Reducing mix-ups on a pharmaceutical packaging line

One mistake, we cannot afford that” said by a Business IT Consultant for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world which processes thousands of drugs destined for more than 140 countries a year. While they relate in this case to the business of delivering vital medications and vaccines, this sentiment would be a familiar one to thousands of other industries, which have a business built on reputation and reliability.

The company, whose identity is confidential, wanted to examine its already strict checking procedures, so they commissioned our research services team Tobii Pro Insight to conduct an eye tracking study on one of their packaging lines. It was looking at line clearance procedures, specifically at how operators examine "hot-zones" – areas of the packaging line that are prone to trapping a drug which may end up in another batch if undetected.

Six operators wore Tobii Pro’s eye tracking glasses for 15-30 minutes and performed routine tasks, their gaze data from the built-in HD scene camera was then analyzed to give a clear picture of exactly where their attention was focused. The company has previously used video recordings to study workplace practices, but says eye tracking provided the unique advantage of being able to identify exactly where in the scene operators were looking. “It was quite interesting that what we’ve designated as hot-zones in our process, some operators were not even looking at,” said the company’s Business IT Consultant. This information allowed the company to make immediate changes to workplace practices, “We have installed RFID tags which the operators have to scan so they know for sure they have checked all the hot-zones and no material can mix-up in the next batch.”

The eye tracking study also revealed where steps could be taken to improve workflow, “Some locations it took the operator much longer to inspect… so that also indicates hey maybe something is up there, maybe we need to further simplify that area.”
The company has now created a video to illustrate best work practices and plans to use the information for a baseline comparison of operations in the future.

Eye tracking studies such as this one have the ability to deliver increased efficiency, productivity and reduced staff training time, and while the company stresses this study was purely focused on quality assurance, this information also has the potential to save money. Many other businesses have been able to find considerable savings in onboarding expenses and lost productivity due to inefficient practices.

“Unlike other methods, this eye tracking study allowed us to see exactly what the operator was looking at. We’ve been able to make improvements to our processes and training protocol because of this insight.”

Business IT Consultant, An American Pharmaceutical Company