Schott is integrating a big data solution into its pharmaceutical tubing production.

The data solution will replace statistical sample-based quality assurance with 100% on-line measurement.

Its new IT-based process, called perfeXion, process- and product-quality data of each individual glass tube is collected online and in real-time.

Making accurate glass tubes for the pharmaceutical industry is no light feat: at several metres per second, a virtually endless glass tube comes from the melt at over 1600C and is drawn over a rotating mandrel.

By making adjustments to the drawing speed and the air supply, wall thickness and tube diameter can be precisely determined down to the hundredth of a millimetre.

A few metres further down the line, the cooled glass section is then cut into roughly 1.50 metre-long pieces. From these glass tubes, converters can later manufacture pharmaceutical containers such as vials and syringes. Schott is now able to measure 100% of every single glass tube in production. This data also enables for post-processing steps to be efficiently aligned with the tubing quality.

Instead of selecting a few glass tubes from each batch for statistical quality control, the new perfeXion system measures the entire glass tube many times over as it is drawn from the melt.

Lasers recognise deviations in diameter and wall thickness, for example, and camera and IR inspection systems can even detect the smallest inclusions in the glass. Around 100,000 data tags are generated every minute.

An integrated IT system, evaluating the continuous glass tube with real-time data measurements, calculates incidents of imperfection with such precision that it can later differentiate corresponding individual tubes which can then be sorted out. Each tube is checked again at its completion.

The system’s development took several years. Analysing a curved tube surface zooming down a production line was a particularly difficult challenge. The effort has paid off because the data analysis is a source of insight into how production can be further optimised.

The perfeXion approach means quality data can be traced back in more detail, not only by Schott but also by companies at subsequent steps in the value chain.

Dr Patrick Markschläger, Executive Vice President at Schott Tubing, said: “By gathering information on each individual glass tube, we’ve already made an important contribution to quality assurance for downstream post-processing steps at the very beginning of the value chain.”