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Tracking pharmaceuticals in real-time

Sanofi pharmaceutical track and trace system

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Sanofi ensures 100% traceability with vision systems from Cognex

In 2012, the Turkish Health Ministry started enforcing its legislation to fight duplicated sales and drug counterfeits. With the “Medicine Tracking System” (MTS), which utilizes electronic barcodes and ID numbers, the government aims for a seamless 100% traceability of pharmaceuticals from the manufacturer to the point of sales. To reliably fulfill all MTS requirements in their production and logistics facilities, Sanofi Turkey ordered an advanced traceability solution from Antares Vision with vision technologies provided by Cognex.

Sanofi is Turkey’s second largest pharmaceutical company with the country’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturing plant and distribution center. At the manufacturing plant in Lüleburgaz, all major pharmaceutical formats from capsules to liquids are being processed. Most of the 24 lines are highly automated, involving bundlers, shrink wrappers, case packers and robotics. Sanofi produces in two shifts on six days per weeks, resulting in more than 150 million units of use per year. At its distribution center, Sanofi is handling more than 120 million units of use per year. Every day, almost 3,000 drug shipments – over 4,000 during peak seasons – are being delivered to pharmacies and hospitals.

In order to trace any pharmaceutical product in real-time, the Turkish “Medicine Tracking System” requires permanently updated information on the state of medicines, the places of production, the warehouses and all logistic vehicles. In order to meet the MTS’ requirements, Sanofi needed a comprehensive data tracking system for all of its 24 production lines as well as for its vast distribution center.

Antares Vision won the project with a state-of-the-art traceability solution. Not only did they meet all technical requirements, they especially developed a smart solution to meet the very short project timeline of less than seven months: Antares Vision decided to implement as many ready-to-plug-in modules into the lines as possible. Not only was the modular approach faster as installing complete modules only took a few hours. But it was also safer, as all devices of the module – cameras, hand-held scanners, HMIs, thermal-transfer or ink-jet printers, labelers, and reject mechanisms – could be tested thoroughly before the final installation.

Along the production line, Antares Vision incorporated ready-to-plug-in modules for serialization, bundling, case packing and palletizing: The serialization modules are for marking unique codes on secondary packaging. Bundling modules are for aggregating multiple units of use in a bundle that gets a parent number either on the top, the leading edge, or the side. Case packing modules are for aggregating multiple bundles with a parent number that goes on a case. And palletizing modules are for aggregating multiple cases with a parent number that goes on a pallet. In Sanofi’s distribution center, the packing station module is typically used for re-aggregation and decommissioning of containers, e.g. when a previously created case or pallet needs to be opened in order to modify its contents prior to shipment to a customer.

In most of those modules, vision systems from Cognex, the world’s leading provider of vision systems, vision software, vision sensors and industrial image-based barcode readers, have been implemented. At various stages of the production and packaging process, Cognex In-Sight Micro 1400 cameras are responsible for reading the DataMatrix codes which were assigned by the Medicine Tracking System and printed onto every single package at Antares Vision “Print and Apply” stations. In-Sight Micro vision systems have dimensions of only 30 mm x 30 mm x 60 mm, which makes them the world’s smallest self-contained smart cameras – and ideal devices for the compact modules along Sanofi’s production line. The cameras deliver an outstanding performance with an image capture rate of 60 frames per second for reliably reading the 2-D-codes on the product bundles, even at peak production times.

Especially the In-Sight Micro’s ability to identify and scan parent numbers in any location means a huge advantage in terms of packaging duration and production costs: No matter if the code is printed on the top, the leading edge or any side of the package, the camera will locate and properly read it. Therefore, different products of one or several clients can be grouped in the production process without the need for reconfiguring the vision system.

Thanks to the special integration engineering on the part of Antares Vision in optimizing the lighting and automation technology and Cognex in configuring the In-Sight Explorer software, the smart cameras with their advanced code reading algorithms achieve a reading rate of 99.9 %. Even barcode labels that have been damaged during the production or handling process, or codes which are hard to read due to reflections from film-wrapped bundles, are reliably identified by the In-Sight Micro systems.

The very same vision technology was implemented at Sanofi’s distribution facilities. The DataMatrix codes on all packages are now read by Cognex In-Sight Micro 1400 cameras within Antares Vision packing station modules. Furthermore, the stations are equipped with ergonomic DataMan 8100 handheld image-based barcode readers for handling packages manually. These robust scanners also use Cognex’ world-class reading algorithms to decode 2-D codes. Even in night shifts with sometimes challenging lighting situation, DataMan with its integrated LED illumination guarantees for hassle-free identification. Antares Vision's dedicated software (Warehouse Tracking System) guarantees serial number consistency while performing operations such as pallet reworking, shipments, pick & pack and product recalls.

With the new vision system installed at the production and distribution facilities, Sanofi is able to retrieve data from every single pharmaceutical product on the production line and during the distribution process until it reaches the reseller. The information is being processed in real-time, so every medicine can be tracked in the MTS of the Turkish Health Ministry. Antares Vision minimized the impact of the new track and trace system on the commercial production and distribution at Sanofi’s sites by building in as much flexibility as possible across all the product chain. On the other hand, Cognex’ vision solutions paired with their leading code reading algorithms maximize the degree of automation in identification and therefore safeguard the traceability of Sanofi’s products at all stages.

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