Mass customization has been in demand for consumer goods for a few years, and now thanks to personalized medicine as well as serialization, healthcare products, too, are being ‘customized.’ The new category of machinery, the adaptive machine, is emerging to meet such needs, according to a new white paper from B&R Industrial Automation North America.
The adaptive machine is a “game changer,” says John Kowal, director, business development for B&R Industrial Automation Corp. “Consumer demand and especially e-commerce are driving mass customization. Instead of producing to stock, building huge distribution centers, and carrying huge inventory costs, it makes sense to find an economical way to build the elusive batch size one. Build to order, let the customer have exactly what they want, and ship direct from the factory to the consumer.”
Specific trends in pharma and medical packaging are driving this need. “In pharma, the automated hospital and mail-order pharmacies can kit the medications for an individual patient, with less opportunity for human error, in a sterile environment, and with built-in QA and serialization,” says Kowal. And in “medical devices, from surgical kits to catheters and ostomies, to orthotics, to dental implants, to parenterals, the adaptive machine again produces, assembles, doses, and packages to order, per patient, per instance.”
It has been a somewhat slow progression. “In packaging, we talk about Gen3, which started with SIG's announcement for the 1999 interpack show that it was introducing 'third generation packaging machinery' designed from the ground up for servo motion control (aka, mechatronics),” he says. “But batch size one and mass customization have eluded the packaging industry. Rainbow packs, for example, are typically repacked manually at distribution centers.”
But now, thanks to adaptive machinery, “they can be produced inline with the primary packaging process, and combinations selected by the customer,” says Kowal, offering the following examples in food packaging. “Instead of two each chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, you can select one chocolate, four vanilla, and one strawberry. You can select different portion sizes in the same order. You can order a birthday cake with a customized message in automatically applied icing, then packed in the appropriate sized cake box and shipper, all inline.”
Several advances are making such customization possible, and these are available to pharmaceutical and medical device companies. “Adaptive machine technology, with track technology at its core and enabled by multiple technologies—synchronized robotics, advanced software algorithms, high-speed I/O, predictive maintenance monitoring, networked safety and more—is ideally suited to pharma and medical processing, assembly, testing, and packaging,” Kowal says.
B&R will be showcasing such adaptive technology at Pack Expo Las Vegas. “We have one major pharma manufacturer that has asked us to hold an executive roundtable and invite all its major OEMs to attend during Pack Expo Las Vegas, where we are also demonstrating the technology,” he says.
For more details and to obtain a copy of the white paper, visit B&R at Booth #S-6163.