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Simplify Serialization Aggregation with Helper Codes

If you are working on a serialization project for your Federal Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) compliance, you’ll know that capturing the data from round containers can be tricky.

As you pack the individual bottles into cartons, you need to be able to automatically scan the serialization barcode on the label in order to associate with the next level of packaging. With non-round packages, this is easy since the products can be oriented facing in the same direction for scanning.

Since round containers can randomly turn on the conveyor, the barcodes generally are facing in random directions and are not going to be conveniently oriented for scanning. A traditional solution for this is to build a “scan tunnel”, a system with between four and six cameras that views the container from different angles and stitches the whole thing together in software to produce a barcode image that can be decoded. This works but is complicated and expensive – especially since you might need to capture the barcode data at more than 0ne location in your packaging line.

A simple solution to this problem is to use a “helper code”, a barcode printed on the container that is in a position where it can be scanned by just a single barcode scanner.

Helper codes for pharmaceutical aggragation

Helper Code printed on cap of pharmaceutical container

Our team of serialization experts in our Oakland, NJ facility has been working on this solution for some time. LSI by ID Technology labeling systems are used in many pharmaceutical serialization applications where they are interfaced with the leading MES (Manufacturing Execution Software) packages from all the top providers.

The helper code is a 2D Datamatrix barcode that has a unique serial number encoded. This barcode is printed on the container (using laser or inkjet printing technology) before the container is presented to the labeling station. Normally the helper code is printed on the bottom of the container or on the top of the cap.

At the LSI by ID Technology labeling system, the product label is printed with the variable data (date/lot code, serial number and GS1 or HIBCC barcode), inspected and applied to the product.

Pharmaceutical Serialization - labeling system round containers

Labeling System for Round Containers

Immediately after the label is applied, the helper code is scanned and the embedded unique number is associated with that particular package in a database:

pharmaceutical serialization associating helper code with package

Labeling With Helper Code Association

Labels being incremented through the labeling system have the variable data printed by a thermal transfer or laser coder, after which the print is inspected for quality and the barcode data is decoded and stored.

The data read from the barcode is entered into the shift register which tracks that particular label until it is applied to a container. As the label is being applied, the helper code data is read and the machine control system then associates the two codes (label code and helper code) for that product.

The labeler PLC control system also tracks any containers and labels that might have failed one of the inspections – these are rejected (with reject verification) to ensure that only product that has passed the inspections and has a valid helper code association are able to move to the next part of the packaging process.

When individual products need to be positively identified (when being aggregated into cases or bundles, for example), scanning the helper codes is all that is needed to be able to positively track which container is present at the scanner. No need for complicated and expensive scan tunnels.

Can we help you with your serialization project? LSI by ID Technology labelers are used by many of the leading pharmaceutical companies. We offer validation documentation, quick changeover packages and full project lifecycle management. You can download a White Paper on helper codes and serialization, written by Jack Roe here.

Want to get started?  Contact us today – 888-438-3242 Option#3 or you can contact me directly at dholliday@idtechnology.com. We’ll get you in touch with one of our pharmaceutical labeling specialists who can help you every step of the way!

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