeded, immediate action can be taken.
Conclusion: Increased automation, more data In pharmaceutical production, intelligent specification conversion encompasses multiple dimensions: Among them are directly measurable effects such as reduced settling time, increased equipment availability, increased efficiency, and increased process reliability. In addition, smart solutions help to carry out such secondary processes as “noiseless” as possible in production. Don’t worry too much about spec changeovers; if it’s running properly and reliably, you can focus on major work with strict requirements, such as line clean-up or comprehensive documentation.
Peripheral components such as position indicators and servo motors are becoming more and more important in the process of increasing automation and digitization. New developments such as “traceability” systems confirm this. Additional benefits such as data collection, self-diagnostics and lifetime monitoring of components make smart specification conversion a key component of Pharma 4.0.
Fig. 9: Full control and process reliability through correct machine settings – example of a carton correction unit
Master of Engineering (High School) Juergen Schuh
Head of Business Unit Conversion Solutions at SIKO GmbH
Electrical Engineering Major
More than 30 years of experience as an application engineer in SIKO measurement technology
Head of technical sales in the field of machine and plant construction and business support for electronic positioning systems for industrial applications
Currently responsible and 100% focused on the “Transformation Solutions” business area