The Messy FMD Deadline

This is, finally, the week of the grand deadline of the EU FMD (Falsified Medicines Directive). Considering the amount of work required from all stakeholders, the ecosystem has fared fairly well. The full test of the system is about to come when: pharma manufacturers (MAH and CMO) begin communicating the codes with each other and reporting the codes to the repositories; wholesalers and 3PL begin checking the codes in suspect cases and decommissioning the codes of products shipped to mass users, and pharmacies begin authenticating the products and decommissioning the codes.

Stabilization Period

As is well known, a lot of MAHs have begun the system setup late. Reasons are many: there may be too little resources in the company or other projects, such as a concurrent factory upgrade, have consumed the personnel and monetary resources. Some of the smaller MAHs have studied their product repertoire, made some calculations, and found that the few Rx products that they act as a MAH for (using a CMO as a manufacturer), are not worth the investment. Thus, they have reoriented themselves as MAH to OTC products only and just an importer/wholesaler for Rx products. This is understandable as for some generic drugs there is a multitude of both manufacturers and MAHs available and thus very heavy competition based on price or brand recognition.

A safe bet is that a vast majority of the code verification problems stem from other sources:

  1. export codes from India, indistinguishable from the EU FMD codes
  2. EU FMD codes printed in product batches released to market before the 9.2.2019 deadline without uploading the codes to EMVS due to EMVS or level 4 software not available

For these cases, we have different local guidance in e.g. Finland and Denmark. Dirk Rodgers discussed the Danish solution in a recent blog post.

 Danish Medicines Agency Lægemiddelstyrelsen (Denmark):

”Because the safety feature provisions do not enter into force before 9 February 2019, medicinal products manufactured before this date may not necessarily be uploaded to the repositories system. Attempts to verify these products will appear in the system as ’unknown’. As medicinal products may have a shelf life of up to five years, it may take up to five years before all medicinal product packs covered by the safety feature provisions are uploaded in the repositories system. The Danish Medicines Agency finds that during this period, no action should be taken in response to medicinal products returned as ”unknown” by the repositories system in connection with a verification attempt. The suppression of packs returned as ’unknown’ by the system has to do with the product’s authorised shelf life. It remains important, however, to report it to the Danish Medicines Agency if a medicinal product pack looks suspicious or if there are visible signs of falsification.” (link)

 Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea (Finland)

Reporting to Fimea is not required, however, when reading the 2D barcode, according to the procedures agreed in cooperation among wholesaler and retail logistics chain parties, it is unequivocal that they have been freed to free traffic in the EU region before 9.2.2019. It must also be unequivocal that the question is not of an suspected falsified medicinal product. In these cases, if the aforementioned conditions are met, and there is no basis for suspecting a falsified medicinal product, the product can be dispensed to the customers.” (unofficial transl. by Iiro Jantunen, org. link)

These questions have also been noted by the EMVO, which has proposed a ’Stabilisation Period’ with ”flexible alert handling” and an increase of EMVS stability and performance. The Stabilisation Period is expected to run for roughly 8 months until September 2019. The Stabilisation Period is not, however, for delaying serialization of medicines at the production lines.

National Legislation Processes

I have not looked too much into the other countries implementing EU FMD, but in Finland, at least, we are on a deadline-licking schedule. Due to the concurrent healthcare and social services reform that has overloaded the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health with legislative work, the Finnish government was able to give the implementation proposed legislation to the Parliament of Finland on 29.11.2018, and after a speedy hearing and approval process (including the equally overloaded Social Affairs and Health Committee of the Parliament), the legislation was approved on 5.2.2019. There is thus just a couple of days left for the President of Finland to sign the law before the EU FMD deadline.

Have other countries had similarly delayed legislative processes?

Brexit Mess

The possible Hard Brexit would cause a lot of trouble to the pharmaceutical industry in general (in addition to other industries, of course). Importing drugs from the UK would work similarly as from other 3rd countries, with the MAH responsible for the upload of the serialized codes to the EMVS. What may cause trouble, however, are the medicinal packages made for the UK market and uploaded to the EMVS before the day of Brexit. As the case of uncontrolled Hard Brexit would sever the link between the SecurMed (UKMVO), there may be code verification or decommissioning problems, resulting in e.g. ghost codes lingering in the EMVS even after the medicines have been used.

In any case, the British are left with a discussion about delaying the authentication at the point of dispense requirements for the case of GPs. This would require the wholesalers to decommission the serial codes before shipping the drugs to the GP surgeries. Another minor headache in the UK EU FMD case is the crown dependency of Gibraltar as well as Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus, which are deemed out of scope for EU FMD and, thus, medicines shipped to them from areas governed by EU FMD, including UK, Spain, and the Republic of Cyprus, would have to be decommissioned in the EMVS. In the case of no Hard Brexit, however, it has been clearly stated that the EU FMD will apply to the UK unless “specifically revoked”. We’ll see.

Servicepoint offers services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, machine vision, robotics, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. In the last few years, Servicepoint has implemented serialization to more than a dozen sites for several manufacturers, our implemented or started projects at customers ranging from Russia to Spain, from Finland to Cyprus. Call us, we can help you!

Merry FMD deadline to you all!

Servicepoint Kuopio Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry

Printing Russian Pharma Codes

The US DSCSA delayed deadline has just passed. The EU FMD deadline is just two months ahead. The complex Russian pharmaceutical serialization requirements have been published last summer, causing disruption on pharma packaging lines.

Servicepoint has been working in pharma manufacturing and packaging lines in Russia as well as for exporting to Russia from abroad.  We have worked to help our international client to implement Russian serialization in addition to the European one. As the requirements were specified last year with no knowledge on the finalized form of the Russian serialization, we have been working to implement the changes to the system being already installed and validated.

The major issue in Russian pharma serialization is the large amount of data being required in the Data Matrix, leading to large dimensions of the matrix or small dot size. As the standard ink-jet printer head size creates an upper limit on the physical size, getting a GS1-compliant quality printing result with small dot sizes is paramount.

We were able to demonstrate printing a 36×36 Data Matrix with 300 dpi and one printer head and sufficient print quality for further processes, such as pack-by-layer, at a pharma manufacturing line of the client. Developing and implementing a solution was challenging, requiring the top skills and extensive experience of Servicepoint engineers. The data included was (GS1 Application Identifiers) GTIN (01), serial number (21), key (91), and signature (92) —  as required by the Russian draft regulation.

This demonstration was of paramount importance, as the use of existing and already implemented EU FMD or US DSCSA compliant serialization solutions facilitates rapid deployment of  Russian serialization into pharmaceutical manufacturing. We at Servicepoint are well experienced in updating and upgrading existing pharma serialization systems for new products, markets, new package sizes, or higher capacity.

Servicepoint offers services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, machine vision, robotics, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. In the last few years Servicepoint has implemented serialization to more than a dozen sites for several manufacturers, our implemented or started projects at customers ranging from Russia to Spain, from Finland to Cyprus. Call us, we can help you!

Servicepoint Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry

Pharma serialization — challenging months ahead

When the EU Delegated Act (2016/161) on safety features of medicinal products was published in Feb 9, 2016, one would have assumed the industry to be already in full work to get ready by the deadline. This was actually true for the big pharma. Companies having 100+ pharma packaging lines just had to begin work well in advance to have any chance to meet the deadline. The small and medium-sized (SME) manufacturers have been another story.

In August 2018, European Medicines Verification Organization (EMVO) announced that only 841 pharma companies had at least initiated the process to connect to the European Medicines Verification System (EMVS) by signing the agreement with EMVO. This was up only from 500 companies last February, so for most of the about 2240 marketing authorization holders there is a lot left to do. Everyone won’t meet the deadline.

With the big pharma in line as also most of the middle-sized companies, a great majority of the production capacity will be serialized and connected to EMVS in time, thus most drug production will not experience regulatory problems. Some of the small manufacturers producing essential and difficult to replace special medicines may not compliant by the deadline, resulting in a danger of medicine shortages. On the other side, small pharma manufacturers of generics will be in serious trouble if not compliant in time.

I am not a lawyer, but to me it seems that the Falsified Medicines Directive (2011/62/EU, ”FMD”) leaves overseeing the compliance of the pharma manufacturers to the member states. The penalties for non-compliance should be ”effective, proportionate and dissuasive” and ”not be inferior to those applicable to infringements of national law of similar nature and importance.”

It looks to me that this will make many a lawyer happy in the following years.

As an automation integrator with special skills in implementing pharmaceutical serialization, Servicepoint has seen the surge of requests for quotation from SME pharma manufacturers. To respond to the rapidly rising demand we have been recruiting and training more personnel for the specialist tasks. We are happy to help new clients, too. With the current high demand, spending time in tender processes is not a priority, however.

Russian regulatory developments

The Russian pharmaceutical traceability law is going forward with a deadline just eleven months after the EU FMD deadline. The technical specs are still evolving, but case-level aggregation is required by the law for the full traceability service. This should be noted by European manufacturers who, in addition to supplying the European market, export medicines to Russia.

On technical level, the tentative Russian specification spells some trouble for packaging lines. The requirement (see post by Dirk Rodgers) to include a 4-character key (Application Identifier 91) and 88-character encrypted signature (AI 92) to the data matrix, in addition to the (possibly) standard 14-digit GTIN-14 (AI 01) and 13-character serial number (AI 21), results in 122 characters (includes field termination characters). This is considerably more than the 60 digits enough for the EU FMD -compliant data matrix (about 70 with national reimbursement number), resulting in quite a large data matrix (36×36).

Why would this be trouble at the packaging line? As the standard, easy, way to print the data matrix and human readable information is a 12,7 mm wide inkjet printer head, there is a limit how large a square data matrix one can easily print. Making the dot size smaller is possible, but the smaller the dot size, the more difficult (i.e., expensive) it is to reach the required print quality.

Summed up, it sure looks we are going to have an interesting working year ahead, with lots of work needed for the pharma industry to be compliant. Following the regulatory developments is of paramount importance, especially as the Brexit is looming early next year, too.

Servicepoint offers services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, machine vision, robotics, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. In the last few years Servicepoint has implemented serialization to more than a dozen sites for several manufacturers, our implemented or started projects at customers ranging from Russia to Spain, from Finland to Cyprus. Call us, we can help you!

Servicepoint Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry

Serialization and data integrity in pharma production

With the US, European, and Russian pharmaceutical serialization deadlines looming, the industry is busy implementing these new technologies to their production lines.

Serialization, in effect, expands the digital dimension to production data. Instead of just master and batch data, there will be individual package-related data in cloud and ERP systems. Even the small-scale production sites that have been able to rely on paper-based reporting have to adopt digital reporting.

Of obvious importance is the need to reconcile data, not just materials, after the production run before the batch is released. The approved batch should not have serial numbers hanging loose, nor packages without serial numbers, nor serialized packages not accounted for. All the rejected packages with serial numbers must be accounted for.

Digital accounting makes the control of data integrity both easier and harder. On the other hand, the data systems can be made to provide audit trail every data read, write, and change, require digital identification of persons responsible and provide backups. On the other hand, people are prone to looking for shortcuts, especially during incidents. For example, if the person having the access rights to production line stop mitigation is not always close, the personnel may find a shortcut, e.g., having access keys are available at the production line to make quick changes and repairs. This results in obvious data integrity risks.

Data integrity might look like a simple issue with a modern computerized production control systems, but it is hardly so. There are interfaces between the systems: within the organization, between trading parties such as API manufacturers or CMOs and MAHs, and between the MAHs and cloud systems or government repositories, such as the European Hub in the EMVS, and MDLP in Russia.

Each data transfer contains a possibility of unintentional data changes. Guaranteeing the data integrity between ISA levels 2 (production line) and 3 (site/factory level) may well be troublesome if the software solutions on these levels are from different vendors. An example of an unintentional change of data was with HIV testing at a blood service years ago, where the transferred testing data was truncated and critical information lost — leading to people being given contaminated blood.

Compromising data integrity compromises also patient safety.

Data integrity is also related to the data being safe. The serialization data is particularly sensitive as a data security breach may result in counterfeit manufacturers copying the genuine codes to the counterfeit products. The MES and ERP systems should thus be safe from external hacking, even in case the criminals get inside help.

One such case where the serial number data was compromised was at a software manufacturer which, in essence, sold serial codes packed in carton packages,  the software being freely downloadable but requiring the license keys. In this case, counterfeits quickly emerged in the market with perfectly genuine, but copied, serial codes. After an investigation, it was found that the issue was not computer system hacking nor an inside job, but the CD-ROMs containing the serial codes were thrown into normal garbage cans after use, and were thus available to somebody outside the factory looking through the garbage for CDs or other data-containing media.

Web links on machine-readable QR or DataMatrix codes create novel data integrity threats. An obvious problem is that the actual content of the web link is not visible, but attack links can also look similar to genuine ones. A malicious link may lead to a fake website made to look exactly like the genuine one and thus lead to a compromised test of product authenticity — it may even contain a trojan/virus attack to the mobile phone reading the code! If web links are added to QR or DataMatrix codes, one should add a layer of security, such as Systech UniSecure.

Servicepoint offers services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, machine vision, robotics, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. In the last few years, Servicepoint has implemented serialization to more than a dozen sites for several manufacturers, our implemented or started projects at customers ranging from Russia to Spain, from Finland to Greece. Call us, we can help you!

Servicepoint Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry

Countdown to Russian pharma serialization

Servicepoint has been closely watching the developments of the Russian pharmaceutical serialization. As the Federal law on the circulation of medicines has now been approved, signed by the president, and published Dec 29, 2017, it is time to wrap up the developments so far.

I have been covering the development during the design and pilot phases of lawmaking with articles and blog posts, as well as an interview last December.

Summed up, the law is about quite normal serialization, but with a boosted track & trace with extra functionality for the government. The government wants to use the system to watch at pricing and availability of drugs around Russia and provide the consumers a possibility to use a mobile app to search which pharmacists have the drug they are looking for and check the prices, too.

The data matrix should contain, in addition to the normal GTIN (Application Identifier AI=01), serial number (21), batch number (10), and expiry date (17); imported medicines require also a TH-number (240), which is the four first digits of the TN VED (ТН ВЭД), namely 3001 (e.g. blood products such as heparin), 3002 (blood or serum), 3003 (medicines not packaged in dosage forms), or 3004 (dosage forms).

Mikhail Murashko, who heads the Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare has stated that he wants implementation for certain drug classes by the end of 2018.

Aggregation is thus required. Official deadline is Jan 1, 2020, but earlier deadlines for the seven high-spending disease classes (7 ВЗН, such as treatment of haemophilia) and medicines on the list of vital and essential medicines (ЖНВЛП, comprising about 40% of medicine packages or 35% of value), are most probably getting earlier deadlines that will be (soon?) decided by Roszdravnadzor (Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare). Tamper evidence is still in the air, depending on later acts.

The government also wants to have some visibility to the industry readiness. They are going to set up a working group to monitor the implementation and is going to call for hearings in July 2018 to review the progress. I would assume there will be further reviews as the deadline draws closer.

Several of the European manufacturers who have done minimal implementation of serialization just to comply with the EU FMD needs (serialization, tamper evidence, and data upload to repository), have now found out that they need to do further investment to aggregation. This is all well if the original system has been purchased and implemented so that adding aggregation is feasible and cost-efficient.

Servicepoint has collected a wide experience in packaging automation projects as well as machine vision and inspection systems. We offer services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. In the last few years, Servicepoint has implemented serialization to more than a dozen sites for several manufacturers, our implemented or started projects at customers ranging from Russia to Spain, from Finland to Greece.

As we are a Finnish service provider located near the Russian border, we are able to travel to Russian customer sites easily, most of our field engineers have long-term visas. We can also travel on short notice, as in addition to flying to Russia, we have easy train connections to e.g. St. Petersburg and Moscow area. We have Russian-speaking personnel, too. Call us for professional help!

Servicepoint Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry

The many faces of traceability

In common discussion on pharmaceutical serialization, track & trace means traceability of medicines from the manufacturer to the patient to ensure product authenticity.

On the other hand, the companies employ ERP systems for traceability of products and their components from sources through the logistics to gain supply chain visibility. This is very useful in case there is a defect in a sourced component: broken semiconductor components for electronics, spoiled food sources. Traceability makes product recalls easier and more precise.

This is also the case when products in the supply chain take a diversion. Let’s discuss the European pharmaceutical market under the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD). This diversion could be an acceptable one, like a wholesaler selling a shipment of products to another wholesaler or a parallel importer (”grey imports”). In a the more complicated supply chain the purchaser of a shipment is required to verify the unique identifiers of the products. Repackaging products breaks the visibility, but the repackager is required both to decommission the unique identifiers of the original product and commission new unique identifiers to be tracked.

An unacceptable diversion would be when a product shipment, e.g. a delivery truck, is stolen. This breach must be detected and the unique identifiers reported to the EMVO as stolen ones to prevent re-entry of the unique identifiers to the supply chain. Why so? The contents of the stolen packages may have changed or new packages might have been produced with copied codes but unsafe contents – or the cold chain may have been broken.

Traceability is about protecting the consumer


For food products, traceability is also viewed the other way round: the consumer wants to know and be sure where the ingredients of his food product originate from. Thus, producer-identifying timestamps on eggs, names of farms in meat products. This process is for the end customer to identify the sources of food products, but not for authentication. The data can be easily copied or falsified.

Some pharmaceutical track & trace plans include a similar possibility for the patients: e.g. the Russian concept includes a phone app that the patient can use to trace back the logistics chain of the specific product to the manufacturer.

In comparison to the agricultural products, the pharma track & trace models do not include information before the manufacturer of the final product, or marketing authorization holder. There is some discussion about visibility to the APIs and excipients included in the medicines, though.

For the pharmaceutical industry, we offer services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. With experience from 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and of a thousand production & packaging line upgrades or new installations, Servicepoint can help you throughout the whole serialization projects. Call us for professional help!

Servicepoint Oy — the reliable partner for the manufacturing industry


The patient as the last node of a secure pharma supply chain

One of last week’s news in Finland was the police warning about street sales of Rivotril, a benzodiazepine illegally used recreationally for narcotic purposes. At least one of the purchasers has been taken to hospital for losing consciousness. The sellers have been reported to be ”beggars on the street”.

Fake drugs are a grave threat to health: they may contain, instead of the suggested medicinal ingredient, other harmful or even poisonous substances. Also, authentic drugs that have been diverted from the legitimate supply chain may be a health hazard: the criminals do not care for the proper storage conditions: cold chain may have been breached and even durable medicines may lose potency if left in an overheated car in the sun. Medicinal packages may also have their contents exchanged to similar looking, but totally different pills.

To protect the public, health regulators have taken action around the world, such as serialization and addition of tamper-evidence packaging. With these measures, e.g. the European patients should have their prescription medicines authenticated by the pharmacy in the sales process. The protection given by serialization is not perfect but gives a good final safeguard.

All the investment to pharma supply chain security is in vain if the people take the shortcut to shady sellers of illegal drugs.

Illegal internet pharmacies, masquerading as operating from credible countries and with professionally made websites, give an impression to people to be a shortcut to prescription medicines. Some men, for example, who are too shy to ask their doctor to get erectile dysfunction pill prescription, see direct internet sales as an easy and discreet option. The websites are easy to find. The problem is, they do not check one’s prescription and thus the precautions for existing health conditions or medications are not taken. The other problem is that they do not usually care to sell authentic products as fakes are cheaper.

If the customers ever find out that the drugs are fake, they are shy to report to police as they should not have been purchasing the drugs illegally in the first place. Another problem for the police is that finding the perpetrators is notoriously difficult online.

In illegal online sales of prescription medicines, the risk to the customer comes in two ways: the health risks of digesting fakes, and giving one’s credit card details directly to criminals.

The pharmaceutical industry is investing heavily to implement serialization and track & trace technologies to their production lines. So are the pharmacies and the logistics companies. All this investment is in vain if the people take the shortcut to shady sellers of illegal drugs, for shame or to get medicines that are not appropriate to them.

Another issue is authenticating the medicines bought from internet pharmacies, as the patient has no visibility to the point-of-sale verification; a case for a mobile app with connectivity to the data repositories.

Photo: Helsinki Police Department, Finland

Securing pharma supply chain for the patients

8A recent simulation pilot — by St. James’s Hospital (Dublin, Ireland), Systech International, and Sharp Packaging Solutions — tested the logistics of medicines from the manufacturer to a hospital with test ”fake” products mixed in. The simulation consisted of three batches of cancer medicines each secured by different means: one using the European Stakeholder Model (ESM), another using the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) model e-Pedigree, and the third using the proprietary Systech UniSecure solution. 50 ”fake” products with unique identifiers copied from the authentic ones were randomly mixed into batches of 500 products each, simulating a breach of logistics security. It was found out that of 50 ”fake” products, 18 got dispensed to the patient before warning signs in the ESM model, and 10 in the e-Pedigree model. This was because in a case the counterfeiters have genuine codes to copy, either because of an information system breach or by copying the codes from authentic products (e.g. in a warehouse), the first product with an authentic serial number will get passed to the patient, even if it is fake.

A fake drug with a copied unique identifier reaches the patient, if it passes the logistics chain before the authentic drug.

Systech UniSecure adds a very efficient layer of security by detecting specific measurable characteristic patterns within the printing noise, harnessing these variations to generate an electronic signature. This electronic signature is unique to a given instance of a product and can be utilized on either a serialized or non-serialized product. These variations are both random and unique, producing e-Fingerprint that is impossible to replicate. As UniSecure does not interfere with the serialization track and trace regulations, it can be readily applied whenever the industry has the need. The logistics partners, pharmacists or even the patient can then authenticate the product with a phone app, which uses the camera existing in virtually all smartphones.

This brings us to another example of problems with the ESM or e-Pedigree: the internet pharmacies. Authentication at the point-of-dispense is all well in traditional pharmacies as the patient can see the verification to happen. In internet pharmacies, this is not the case. The patients should, thus, have a means to authenticate the products themselves, but the government-regulated systems do not allow that, the incoming Russian drug traceability system as an exception. One must remember, that an unscrupulous villain can fake the point-of-dispense application, too, to sell fake products at a criminal-run pharmacy. Systech UniSecure provides for these cases, too, as the industry can opt for extra protection: enter a ”pharma brand app”. This functionality can readily be a part of mobile health app providing also other functions, such as assistance for medication adherence.

Another group that is not yet covered by the government-regulated anti-counterfeiting method nor have a system of reliable pharmacy network are people of the undeveloped countries. A prime example are antimalarial medications: a recent study found 1/3 of antimalarials in sale in Africa were fake. Another survey by WHO in Nigeria in 2011 found that 64 % of the antimalarials were fake (mPedigree). Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous in undeveloped countries. The pharma manufacturers could, then, provide protection for the poor patients, too.

For the pharmaceutical industry, we offer services of an experienced full-service packaging, device assembly, and serialization and track & trace automation integration company. With experience from 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and of 800 production & packaging line upgrades or new installations, Servicepoint can help you throughout the whole serialization projects. Call us for professional help!


Product authentication in food & beverages industry

The growing number of food fraud scandals has alerted the consumers, industry, and regulators alike to address the problem of counterfeit food. Virgin olive oil can be fake, pesticides or fertilizers can be counterfeited, and cheap milk quark can be turned to genuine looking mozzarella, to name a few cases.

The food production chain is a complex and delicate construct of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, fodder, veterinary medicine, logistics, food additives, food processing industry (e.g., dairy, bakery, brewery), up to supermarkets, open market places, and restaurants, to name a few of the parts of the supply chain. There is a multitude of access points where counterfeit products can get in. Business losses are severe and widespread when the public gets alerted. Traceability of ingredients and products should be a priority.

Thinking of the fragile and complex food supply chain, one would assume that anti-counterfeiting technologies would be widely used. On the contrary, the business has been content to rely on trusted suppliers — sometimes even being happy to take in a cheaper alternative from a less reliable source. It is time for the food & beverages industry to adopt traceability.

As food is consumed by people, they should be exactly as interested in the authenticity of the products as they are with pharmaceuticals. Digesting poisonous ingredients is exactly as harmful if supplied within fake food or the same amount of fake medicines. Less of a health problem, faking normal food products as organic may also lead to substantial brand damage.

Anti-counterfeiting measures and traceability should be top priorities to the food & beverages industry for both consumer safety and brand protection.

On the contrary to the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry, there is no centralized serialization system available for authenticating products on different parts of the supply chain. There are industry solutions available, such as Systech UniSecure fingerprinting technology, which provide product traceability and full authentication with cloud services and mobile apps.

With Systech UniSecure, the product is serialized and the intrinsic noise of printing changing data, e.g., batch & expiry date or a serialization code, is captured with a vision inspection system while the quality of the print is checked. The cloud service enables a mobile phone app that, e.g., the consumer, farmer, or food manufacturing company can use to authenticate the product, be it an end product, pesticide, or a food ingredient, respectively. The technology does not alter the design of the product nor is reverse engineerable. As the technology allows for a mobile phone app, even the consumer can be engaged to authenticate products.

For food, beverages, and agricultural industry, we offer services of an experienced full-service packaging, handling, and authentication automation integration company. With experience from 30 years in the food, beverages, and pharmaceutical industry, and of 800 production & packaging line upgrades or new installations, Servicepoint can help you throughout the whole automation projects. Call us for professional help!


Retrofitting serialization

Global running regulatory deadlines for pharmaceutical serialization are putting heavy pressure on the production & packaging as well as IT & QA people in pharmaceutical manufacturers and automation integrators alike. Implementing serialization is relatively easy if one has ample room and financial resources to build a new end for a production or packaging line, but many production sites are not so spacious. Often it isn’t financially feasible to replace all of the old equipment, either. Thus discussion about retrofit serialization installations.

Machinery manufacturers are happy to sell new machinery. Installing new machinery to replace existing ones is also quite a straightforward project, given enough room. When there is a case for retrofit engineering, i.e., installing as little new equipment as possible, more automation engineering skills are required. An experienced automation integrator is able to help the pharmaceutical manufacturer through this project, by pointing out the possibilities and providing the skills needed.

At an old manufacturing site, most or all of the space is already booked by the existing production and packaging equipment. There may be little room for any new machinery. Adding new functionality to the packaging line may thus need a custom design to retrofit due to spacial constraints.

If the production is not already 24/7, there also may be a possibility to unite two production lines with a common packaging end. This helps control the costs to make it financially more feasible to upgrade the level of automation.

In some cases, much of the packaging work is done manually, especially in small-scale production. In some countries, there may be an attitude that with the low local employee costs, automation would not make sense.  When a new process phase is introduced, e.g., serialization and aggregation, the situation may change profoundly. As in one of the sites I have visited, there were 8 people at the end of the production line packing the medicines to cartons with leaflets, and then adding the cartons to cases and sealing them. When serialization and aggregation is brought to the same table, even when done manually or semi-automatically, there will be several issues that affect the production economy:

  1. The more people, the more manual or semiautomatic serialization, and aggregation stations, thus higher equipment cost.
  2. The new process step might make the job unfeasible to the current personnel given the production line output. There might thus be a need to add more people, and thus possibly even more new equipment.
  3. The new process step increases the risk of human errors.
  4. There might not exist extra space for the new personnel in the current packaging room. Adding extra room may be expensive or require difficult reorganization of other production rooms.

In this case, the solution might not be to add extra people and tear down the outer wall of the factory building to build more room. The most feasible solution might be to add an automatic cartoner and then have fewer people, maybe two, with semiautomatic case aggregation stations. No need for an extra room then.

For custom and retrofit production line upgrades, services of an experienced full-service automation integration company are thus required. With experience from 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and of 800 production & packaging line upgrades or new installations, Servicepoint can help you throughout the whole serialization and automation projects. We have experience with various retrofitting projects. Call us for professional help!