Advantages Of Non-Destructive Package Testing

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Product Sheet: VeriPac Leak Testers
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In this Q&A, Tony Stauffer, President of PTI, discusses several topics regarding package testing, including how it has changed over the past decade and the advantages of non-destructive package testing.

How has package testing changed over the past decade – is it simpler or more complicated?

Package testing has become simpler, more cost-effective and efficient if the proper test method is applied. High precision non-destructive inspection technologies coupled with a user-friendly approach have been PTI’s focus for over 20 years. Most important is the fact that package integrity testing has become more reliable - a key issue that cannot be overlooked. When talking about different testing methods for package analysis, the bottom line is that "reliability" should never be sacrificed for the sake of simplicity.

Which package testing procedures tend to be the most complicated?

Helium testing is based on complicated technology which also makes it more expensive, and it can be destructive depending on the type of package and product. At the other end of the spectrum are water bath, dye tests, peel and burst tests. These methods are simple to perform, requiring less expensive equipment, but they are all in fact complicated because of many factors. These methods are destructive to both package and product, and are time-consuming; producing test results that are dependent on technique, sample preparation and operator variability. Results from peel and burst tests can be difficult to interpret or correlate to manufacturing process parameters, package quality or shelf-life performance. In the end, such methods can prove to be complicated and very costly due to the collective expense of waste, mess and loss of product.

How can package testing be simplified, while still meeting FDA and ISO standards for consistency and reliability?

Methods can be made simpler, more consistent and reliable by following clear, well-defined procedures. Organizations such as ASTM International provide test methods that have undergone peer-review and round robin testing using multiple instruments to demonstrate the reliability of test results. Following methods that have undergone such scrutiny go a long way toward improving test techniques. Clearly, there is a growing need for the development of rapid, non-destructive, non-invasive testing technologies. Some of the newer methods which address this need include non-destructive test methods such as vacuum/pressure decay, airborne ultrasound inspection and also force load testing. These methods are all highly reliable technologies yielding repeatable, quantifiable statistical test data. Because they are non-destructive, the same samples can be repeatedly tested, a greater number of samples can be tested, and even the actual marketed product itself can be tested. The use of simplified, non-destructive package testing that can rapidly deliver consistent results can significantly raise the level of packaging quality control.

Do non-destructive testing methods make package validation simpler as well?

Without a doubt, yes – validation is simpler with non-destructive methods such as vacuum decay or airborne ultrasound. Validation with destructive methods is time-consuming, costly and inefficient due to the lack of reliable, quantitative test data. Also, using instruments that are manufactured using only components that are calibrated according to national (NIST) reference standards is another factor supporting simpler validation.

Are simpler testing methods necessarily less costly and time consuming to perform?

Often we think of cost based solely on the price of the test instrument. Test instruments vary greatly depending on the type of test being performed and the test sensitivity required. However, other factors influence cost, including time required to perform the test for one, and the loss of packages from destructive testing, for another. An ideal method would be rapid, non-destructive and inexpensive. For example, a test cycle on PTI’s vacuum decay leak testers literally takes a few seconds, providing a pass/fail result. Checking for seal integrity using SEAL-SCAN™, our airborne ultrasonic inspection technology is also a fast, highly efficient non-destructive method to verify seal quality and pinpoint type, size and location of seal defects.

Generally, which are more cost-effective – destructive or non-destructive forms of package testing?

The point is – why destroy perfectly good product or packages to find defects? Does it make sense to use visual test methods that are entirely inconsistent and unreliable? Again, many of the destructive methods mentioned (water, dye, peel, burst) are both complicated for the operator, yield data that are difficult to interpret, and finally can be very expensive because of the nature of the product being tested. Plus, you are still never sure about the quality of packages you market. In the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, this amounts to significant dollars that could easily be saved by applying non-destructive technologies and ASTM International approved testing methods that conform to FDA recognized consensus standards.

Does inspecting packaging materials rather than just the finished package simplify or complicate the testing process?

Inspecting packaging materials rather than just the finished package is a logical and efficient approach. It just makes sense – why fill a defective package with a costly product, only to discover later on in the manufacturing process that you have a defect? In fact, for pouch and tray manufacturers, integrity testing of the package materials before filling/sealing using an approved test method has been a requirement for some time.

Can cross-functional testing equipment make it possible to perform tests on multiple types of products, yet still be simple to operate?

Absolutely, for example with our vacuum decay leak test technology, the ASTM International has approved test methods for different types of packages (e.g. flexible, rigid, semi-rigid, and packaging with non-porous and porous barrier lidding materials such as Tyvek®). Testing different package types often requires a simple tooling change. We’ve designed features such as self-teach that simplify setting up testing criteria for each type of package – again catering to the operator and helping to increase efficiency and productivity. Our SEAL SCAN™ Airborne ultrasound inspection technology is capable of testing many types of packaging materials, be it aluminum, foil, paper, Tyvek® or any combination thereof. PTI offers SEAL SCAN™ configurations for R&D, quality and process control as well as 100% on-line inspection, and all use the same principle of operation.

Is there a trend toward automation of testing or performing tests in-line?

There is an increased awareness about the importance of package integrity across all industries, so the pressure is on for companies to invest in better quality inspection technologies that can be applied for both off-line testing and in-line automated inspection. Practically speaking, it’s impossible to configure destructive test methods on-line. Companies that continue to use destructive methods that were developed and approved for use over two decades ago need to re-evaluate their process and investigate the technologies that are significantly better, provide valuable data that will improve their manufacturing process, helping to ultimately reduce overall costs.

What products exist to help automate and simplify gathering of testing data?

PTI’s vacuum pressure decay and airborne ultrasound are two technologies that offer highly consistent, repeatable test results with test data that can be evaluated on its own or easily downloaded into other programs for further analysis.

Can the sequence in which various tests are performed on a package (i.e. accelerated aging, seal tests, etc.) impact the simplicity of the testing process as a whole?

This depends on the equipment and test method being used, destructive or non-destructive. When using non-destructive testing such as vacuum decay or airborne ultrasound, testing can be performed in any sequence and even repeatedly on a single sample, whereas with destructive tests, you are definitely limited. If multiple tests are required for a package, the important factor is to keep the quality of the package under control throughout the process and using non-destructive methods offers a measurable advantage.

Click Here To Download:
Product Sheet: VeriPac Leak Testers
Product Sheet: Seal-Scan™ — Seal Integrity Testing

PTI Packaging and Inspection Systems