Installation of a fully validated visual inspection system utilising AI is a first on an automated unit

Syntegon Technology has installed its first fully validated visual inspection system utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI) which it says constitutes a major step for the pharmaceutical industry.

“We are proud to announce this important move, which is the joint result of long-standing visual inspection expertise, solid software and pharmaceutical validation competence, courage to cross boundaries, and an excellent partnership with our customer,” says Dr José Zanardi, who is responsible for vision inspection development and applications at Syntegon.

As one of the most challenging stages in the pharmaceutical manufacturing process, inspection requires ever more sophisticated visual systems to process increasingly complex products. “Especially for high-cost pharmaceuticals, every single false reject is one too many,” Zanardi says. AI applications have the potential of further increasing detection rates and reducing the number of false rejects in difficult products like highly viscous parenteral solutions with air bubbles, which are sometimes hard to differentiate from harmful particles. AI utilises Deep Learning algorithms which are capable of accurately identifying recurring patterns and deviations.

“A growing number of Deep Learning vision applications are already on the market, but our task was to adapt those applications for pharmaceutical purposes, which essentially also includes validation,” explains Zanardi. In fact, thanks to in-house software and visual inspection know-how, Syntegon was able to develop a solution that only requires moderate modifications to the existing vision systems.

After starting the AI development in 2017 and carrying out many tests, Syntegon recently installed its first AI-equipped visual inspection system in a fully automated and validated machine on a production line. In operation, biotechnology company Amgen uses the system to reliably distinguish air bubbles at the syringe’s rubber stopper from foreign particles, where conventional vision technology often mistakenly identifies safe products containing bubbles as defective.

“This challenging project required a lot of dedication and expertise,” says Manuel Soto, principal process development engineer at Amgen. “In cooperation with Syntegon, we have implemented the world-first syringe inspection machine with AI and underline our market position, both in biotechnology production and in technology,” he says.

In this customer project, Syntegon’s AI-based vision system was able to increase the particle detection rate by 70% while reducing the false detection rate by 60% (average values in a particular inspection station).

“We are very happy that our new technology is able to contribute to higher safety and production efficiency of injectable drugs,” concludes Zanardi. Backed by this success, Syntegon is set to implement AI in further inspection machines for different products and container types.

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