If you have considered purchasing a compliance aid robot before, you will have come across comparisons between robots that use canisters to ‘dispense’ single tablets or capsules and robots that use suction to achieve the same. Whether you use MDS, Blister Packs or another type of compliance aid it is true to say that not all robots are the same. Let us explain.

Canisters require calibration to ensure that only one tablet or capsule is dispensed at a time based on size and shape. This is critical for accuracy and makes canister machines superior to suction machines. In the past calibration of canisters has taken time, however we are launching a new rapid calibration service in the UK which means you can have the best of both worlds. Accuracy and speed.

Why is it important?

Ten years ago when pharmacy robots took control of compliance aid dispensing across Europe, the tidal wave of expansion stumbled on the beaches of Dover and stopped. Very few installations occurred in the UK and a few pioneers who took up the new technology remained a curiosity rather than blazing a trail. UK pharmacies continued to manually produce tens of millions of trays every year, ignoring the changes occurring in European towns like Ostend, Amiens and Leverkusen. Our neighbours reduced their manual activities while increasing accuracy and in the UK we increased our staff numbers instead.

Why would UK pharmacy contractors behave in this way. Well, it is a matter of funding. Many of our continental friends don’t rely on purchasing margin in quite the same way that we do. In France for example pharmacies attract a share of the drug budget proportional to their workload. UK contractors have to be very nimble when purchasing medicines, at times changing supplier or manufacturer every day. This can present a challenge when considering how to automate compliance aid dispensing and has resulted in the development of both canister and suction machines.

Canister vs suction

Tablets and capsules are de-blistered from their original packs before being inserted into compliance aid robots which then use them to assemble compliance aids. In the vast majority of robots, all bar one type, tablets and capsules are added to a canister which is then inserted into the robot. A canister is a small plastic container with a rotor at the bottom which controls when, and how many tablets or capsules leave the canister. Each rotor has spaces around it that are sized for the specific tablet or capsule to ensure only one leaves the canister when intended. This sizing is called calibration.

The alternative is a suction system that literally sucks at the tablets and capsules in the machine with the aim of extracting one per suction cup at a time. As you can imagine there are some problems with accuracy with this approach that can lead to mistakes and errors, all of which slow down production or worse.

The benefits of canisters

Canisters provide speed, accuracy, efficiency and allow for automated checking. This is why the number of canister based machines, at over 10,000 around the world dwarves the number of suction based machines.

  • Speed | One of the key main reasons for use of a compliance aid is polypharmacy. The numbers of medicines an individual can need at one time can be significant. Canister based machines operate at the same speed irrelevant of the number of medicines dispensed for a specific tray cell. Suction machines slow down with larger volumes as they suck each medicine separately.
  • Accuracy | Accuracy is one of the main benefits of pharmacy automation. Canister based machines allow maximum accuracy ensuring that medicines that do not fit a canisters calibration settings will not be dispensed accidentally. Suction machines are not calibrated and will dispense medicines that are accidentally entered into the machine in the wrong place.
  • Efficiency | Canister based machines use every last tablet and capsule whilst avoiding mixing batches and expiry codes. Suction machines are not able to reach 100% efficiency and leave the last few tablets or capsules in the machine which need to be discarded before re-filling.
  • Automated checking | Automated checking is the next step in pharmacy automation and is proven to be more accurate than manual checking. Canister based machines photograph and check dispensed medicines all at the same time before they are added to the compliance aid. Suction machines do not ‘collect’ all of the medicines together at the same time prior to adding them to the compliance aid meaning that it is impossible to implement automated checking.

Rapid UK calibration service

The only criticism levelled at canister machines in the past has been that calibration has required time which has impacted on the ability of UK pharmacy contractors to change brands of medication quickly in response to changes in price.

This was a fair criticism however we are pleased to announce that it is no longer relevant.

From February 2018 we are providing the UK with it’s first rapid canister calibration service with a maximum turnaround of seven days for up to 50 canisters. In addition we are planning the imminent launch of a new self-calibration service which will support an onsite 15 minute calibration process.

Speak to the experts

If you’d like to really leverage the benefits of pharmacy automation without suffering the compromises of a suction based machine then get in touch and speak to the pharmacy automation experts for an informal chat or to arrange a free demonstration at our state of the art facility at TechSpace One in Warrington, Cheshire.

Don’t settle for second best. Not all pharmacy robots are equal.

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