When you open a bottle of pills you bought at the pharmacy, you assume that the manufacturer has sophisticated processes in place to assure the medicine or vitamins will do the job they’re supposed to. The integrity of the seal and how it could affect the contents of the bottle is something that most users never think of.

Surprisingly, after the bottles get sealed there wasn’t any way to test the quality of the seal aside from random sampling — until the Israeli company DIR Technologies invented a system that checks every unit with thermal imaging. Operators can find and fix problems causing faulty seals whenever they occur, without destroying a sample or holding up the production line.

Last April, pharma giant Pfizer signed a five-year agreement with DIR that includes integration of its Induction Integrity Verification System (I2VS) on select packaging lines.

The Haifa-based company also won the 2015 Innovation Award at the ACHEMA World Forum, an international event for chemical engineering and the process industry.

“The packaging of medicine is considered part of the medicine, because it directly affects the medicine’s quality,” says DIR Marcom Manager Forest Rain Marcia.

“There is some type of technology to test every part of the packaging process except after the package is sealed. Every so often in a batch, someone takes a package off the line and checks it manually. But you don’t really know the quality of the rest, and if you find one with a problem, you don’t know how many are affected, leading to a significant waste of time and effort. It’s not a proper engineering process.”

So in the Israeli tradition of taking a technology developed for the battlefield and applying it to a civilian use,  DIR founders Eran Sinbar and Yoav Weinstein turned their knowledge of high-end infrared imaging – the kind used inside night-vision goggles and guided missiles — into an automated inspector that doesn’t interfere with the product as sampling does.

“Thermal imaging reads the inherent heat signature from the sealing process that heats through the cap of the bottle and glues the lining to the bottle,” Marcia tells ISRAEL21c. “Until now, there was no way to know if that was done properly since the bottle is closed, but our imaging can see through the cap and if there is a problem with a bottle you can discover that single one and get rid of it.”

She explains that sealing problems are bound to occur every now and then. “And some cases are difficult to discover, like if the company has received damaged raw material and the seal doesn’t sit right, or the liners are defective. It is a big leap from sampling to true process control where you check every single bottle and find out not only if something is good or bad, but also get an indication why it went wrong.”

Pure chutzpah

Sinbar and Weinstein established DIR Technologies in 2009 as a spin-off of SCD (SemiConductor Devices), one of the largest manufacturers of advanced infrared sensors worldwide. DIR is jointly owned by major Israeli defense companies Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and Elbit Systems, and the Israeli-American fund SCP Vitalife.

“Part of what makes the company is chutzpah,” says Marcia, using the Hebrew term for nerve or moxie. “The packaging industry, especially pharma, is conservative and conventional, and here come some Israelis saying their products using technology they had never used before can revolutionize industry inspection standards.”

The flagship product was introduced two years ago at the Pack/Pharma Expo Las Vegas. At this year’s expo, September 28-30, DIR will debut I²VS Lite, a simplified version intended for packagers of non-pharma products with a heat-applied seal under the lid, such as food, cosmetics and cleaning supplies.

Infrared imaging makes problems easy to spot. Photo: courtesy
Infrared imaging makes problems easy to spot. Photo: courtesy

“DIR’s thermal imaging technology offers pharmaceutical manufacturers increased operational efficiency, reduction in batch failure and the opportunity for more data-driven decisions,” asserts Fabian Schapiro, DIR’s vice president of marketing and sales. “We’re pleased to now be able to offer the same leap from sampling to 100% to packagers in additional industries.”

DIR also will introduce DIR Eye, an inspection system for products that are heat-sealed without a lid, such as premade salads or hummus, spices, wet wipes and more. “We’re working with Shemesh Automation, another Israeli company, which will be the first to offer our inspection system on their packaging machines,” says Marcia.

“We are making a significant impact because we are using technology in a way that no one else has. Eventually, we believe the quality-control standards in the world will change according to demand the new information and capabilities we are providing.”

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