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Patent Searching and Data


Title:
INSPECTION DEVICE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/142112
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An inspection device (1), for packaging lines, or for assembly lines, of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items (P), comprising at least one X-ray source (2) suitable to emit X-rays in the low-energy spectrum, and a receiver (3) of the radiation emitted by said X-ray source (2); the X-ray source (2) and the receiver (3) are mutually positioned so as to inspect at least one object (A), comprising said products or items (P), interposed between the source (2) and the receiver (3).

Inventors:
GABRIELLI, Massimiliano (Via Siepelunga, 60/2, Bologna, 40137, IT)
SIMONI, Gianluca (Via Nazionale 79, Pianoro, 40065, IT)
Application Number:
IB2019/050341
Publication Date:
July 25, 2019
Filing Date:
January 16, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MARTELLI, Davide (Vogesentrasse, 136, Basilea, CH)
BERTOCCHI, Luca (Via delle Margherite, 46/5, Cento, 44042, IT)
GABRIELLI, Massimiliano (Via Siepelunga, 60/2, Bologna, 40137, IT)
International Classes:
B07C5/346
Foreign References:
JP2012225666A2012-11-15
DE102015213799A12016-01-28
US20170275035A12017-09-28
US20140319351A12014-10-30
US20120200596A12012-08-09
US6271520B12001-08-07
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MINGHETTI, Mauro (APTA S.R.L, Piazza dei Martiri 1, Bologna, 40121, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. An inspection device (1), for packaging lines, or for assembly lines, of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items (P), characterised in that it comprises at least one X-ray source (2) suitable for emitting X-rays in the low energy spectrum, and a receiver (3) of the radiations emitted by said X-ray source (2), said X-ray source (2) and said receiver (3) being mutually positioned so as to inspect at least one object (A), comprising said products or items (P), interposed between said source (2) and said receiver (3).

2. A device according to claim 1, wherein said X-ray source (2) is suitable for emitting X-rays with less than 30 keV energy.

3. A device according to claim 1 or 2, wherein said receiver (3) is suitable for generating at least one X-ray image (4) of at least one portion of said object (A) to be inspected.

4. A device according to claim 3, comprising at least one control unit (5) to which said X-ray source (2) and said receiver (3) are operatively connected, said control unit (5) being suitable for performing at least one processing algorithm of said X-ray image (4) generated by said receiver (3), so as to know and/or verify and/or control one or more characteristics of at least one product or item (P) or other parts of the object to be inspected (A), said control unit (5) being remotely remoted, or integrated into said X-ray source (2), or integrated into said receiver (3).

5. A device according to claim 4, wherein said object to be inspected (A) comprises at least one package or packaging (C) wherein at least one product or item (P) is contained, said control unit (5) being suitable for performing morphological and/or density and/or position inspections of the product or item (P) inside the package (C), and/or checks for the presence of any contaminants inside the package (C), completeness and integrity checks, verification of the relative position of the product or item (P) with respect to the package (C), measurements of the products or items (P), of their positioning with respect to a point of the package (C) or of mutual positioning, checks of objects inside items or products (P), indirect checks and measurements of the weight of the product or item (P) in areas definable according to the package (C).

6. A device according to one of claims 4,5, wherein said control unit (5) is suitable for applying artificial vision algorithms and/or artificial intelligence algorithms, such as neural networks.

7. A production unit (L), comprising at least one inspection device according to one of claims 1-6.

8. A production unit according to claim 7, wherein said control unit (5) is suitable for assigning to the packages (C) not conforming to production requests, or to the areas of said object to be inspected (A) that do not comply with the production requirements, identified by means of said inspection device (1), an identification code, or another sign of recognition, also transferable to said package (C) or to said object to be inspected (A), so as to uni vocally mark them and make them recognisable in the subsequent production steps.

9. A production unit (L) according to one of the preceding claims, comprising at least one output station (9) of the packaged products or items (P), comprises at least one reject device (10) of the packages (C) not conforming with production requests, positioned downstream of said output station (9) with reference to the feeding direction of the packages (C).

10. A production unit (L) according to one of claims 7,8, comprising at least one packaging station (8) of the products or items (P) in at least one packaging material (Ml, M2), and at least one output station (9) of the packages (C) containing the products or items (P), said inspection device (1) being positioned at, or inside, said packaging station (8), or at or inside, said output station (9), or upstream of said output station (9) with reference to the feeding direction of the products or items (P).

11. A production unit (L) according to one of claims 7-10, comprising, or consisting of, a blister packing machine, or a cartoning machine, or else a strip packaging machine, or a machine for single-dose thermoformed strips, or a stick packaging machine, or a filling machine for bottles, vials, syringes, jars, tubes, or a flow packaging machine, or a tray forming machine, or an overwrapper machine, or a machine for the tobacco industry, or a suppository forming machine, a machine for tobacco products, or an assembling machine.

12. A production unit (L) according to one of claims 7-11, consisting of, or comprising, at least one any machine which, for the production of the package (C), uses non-transparent packaging material (Ml, M2) of any nature or, if transparent, which contains internally a product or item (P) already packaged with non- transparent material (Ml, M2).

13. Method for artificially processing X-ray images, implemented through the inspection device (1) according to one of claims 1-6, or through the production unit

(L) according to one of claims 7-11, comprising the steps of:

pre-processing said X-ray image (4);

extracting the properties of said X-ray image (4), namely lines and edges, points of interest, shapes, textures;

selecting a set of points of interest, e/o segmenting said X-ray image (4) into several regions containing an object of interest having the features of a basic model;

processing a decision of approval or non-approval of said X-ray image (4).

14. Method according to claim 13, wherein said step of pre-processing said X- ray image (4) comprises the steps of:

re-sampling said image (4) to ensure that the information is not redundant or insufficient;

attenuating the noise that introduces false information;

modifying the contrast to ensure the identification of relevant information.

Description:
“INSPECTION DEVICE”.

TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention concerns an inspection device.

More in detail, the present invention relates to an inspection device for packaging lines, or for assembly lines, of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items, adapted to verify the compliance of the manufactured products’ packaging.

BACKGROUND ART

As is known, in various sectors such as the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic, tobacco, and even further sectors, but without particular limitations, products are packaged - in single units or groups that comprise a predefined number or a default amount by weight - in blisters, strips, boxes, bottles, vials, syringes, jars, tubes, flow packs, wrappers, envelopes, bags, and many others, made of the most suitable materials for specific applications.

Some non-limiting examples of treated products are tablets, capsules, soft capsules, jellies, pills, caplets, lozenges, suppositories, powders, granules, liquids, creams, gels, cigarettes, cigars.

Other products of interest are the so-called non-heterogeneous kits.

Some of these are the so-called non-heterogeneous pharmaceutical kits, comprising for example a vial and a syringe, a vial and a syringe with a separate needle, a spray and an inhaler, and other similar kits.

Still other products of interest can be non-heterogeneous cosmetic kits, comprising for example a dyeing bottle, an envelope, and a glove.

Further additional products of interest can also include cigarettes, cigarette filters, aerosol cans, and the like.

As is known, packaging operations are performed by special automatic packaging machines, usually designed and constructed to operate on a specific type of product and its packaging.

In the manufacturing sectors of the products mentioned above, an important aspect is the control of the correct packaging of the products, and the integrity of the same within the respective packages.

For example, the products within the respective packages can be broken or partially damaged; in some cases - for example in multiple packages - the products can also be completely missing from one or more of the seats or cavities containing them. Damaged or missing products clearly constitute a loss for both the manufacturer and the end user; such damage can also be severe in the case, for example, of life- saving medicines, first aid products, and the like.

To identify defects in products and/or errors in the packaging of the same, two- dimensional or three-dimensional traditional vision systems are currently used, which in the case of certain types of products have made it possible to greatly reduce consumer complaints or even those of the manufacturers themselves.

The above-mentioned traditional vision systems are able to control the compliance of the product before the sealing operation of the respective package.

For example, in the case of a package consisting of a blister, the control of the products is carried out within the respective cavities before the final sealing operation.

In the case, instead, of packages formed by a strip or flow pack, the compliance of each product is controlled prior to insertion of the same within the respective package; furthermore, in the case of suppositories, no direct controls are carried out.

After being subjected to the above-mentioned step of compliance control via traditional vision systems, each product, or each group of products or package of products, undergoes the further subsequent operations along the packaging line, which can also be critical, such as the steps of sealing, cutting, shearing, and still others.

In these further operational steps each product, or each group of products or package of products, can suffer damages which are not detectable by the human eye unless the packaging was created using transparent materials.

Consequently, as can be understood, the systems and methods currently used in packaging lines for checking the compliance of the products contained within the respective packages are not satisfactory, because they are not able to detect a large series of defects which can cause losses to both the manufacturer and the final consumer.

OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION

The technical aim of the present invention is to improve the state of the art in the packaging or product assembly industry, particularly, but not exclusively, for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items. Within such technical aim, an object of the present invention is to provide an inspection device that makes it possible to overcome the drawbacks described above.

Another object of the present invention is to provide an inspection device that allows the identification of a greater number and variety of possible types of defects in the products and/or packaging of the same within the line.

A further object of the present invention is to provide an inspection device which makes it possible to achieve the objects indicated above with a constructively simple and low-cost solution.

This aim and these objects are achieved by the inspection device according to the attached claim 1.

The inspection device for packaging lines, or for assembly lines, of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items, comprises at least one X-ray source adapted to emitting X-rays in the low energy spectrum, and a receiver of the radiation emitted by said X-ray source; the X-ray source and the receiver are mutually positioned so as to inspect one object, comprising said products or items, interposed between the source and the receiver.

More in detail, according to the invention the X-ray source is adapted to emit X- rays with less than 30 keV energy.

This makes it possible to avoid resorting to the typical protective measures of personnel exposed to potentially hazardous amounts of radiation.

The receiver is suitable to generate at least one X-ray image of at least one portion of said object to be inspected. The device further comprises at least one control unit to which the X-ray source and the receiver are operatively connected.

The control unit can be remote or integrated into the X-ray source, or it can be integrated into the receiver.

The control unit is suitable to perform at least one processing algorithm of such X- ray image, generated by the receiver, such as to know and/or verify and/or control one or more characteristics of at least one product or item or other parts of the object to be inspected.

The object to be inspected comprises at least one package or packaging wherein at least one product or item is contained, or a product consisting of several assembled parts, or a product consisting of non-heterogeneous materials: the control unit is suitable to perform morphological and/or density and/or position checks of the product or item inside the package, and/or checks for the presence of any contaminants inside the package, completeness and integrity checks, checks of the relative position of the product or item with respect to the package, measurements of the products or items, of their positioning with respect to a point of the package or of mutual positioning, checks of objects inside items or products, indirect checks and measurements of the weight of the product or item in areas definable according to the package.

The inspection carried out with completely closed packaging makes it possible to identify potential defects or damage caused in the latter steps of the packaging, otherwise undetectable with normal control systems.

Dependent claims refer to preferred and advantageous embodiments of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS.

The features of the invention will be better understood by anyone skilled in the art from the following description and accompanying drawings, provided by way of non-limiting example, in which:

Figure 1 is a schematic axonometric view of a packaging line of products in strips, along which an inspection device according to the present invention is installed;

Figure 2 is a schematic axonometric view of the same packaging line, with the inspection device installed in another position;

Figure 3 is a schematic axonometric view of another packaging line of products in blisters, along which an inspection device according to the invention is installed;

Figure 4 is a schematic axonometric view of the same packaging line of Figure 3, with the inspection device installed in another position;

Figure 5 is a schematic axonometric view of the same packaging line of Figures 3, 4, with the inspection device installed in still another position;

Figure 6 is a schematic front view of a packaging machine according to the present invention;

Figure 7 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray images acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a blister with PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 8 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a similar blister with aluminium cover and cavities, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 9 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a similar blister with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 10 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a similar tropicalized blister, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 11 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a similar blister with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 12 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray images acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of aluminium strips, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 13 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same aluminium strip, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 14 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same tray with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 15 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same tray with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products;

Figure 16 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same aluminium flow pack containing a kit comprising an inhaler;

Figure 17 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray images acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same aluminium flow pack containing a kit, with a reference image free of defects at the centre;

Figure 18 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same aluminium flow pack, containing pharmaceutical products, with a reference image free of defects at the centre;

Figure 19 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same blister with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of objects, with X-ray images of the same blister at the centre showing that a kit item is missing;

Figure 20 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same blister with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of objects;

Figure 21 shows a comparison between the image acquired by a camera and the X-ray image acquired by the inspection device according to the invention, of a same blister with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of objects;

Figure 22 shows two X-ray images, acquired by the inspection device according to the present invention, of a package of cigars wherein all the products are intact (left) and one wherein one of the products is not intact (right);

Figure 23 is a side view of an intact tablet;

Figure 24 is a side view of a tablet which has undergone the "capping” effect;

Figure 25 is a top view of the tablet of both Figures 23 and 24.

EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION.

With reference to figure 1 attached hereto, an inspection device according to the present invention, installed in a production unit L that operates on products or items P, is wholly indicated with 1.

The products or items P can be, for example, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic, tobacco, or other types of products, without particular limitations to the objects of the present invention.

In general, the production unit L can be, for example, a packaging line or a part of a packaging line, an assembly line or a part of an assembly line, or any other station in which the products are inserted/connected/incorporated into other elements, so that they are not directly visible and available for inspection.

It should be noted, however, that the inspection device 1 could also be used in an autonomous way, and therefore not in combination with a specific production unit L. The specific example of Figure 1 refers - in an entirely schematic way and for the sole purpose of a better understanding of the characteristics of the invention - to a production unit L comprising - or constituted by - a packaging line of products or items P in packages C constituted by strips (and thus a so-called line or machine for strips).

These strips C are obtained starting, for example, from two packaging materials Ml, M2, which are mutually coupled in a coupling station (not shown in Figure 1 for simplicity) so as to enclose the products or items P in respective seats or cavities.

Following the coupling of the two materials Ml, M2, a continuous strip N is formed, containing the products or items P, from which the individual strips C are then formed at a cutting station (the latter is also not shown in Figure 1).

The packaging materials Ml, M2 can be of any type, similarly their mode of coupling/connection can be of any type.

According to one aspect of the invention, the inspection device 1 comprises at least one X-ray source 2.

The X-ray source 2 is suitable to emit X-rays in the low-energy spectrum.

More in detail, the X-ray source 2 is suitable to emit X-rays with less than 30 keV energy.

It is a limit below which the ionising radiations (suitably shielded) to which the operators are subjected, in the execution of their normal activities, are inferior to values considered harmful to health according to the laws in force in a given territorial area.

As regards the specific laws in force in Italy, it is hereby referred to - only by way of non-limiting example - an X-ray system not falling within the scope of the standard referred to in article 8 of Annex I of Italian Legislative Decree no. 230/1995 and subsequent amendments and additions.

As a result of this characteristic, the operators in contact with the inspection device 1 according to the present invention are not to be considered as exposed personnel, and therefore it is not necessary to adopt the measures typical of situations wherein the personnel is, instead, exposed, as in the use of high-energy X-ray sources (for example, there is no need to provide the operators with a dosimeter, there is no need to create a delimited area, there is no need to keep the personnel under medical supervision, and the device/machine does not require annual inspections/ certifications) .

This obviously has a positive impact from an economic point of view for those who purchase and manage the operation of the inspection device 1 and the production unit L wherein the inspection device is possibly installed.

The device 1 also comprises a receiver 3 of the radiation emitted by the X-ray source 2.

The X-ray source 2 and the receiver 3 are mutually positioned such that the object to be inspected A is interposed between the X-ray source 2 and the receiver 3 themselves.

The receiver 3 is suitable to generate at least one X-ray image 4 of at least one portion of the object to be inspected A.

This portion can comprise - but not necessarily - at least one product or item P of which one or more characteristics are intended to be known and/or verified and/or controlled.

The device 1 also comprises at least one control unit 5, shown in an entirely schematic way in Figure 1.

The X-ray source 2 and the receiver 3 are operatively connected to the control unit 5.

According to one aspect of the present invention, and as will be better clarified hereinafter, the control unit 5 is suitable to perform at least one processing algorithm of the X-ray image 4, generated by the receiver 3, such as to know and/or verify and/or control one or more characteristics of at least one product or item P or other parts of the object to be inspected A.

In the specific application shown in Figure 1, the object to be inspected A is constituted by the portion of a continuous strip N, bearing the products or items P, which comes out from the materials Ml, M2 coupling station. The continuous strip N - and in particular the products or items P contained in it - can then be inspected before cutting the individual strips C.

This means that any strips C which are defective or non-compliant with the production requirements can possibly be identified so that they can be, for example, discarded after the cutting step.

Figure 2 instead refers to a production unit L that is entirely similar to that of Figure 1, in which, however, the inspection device 1 according to the present invention is positioned differently than in the previous example.

In fact, in the example of Figure 2, the inspection device 1 is positioned immediately before the blister C cutting station.

The different positioning, with respect to that of the previous example, can be related for example to project requirements or production unit L assembly, or to other constructive or functional needs.

For example, between the materials Ml, M2 coupling station and the blister C cutting station there could be other stations envisaged which perform further processing/operations on the continuous strip N, and which therefore could potentially damage/alter the latter and/or the products or items P contained therein. Such damage or alterations can therefore only be detected by an inspection device 1 positioned as in the example of Figure 2.

The same Figure 2 also shows, with a dashed line, another possible positioning of the inspection device 1, which thus constitutes another application example.

According to this further possible application example, the inspection device 1 is positioned immediately downstream of the cutting station that forms the individual strips C.

The objects to be inspected A are then made up of individual strips C (or groups of individual strips C): in this way, the above-mentioned inspected strips C (or groups of strips C) can be identified, for example, as defective and non-compliant, so as to be immediately discarded (or in some way selected or separated from the others). Figures 3, 4, 5 relate to further possible application examples of the inspection device 1 according to the present invention. Also the examples of Figures 3, 4, 5 all relate to respective production units L comprising - or constituted by - a packaging line of products or items P in packages C constituted by blisters (and thus a so-called blister packing line or machine).

The production unit L comprises first supply means 6 of the products or items P to be packaged.

The first supply means 6 can be of any type, and have any shape and/or size, in relation to the characteristics of the products or items P treated.

The production unit L further comprises second supply means 7, which provide for feeding the materials Ml, M2 necessary for packaging the products or items P.

The second supply means 7 can be of any type, and have any shape and/or size, in relation to the characteristics of the packaging in which the products or items P must be enclosed.

The production unit L also comprises a packaging station 8 of the products or items P in the above-mentioned materials Ml, M2.

The packaging station 8 can be of any type, and have any shape and/or size, in relation to the characteristics of the packaging to be obtained.

More specifically, the packaging station 8 comprises a forming unit 8a, which forms seats or cavities S in one of the two materials Ml; the individual products or items P are then inserted in these seats or cavities.

Furthermore, the packaging station 8 comprises a coupling unit 8b, which performs the permanent connection between the two packaging materials Ml, M2 once the products or items P have been inserted in the respective seats or cavities S.

For example, the coupling unit 8b could be of the type suitable to carry out the heat sealing of the two packaging materials Ml, M2.

The production unit L also comprises at least one output station 9 of the formed and closed packages C, and containing the respective products or items P.

It should be noted that the term 'package' is intended, in the present description, as any closed casing, formed using one or more materials Ml, M2, intended to contain any kind of product or item P.

The package C can thus be constituted, for example, by a tray, a carton, a blister, a flow pack, a stick, an envelope, a bag, a wrapping material, or any other container preferably used, but not exclusively, in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic and tobacco sectors.

The output station 9 can comprise at least one cutting station 9a that forms the individual packages C from the continuous strip N.

In the application example of Figure 3, the inspection device 1 is located downstream of the cutting station 9a that forms the individual packages C.

The objects to be inspected A are then constituted, in this case, by individual packages C.

The packages C are conveyed, for example, on a conveyor 9b.

The control unit 5 processes the X-ray images 4 acquired via the receiver 3, and then determines - with criteria that will be better defined hereinafter - if the packages C are compliant or non-compliant with the production requirements.

The control unit 5 of the device 1 can comprise an interface to display, in real time, the above-mentioned X-ray images 4; this can possibly allow operators to immediately verify the packages’ C compliance or non-compliance with production requirements.

As an alternative to this, or in combination with this, the control unit 5 can comprise at least one storage memory of the above-mentioned X-ray images 4, for subsequent processing or use.

According to another aspect of the invention, the control unit 5 can comprise at least one memory containing at least one reference X-ray image R.

This reference image R corresponds to a package C made by the production unit L and free of any defects, and as such complies with the production requirements.

The control unit 5 is suitable to apply image processing algorithms that perform the visual comparison between the X-ray image 4 of each package C, generated by the receiver 3, and the above-mentioned reference image R, so as to identify the packages C not complying with the production requirements.

The identification of the packages C which do not comply with the production requirements can be carried out with an execution speed that is consistent with the normal work rate of the production unit L.

Since the packages 6 not complying with production requirements must be able to be separated from the others in good time to prevent them from reaching the market, the control unit 5 can be equipped with means or systems that make it possible to assign an identification code, or another sign of recognition, also transferable to the same package, to the non-complying packages C, so as to univocally mark them and make them recognisable in subsequent production steps. Each non-complying package C, therefore, can also remain within the production flow, but will still be made distinguishable from the others, in order to possibly be withdrawn from the same flow in the most suitable moment.

Alternatively, or additionally, and according to another aspect of the invention, the output station 9 of the packaging machine can comprise at least one reject device 10 of the packages C which do not comply with the production requirements.

The reject device 10 is positioned downstream of the inspection device 1, with reference to the direction of travel of the packages C along the conveyor 9b.

The reject device 10 can be operatively connected to the control unit 5; the reject device 10 can be of any type, for example, mechanically, electrically or pneumatically activated, or another further type.

According to another aspect of the invention, the control unit 5 can be suitable to send, to the reject device 10, at least one activation signal to exclude from the production flow the packages C which do not comply with the production requirements and are identified by means of the inspection device 1.

By virtue of this feature, therefore, once the visual comparison carried out by the control unit 5 has identified a specific package C for which, for some reason, one or more defects or deficiencies deemed not tolerable have been identified, the same control unit 5 sends an activation signal to the reject device 10, which shall immediately remove the above-mentioned package C from the production flow.

The discarded packages C can then possibly be conveyed to a special collection area.

In this way, the inspection device 1 according to the invention makes it possible to avoid packages C not complying with requirements from reaching the market together with the others, thus greatly reducing the defectiveness of the packages C themselves.

In the application example of Figure 4, the inspection device 1 is instead located upstream of the output station 9.

The object to be inspected A is then constituted, in this case, by the continuous strip N containing the products or items P.

In this case, the detection of any defects by the inspection device 1 can give rise to an identification or marking (real or virtual) of one or more areas of the continuous strip N, which correspond to respective packages C (or parts of packages C) that will have to possibly be formed in the subsequent cutting station 9a.

Therefore, the control unit 5 of the inspection device 1 can consequently instruct the reject device 10 so as to eliminate the defective packages C corresponding to the areas of the continuous strip N identified by the inspection device 1 before the cutting step; or it could also be programmed to instruct the production unit L so as not to cut the individual packages C at the areas of the continuous strip N identified by the inspection device 1.

In the example of Figure 5, the inspection device 1 can be located inside the packaging station 8; for example, the inspection device 1 can be located upstream of the coupling station 8b of the packaging materials Ml, M2.

The object to be inspected A is then constituted, in this case, by the two packaging materials Ml, M2 containing the products or items P, not yet coupled so as to create the continuous strip N.

In this example, therefore, any defects can be identified by the inspection device 1 before the packaging materials Ml, M2 are coupled.

The control unit 5 can then instruct the reject device 10 so as to eliminate, from the production flow, the defective packages C corresponding to the areas identified by the inspection device 1; alternatively, the control unit 5 can be programmed to instruct the production unit L so as not to couple the packaging materials Ml, M2 at the critical areas identified by the inspection device 1. Figure 6 instead schematically illustrates an application example of the inspection device 1, according to the invention, to a production unit L consisting of a packaging machine.

For example, the production unit L shown in Figure 6 can be constituted by a packaging machine (in particular, a cartoning machine) of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutraceutical, organic or tobacco products or items, or still others.

In this cartoning machine, the individual items P are inserted, in single units or in groups, in respective packages C consisting of box-shaped cartons.

Such cartons C can be made, for example, of cardboard, or polymeric material, or still other suitable materials.

The items P to be inserted in the packages C can be of any type, without any limitation to the purposes of the present invention.

The production stations of the cartoning machine illustrated in Figure 6 are the same as those described in the application examples of Figures 3, 4, 5, and are identified by the same reference numbers.

In this specific example, the packaging station 8 can be formed by, or can comprise, a station for the simple insertion of the products or items P in their respective packages C.

Also, in this application example, the inspection device 1 is located at the output station 9 of the packages C already formed and closed.

More in general, the inspection device 1 which is the object of the present invention can be installed in a production unit L consisting, indifferently, of a strip packaging machine, or a machine for single-dose thermoformed strips, or a stick packaging machine, or a filling machine for bottles, vials, syringes, jars, tubes, or a flow packaging machine, or a tray forming machine, or an overwrapper machine, or a machine for the tobacco industry, or a suppository forming machine, or still others.

Even more in general, the above-mentioned production unit L can be any machine which, for the production of the package, uses non-transparent material of any nature or, if transparent, containing internally a product or item already packaged with non-transparent material.

In addition, the above-mentioned production unit L could also be constituted by - or comprise - an assembling machine.

In all the application examples described, the inspection device 1 can also be associated with guards and shields such that the ionizing radiation to which the operators are exposed in the execution of their normal activities is lower than values considered harmful for health according to the laws in force in a given territorial area.

The inspection device 1 according to the invention is able to effectively perform a wide variety of checks.

Only to cite a few examples, the inspection device 1 can carry out morphology inspections of the product and/or products, check for the presence of contaminants, completeness and integrity checks, verify the relative position of the product with respect to the packaging, measurements of the products, of their positioning with respect to a point of the package, or of mutual positioning.

The inspection device 1 can also perform checks of objects inside products: for example, it is possible to verify that there are two micro-tablets in a capsule contained in a closed blister, or that a brush is straight and of the correct size inside a mascara tube.

The inspection device 1 can also carry out indirect checks and measurements of the weight of the product in areas that can be defined according to the package: for example, a tablet can be identified in a blister which appears intact when seen from above, while it has instead undergone the so-called "capping" effect.

For a better understanding, Figure 23 shows an intact tablet, while Figure 24 shows a tablet in which a part of the material has been removed by the above-mentioned "capping" effect.

In a photograph or in an image taken with a camera, both tablets (the intact one and the defective one) appear as in Figure 25 when seen from above: the inspection device 1 instead makes it possible to distinguish between the two situations, since the X-ray images are different in the two cases. In the attached Figures 7-22, comparisons are shown between the X-ray images 4 of some packages C, acquired with the inspection device 1 according to the present invention, and the corresponding images T acquired with standard cameras currently used in various fields for controlling products, and possibly also for further comparison with the reference X-ray images R of correctly formed packages, which thus comply with the production requirements.

More in detail, Figure 7 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and two X-ray images 4 acquired by the inspection device 1 of packages (blisters) C with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products P.

As can be seen, the camera (left) is able to detect a missing tablet, while the inspection device 1 (centre and right) is able to detect two additional defects, that is, a tablet P with a portion missing from an invisible side, and a cracked tablet (circled items).

Figure 8 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same package (blister) C with cavities and aluminum cover, containing pharmaceutical products P.

The camera (left) is not able to perform any checks on the presence or absence of products P in their respective cavities, while the inspection device 1 (right) shows that all the products P are correctly in their place.

Figure 9 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same blister C with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products P.

The camera (left) detects that all the gel capsules P are present in their respective cavities, while the inspection device 1 (right) detects that one of the gel capsules P is, indeed, empty (capsule circled).

Figure 10 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1 , of a same tropicalized package (blister) C, containing pharmaceutical products P. The camera (left) is not able to perform any checks on the presence or absence of products P in their respective cavities, while the inspection device 1 (right) shows that all the products P are correctly in their place.

Figure 11 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same package (blister) C with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products P (capsules).

The camera (left) is not able to carry out any checks on the status of the capsules P contained in the package C, while the inspection device 1 (right) identifies an empty capsule P and a partially empty one (capsules circled).

Figure 12 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1 , of aluminium packages (strips) C, containing pharmaceutical products P (tablets).

The camera (left) is not able to provide any information on the actual state of the products P, while the inspection device 1 (centre and right) is able to detect two broken tablets P in two strips C (tablets circled).

Figure 13 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1 , of a same aluminium package (strip) C, containing pharmaceutical products P (suppositories).

The camera (left) is not able to provide any information on the actual state of the products P, while the inspection device 1 (right) shows an incomplete suppository P (circled).

Figure 14 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same package (tray) C with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products P (vials).

Both the camera and the inspection device 1 show a broken vial P (circled).

Figure 15 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same package (tray) C with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing pharmaceutical products P (vials).

Both the camera and the inspection device 1 show a broken vial P (circled).

Figure 16 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, respectively of an item P (inhaler) and of a cardboard package C (carton) containing a kit comprising, in turn, the above-mentioned inhaler P.

The camera (left) can only check the status of the inhaler's P integrity before it is enclosed in the carton C; the inspection device 1, however, is able to detect all the components P of the kit (leaflet, booklet, desiccant, inhaler).

Figure 17 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera (left) and the X-ray image 4 (right) acquired by the inspection device 1 of a same aluminium package C (flow pack) containing a kit of items P; in the centre, there is the reference image R of the same flow pack C, free of defects.

The image on the right shows the absence of an item P (desiccant), which instead the image T taken by the camera cannot show.

Figure 18 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera (left) and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same aluminium package C (flow pack) in aluminium, containing (single-use) pharmaceutical products P; in the centre, there is instead the reference X-ray image R of the same flow pack C, free of defects.

The image on the right shows that one of the single-use vials P is empty, a circumstance that the camera cannot detect.

Figure 19 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera (left) and the X-ray image 4 acquired by the inspection device 1 (right), of a same package C (blister) with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of items P; in the centre there are X-ray images 4 of the same blister C where the needle is missing (with inverted contrast).

As can be seen, the X-ray images 4 very clearly show the absence of the needle, while the image T taken by the camera is not as clear.

Figure 20 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera (left) and the X-ray images 4 (with inverted contrast, centre and right) acquired by the inspection device 1, of a same package C (blister) with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of items P.

All the images are able to show the correct presence of the item P.

Figure 21 shows a comparison between the image T acquired by a camera (left) and the X-ray image 4 (with inverted contrast, centre and right) acquired by the inspection device 1, of a similar package C (blister) with transparent PVC cavities and an aluminium cover, containing a kit of items P.

Also in this case, all the images are able to show the correct presence of the item P. Figure 22 shows two X-ray images 4 acquired with the inspection device 1, of packages C containing tobacco products P (cigars), wherein the package on the right contains a broken cigar.

The X-ray images therefore make it possible to very clearly distinguish a package C with defective products P from perfectly intact ones.

As is clearly shown from the comparison of images described herein above, the inspection device 1 is absolutely decisive for the detection of defects in cases where the packaging material Ml, M2 is not transparent, or in cases wherein inside an at least partially transparent package C, there are other non-transparent containers of products or items P (the emblematic cases are those of figures 9, 11). However, even in cases wherein the packaging material Ml, M2 is at least partially transparent, the inspection device 1 can be of considerable help in clarifying doubtful situations.

It has thus been seen how the invention achieves the intended purposes.

The inspection device 1 according to the present invention makes it possible to effectively identify packages C of products or items P which have defects of various kinds, even slight, which are not detectable with the conventional camera systems.

With considerable advantages compared to the current state of the art, the device 1 according to the invention also makes it possible to identify possible defects or damage which have arisen during or after the last packaging steps, since each package C itself can be effectively inspected after being fully formed and closed. The inspection device 1 is very versatile, as it can be installed in any portion of any production unit L deemed convenient.

The inspection device 1 is also compatible with the needs of high production rates, because the information acquired from the same can be handled in a completely automated way by the control unit 5.

The use of low-energy X-rays makes it possible to obtain sharp images of very lightweight materials, such as pharmaceutical products.

However, low-energy X-rays do not allow the inspection of heavier products because this type of X photon is not able to pass through dense or thick materials. According to the present invention, the control unit 5 is able to apply processing algorithms on the images 4 obtained by low-energy radioscopy of the product P contained in the respective package C.

The chosen X-ray emission energy, together with the image processing algorithms specially created for this application, make it possible to perform checks on already packaged products which would otherwise be impossible, a fortiori, with X-rays commonly used in the visible spectrum.

The image 4 processing is not limited to the comparison between one reference image R and that of each product P, but it applies artificial vision algorithms and/or artificial intelligence algorithms to them, such as neural networks.

The artificial processing procedure of the images in a possible embodiment is described below.

After having acquired the X-ray image 4, the pre-processing is carried out, which consists in:

re-sampling to ensure that the information is not redundant or insufficient;

attenuation of noise that introduces false information;

contrast modification to ensure the identification of relevant information.

Following the above-mentioned pre-processing, the properties of the image are extracted, namely: lines and edges, points of interest, shapes, textures.

An identification and segmentation step of the areas of interest then follows, that is, in more detail, the selection of a set of points of interest, and/or segmentation of the image into several regions that contain an object of interest.

After this, a high-level processing is carried out, which envisages checking that the model contained in the input possesses the specifications of the basic model or of the specific class of interest, the estimation of specific parameters, such as position or size, and the classification of objects in multiple categories.

A final decision is then taken (approval or failure of automatic controls, match or no match of recognition applications).

It should also be underlined that the control unit 5 of the device according to the invention does not carry out - only - a simple comparison with a certain reference image R (for example relating to a package C of products P, free of defects): the control unit 5, by applying artificial intelligence algorithms, is able to carry out independent checks of the characteristics of the package C and/or the product P (or, more generally, of an object to be inspected A) also without the convenience of a reference image R.

For example, a simple comparison of the X-ray image 4 with a reference image R could lead to the conclusion that a particular package C does not comply with the requirements for the mere fact that the product P inside it is positioned in a different way than in the reference image R.

Actually, the device 1 according to the invention is able to recognise the product P inside the package C (for its shape, size, density, etc.), and thus the check still provides a positive outcome regardless of the actual positioning of the product P within the package C itself (for example, the product could have moved or rotated, but is still present and well sealed).

The present invention has been described according to preferred embodiments, but equivalent variants are still possible without departing from the scope of the attached claims.