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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Innomech develops powerful “track and trace technology for healthcare markets
Article Type: News From: Assembly Automation, Volume 31, Issue 1
GB Innomech, which specialises in the development of advanced automation systems, is helping develop a powerful new low-cost approach to uniquely mark pharmaceutical and related healthcare products and, therefore, improve product traceability. The technique will allow faster identification and resolution of any manufacturing quality problems but will also prove invaluable as an anti-counterfeit measure because the specific coding and validation systems are almost impossible to copy.
Currently most components within diagnostic kits, medical devices and other healthcare products and equipment are “stamped” with a lot code at the point of manufacture. However, these codes are of limited use for quality improvement unless products are produced in very small batches. As a result, regulatory bodies across the world are now putting manufacturers under increasing pressure to invest in much more sophisticated traceability systems, while manufacturers are looking for effective ways to prevent the growing problem of counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals and other healthcare products.
The breakthrough approaches being developed by Innomech will enable manufacturers to mark products with a code that is either unique to the item or shared by only a small number of items produced together.
The codemark is an unobtrusive 2D dot matrix identifier that is linked to a lookup database. In effect the matrix code acts as a “key” to access much more detailed information, such as the specific batch codes of raw materials used during production, the time of manufacture, the production line and so on. A version of the database could be accessible online for anyone to verify the item is genuine.
The codes can be printed or laser etched onto products, applied to virtually any substrate and can even be added onto the surface of pharmaceutical capsules or coated tablets. Matrix codes can be as small as 2 by 2 mm holding the code for up to 10 billion numbers. The codes can be read by widely available readers or in many cases from a picture taken with even the simplest camera phone, making them ideal in the battle against counterfeit medicines.
For example, a doctor in remotest Africa about to dispense a treatment course for malaria could take a picture of the product packaging code, send it by SMS to a centralised online database and within seconds have an auto-response to confirm the validity of the product and be sure he/she is not dispensing an ineffective or even potentially fatal counterfeit product. The integration of such techniques fits in well with Innomech’s business of providing advanced automation and ensuring that high risk areas are thoroughly investigated through feasibility studies. Ensuring the appropriate type of laser, which is suitable to the product and is capable of being used as part of the overall automation solution is a key area of investigation.
“Innomech is now working with several clients to help adjust their manufacturing processes to incorporate this powerful new approach and enable products to be much more easily marked than has previously been possible,” said Steve Robertson, managing director of Innomech.
Adding 2D-matrix codes to drug capsules or onto tablet coatings is one of the most powerful anti-counterfeiting measures available today (Figure 1). The specific codes and validation systems are virtually impossible to copy and within seconds doctors can validate the product’s authenticity via an online system.