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Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine: The Ultimate Guide

In this guide, we shall look at several aspects of the pharmacy pill counter machine.

We will start by defining what this machine is, before taking you through its components, how it works, the different types and importance, among other critical aspects.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert in pharmacy pill counter machine.

What is Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine?

This is a machine that provides tight control over pill inventory without investing on time, oversight or machine calibration.

It aids a quick and accurate prescription filling of pills.

By so doing, it eliminates the possibility of human errors thus allowing direct and immediate patient care.

Tablet and capsule counter machine

Tablet and capsule counter machine

The population of the world has grown a great deal, prompting the need for efficiency.

This machine enables the delivery of patient services in a more efficient, effective and accurate way without wasting economic resources.

Why do You Need Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine?

Manual counting of pills was the practice for many years until these machines came into play.

There are several benefits that the pill counter machine has come with, including;

Birth control pills

Birth control bills

· Cost-effectiveness

It is cheap since the machine does the counting that would have been done by several employees.

You only need one or a few operators.

· It is Error-proof

Human counting errors that occur during manual counting are eliminated.

With this machine, you don’t have to restart all over again after a pause.

It will proceed from where it had stopped once started again.

· Saves time

This machine is very efficient. It sorts, dispenses and counts at high speed thus saving time.

It also saves time by allowing the operator to perform other duties as it continues to count the pills.

· Accurate

The machine aids in the accurate counting of pills.

Its accuracy stands at 100% (except when it develops faults due to dust accumulation in the tray sensor window).

This helps in ensuring that patients in nursing homes and pharmacies get the right medication and dosage at the right time.

Components of Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine

There are five different components contained within the operation circuit of a pharmacy pill counter machine.

They include the keypad, micro-controller PIC16F877A, 16*2 LCD, DC motor and IR LED and IR sensor.

Pill counter sample structure

Pill counter sample structure

· Keypad

The keypad is a membrane with non-moving parts that has sixteen buttons which are in matrix form.

It has digital numbers from 0-9, A, B, C, D and characters * and #.

It is used to key in the number of pills required to be packaged in the system.

It has eight pins of data lines connected to eight pins of the controller.

From the keyboard, the controller reads the data and calculates the desired tablet quantity displayed on the liquid crystal display.

· Micro-controller

This component has a PIC pin assignment for control system PIC16F877A with five ports assigned A, B, C, D, and E.

It is part of the mid-range family of PIC microcontroller device.

When the microcontroller is pushed, DC drive motor starts the counting machine so that it can perform its function.

· LCD module

This is a screen where the counting numbers are displayed.

Here a PC 602-F is used to connect six micro-controller pins and two backlight pins for supplying power.

Through the D4-D7 pins of LCD, data is sent from the controller to the screen.

· Brushed DC motor and Vibration motor

These are electric motors designed to run from a direct power source.

Brushed DC motor was the initial driver for mechanical loads.

In this machine, it rotates the plastic circular plate carrying a tablet.

It is controlled by a relay driver circuit which is connected to the micro-controller.

The vibration motor facilitates the falling of tablets into the rotary plate.

The PIC controller controls this process. It works the same as a rotary motor.

· IR LED and IR sensor

These are sensors. IR LED generates rays that operate the sensors and also helps in the passing of pills in a keyway.

Inside this sensor, there is an infrared detector.

Through the reaction to infrared radiation, both thermal and photonic detectors capture the passing pills.

It then sends the data to the micro-controller for counting of numbers.

The IR sensor crosses the pills by sending digital data of 0, 1, 2, and 3 to micro-controller.

How the Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine Works

When you are ready to count pills using this machine, pour the tablets into the machine.

In the keypad digit numbers 0-9, key in the number of pills you want the machine to count.

The LCD will display a welcome screen and a quantity of pills to be packaged.

In the PIC controller, press the start button to drive the DC motor which is the vibrating and counting motor.

At the bottom of the machine, push the button * so that the pills can begin to move.

The IR sensor will then begin to sense the passing pills and send digital data to the micro-controller.

For example, when one tablet passes, it sends 0 data, then 1, 2, until counting is completed as designated.

The numbers being counted are displayed on the LCD module.

Once counting is completed, the counted pills will be deposited onto the top drawer.

Remove this drawer and the excess pills will fall into the second drawer where they will be returned to the inventory.

Types of Pharmacy Pill Counter Machines

There are numerous types of pharmacy pill counter machine.

We can broadly categorize them as automatic and manual Pharmacy pill counter machines.

Let us have a more in-depth look at these two categories.

Automatic pharmacy pill counter machine

This machine generates fast, accurate pill count in a short time, thus saving money.

Some of these machines have the ability to count pills in bulk.

It’s ideal for counting inventories since it works with a speed of up to 500 or even up to 800 pills per minute.

Automatic pill counting machine

Automatic pill counting machine

In addition to these, it counts all shapes and sizes of both tablets and capsules.

Some automatic pharmacy pill counter machines have a digital touch screen.

This is used to control turret speed, pressure, fill depth, tablet thickness, and speed for accuracy, ease of use and efficiency.

This machine automatically adjusts all its key parameters.

It also has an emergency stop button for safety features.

Since it does every work during the counting of pills, the operator concentrates in performing other tasks.

This machine is an intelligent one and is able to do both counting and filling.

Its high-speed PLC system has control over the entire process of counting, filling, and monitoring.

Bottles can be placed by conveyer belt and automatically filled with high rates that vary at a fast responding speed.

The automatic pharmacy pill counter machine is handy for quantitative packaging of pills.

It is an essential instrument in pharmaceutical companies, scientific research units, and small and medium batch laboratory productions.

This machine uses electromagnetic vibration effect, and it’s easy to use.

Advantages of automated pharmacy pill counting machine

Some of the main advantages of this machine include:

Pill counting machine

Pill counting machine

1) Cost-effectiveness

The machine can count in bulk and faster. It does the counting, filling of bottles and packaging of pills into various packages.

This means the staffing costs are significantly reduced since the machines perform most of the tasks.

2) No mis-count of pills

It’s made in such a way that it eliminates any possibility of miscounting that may not be avoided with manual counting.

Causes of errors during manual pill counting like disruptions cannot corrupt the machine.

When you stop the machine, you can just resume and no error will be experienced.

3) Time-saving

The customers don’t have to wait for a long time to be served.

It does the work, and the operator can continue with other tasks.

Also, you don’t have to stop and start counting all over again as when errors occur in manual counting method.

Furthermore, you will not stop what you are doing to engage in dispensing pills into vials or bottles.

This is because the machine does all that on your behalf.

It also works at a very high-speed counting between 500-820 pills per minute.

This allows inventory counting and is ideal for large scale pharmaceutical companies, busy hospitals, and pharmacies.

4) Safety

During manual counting, you may experience confusion due to some pills that look similar.

This automatic machine does not have this problem.

Apart from this, the safety of the pills is guaranteed because medications are in a sterile environment.

This reduces pill contamination that often happens when we use the manual counting process.

Potential medicine thieves also can’t have access to these pills if they don’t know how to operate the machine.

5) Customer care

As the robots fill in the prescriptions, you can attend to patients at the pharmacy.

You can talk to patients about their medication and home addresses.

The pharmacist can also answer their questions so that the patients’ quality of life can improve.

Disadvantages of an automatic pharmacy pill counter machine

Table-Top Packaging Equipment

Figure 6 Pill counter machine

· Many design options can be confusing to operate

Automatic pharmacy pill counter machines are of many types, and each has its operating procedures.

The most advanced once might be a bit complicated to use especially if you are not acquainted with it.

· Dust accumulation may cause sensor error

Whenever there is dust accumulation in the machine tray sensor window or when it is damaged, the machine is bound to make errors.

This problem may persist unless the operator discovers it.

In a pharmacy, many patients may end up receiving the wrong medication if it takes longer to identify and sort the problem.

· Advanced designs may require training to operate

Not everybody can be trained to use this machine in a pharmacy.

Because of this, there is a possibility of delayed services should the machine break down in the absence of the operator.

· Initial cost of investment

These machines are relatively expensive as compared to the manual ones.

Manual pharmacy pill counter machine

This is a low-cost handheld tray that has two parts.

The lower part is a plain tray without holes while the upper part has holes.

These holes can be of different shapes and sizes suitable for counting of both tablets and capsules.

Manual pill counting machine

Manual pill counting machine

This machine has a different number of counting holes ranging from 5 to 250 holes.

When you pour pills on top and shake, the pills will find their way into the holes.

The excess ones will fall into a wider tray placed beneath this counter machine.

A Counter of 50 holes, will count 50 pills accurately.

You have to inspect if all the holes have been filled with pills before you can ascertain its accuracy.

You can then hand-package them into bottles and continue the process until all the pills are counted.

This is ideal for small pharmacies, trials, and hospitals that are not very busy.

They can also work well in parts of the world that are not highly populated.

It is strong and very friendly to operate.

In addition to these, it is easy to use, maintain, compact and light in weight.

Manual pill counting equipment

Manual pill counting equipment

Advantages of manual pharmacy pill counter machine.

  • It is cheap to purchase and maintain as compared to the automated one.
  • This machine is much easier to operate because it is not as complicated as the automated one. Therefore it does not require sophisticated training for the operator.
  • Since this counter is very simple, it is easier to find out if it has developed any problems that could compromise its use.

Disadvantages of manual pharmacy pill counter machines

  • Even though the manual machine costs less, its efficiency is very low as compared to the automated one. It cannot carry out bulk counting, unlike the automated counter machine.
  • Also, the machine does not perform the filling of bottles. You have to pick the counted pills and manually fill the bottles or vials.
  • This machine requires the full attention of the operator throughout the process. He has to remove counted pills, package them and make manual prescriptions.

Therefore, with the use of this machine, any other task must be suspended until pill counting is completed.

Pill counting line

Pill counting line

  • More pharmacists are needed because the tasks performed by automated machine are taken care of by the staffs. This increases the cost of remuneration for staffs.
  • A manual machine is not time-saving because it is aided by manpower. It consumes a longer time to count, prescribe, and package the pills into bottles. Therefore it is not very efficient and is only ideal for small pharmacies.
  • The drugs may be contaminated during packaging as this is done manually. Also, potential thieves may have access to pills during packaging, leading to losses.
  • This handheld machine cannot detect fragmented pills. Therefore, there is a possibility of over-count when fragmented pills get into the holes with the whole ones.
  • You have to buy many handheld counters for different prescription. For example, you may have for 10 holes, 20 holes, and 50 holes among others. This is because the maintenance of accuracy in the counting process is very crucial.

Features of Pharmaceutical Pill Counter Machine

This machine has several features which are tailored towards pharmacist applications.

They include;

Technical specification of pill counter

Technical specification of pill counter

· Automatic product setup

New product calibration is done when products are placed on a special calibration tool and scanned by a camera.

It automatically sets all tablet data like size and shape among others.

This is important because it results in a simple and accurate setup procedure that helps in avoiding costly human errors.

· User-friendly PC based operation

Bulk counting machine operates through a color touch panel PC based system.

Its internal and external functions are controlled through one HMI in a matched standard.

Once you are trained on how to use it, you can always operate it.

· GMP designed without blind spots

It is designed for the operator to follow and observe each unit of the product from the hopper to the bottle.

This is very important because it significantly reduces the risk of cross-contamination of pills.

· Easy cleaning and changeover

Contact parts of this machine are designed for tool-free release in accordance with GMP design.

It has small light-weight parts that make its cleaning process fast and easy.

Also, it has a spare contact part kit that allows for a five-minute changeover from one product to the other.

This is far much better than the 1-hour changeover previous machines.

In-process cleaning can be done after every 8 hours or when the machine is under extreme dust conditions.

· Capability for detecting fragmented pills

Its ICU 1-40 has a vision-based system that provides automatic and accurate pill detection.

This machine detects broken pieces as small as 0.5 mm.

It detects whether broken pills have been poured into the vial or weighing boat.

Its unique algorithm has the ability to detect if a certain percentage of average weight has been added.

The scale will send a notification to the operator so that he/she can remove the fragment.

A network connected system will automatically send an e-mail notification of when it happened and where the fragment was found.

When a tablet is rejected either due to breakage or size variation, the container to be filled will be halted.

It will then be sent to reject station and this saves both time and money.

· Accuracy in the counting of pills

This machine is a technological solution.

The counting is done in bulk by an advanced real-time mathematical vision-based algorithm.

It gives the most accurate (100%) counting results in pill counting industry.

It can adjust pill weight that may vary over time when transiting from one LOT to another.

· Insensitivity to dust

The counting machine is separate from the truck and this aids in the reduction of dust accumulation.

Also, the vision-based system has a magnetic flap connection that minimizes dust effect on the machine.

Another advantage here is that once the dust has accumulated on the counting unit, its system will alert you.

· RX verification

These machines have NDC verification that safely creates a check ensuring that the drug being counted matches the one prescribed.

It prevents human error from occurring and the supply bottle is scanned and compared against RX label.

Matching of the two NDC codes will call for continuity in the pill counting process.

· On-screen instructions

Instructions on the screen are used to take the first time users through on how to count the pills using the machine.

It is simple and there is no room for errors once you follow the instructions as displayed on the screen.

This saves time especially for people who may be using it for their first time.

How to Clean Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine

The machine cannot function well when it is not clean.

Cleaning is usually done every 8 days or when the machine is experiencing errors.

It also calls for regular cleaning when your pharmacy dispenses many dust generating medications.

The machine has an automatic cleaning reminder functions.

This is customized by turning the cleaning checklist off and changing the frequency of cleaning reminder.

Tablet and capsule counting machine

Tablet and capsule counting machine

You can also add medications that will automatically trigger a cleaning reminder like sulfa.

The requirements during cleaning include distilled water and 70% isopropyl alcohol.

You will also need mild soap, paper towel, and computer screen cleaner.

Turn off and unplug the machine before you begin cleaning it.

Let us look at how each part of the machine should be cleaned.

i. Funnel cleaning

First of all, remove the funnel from the unit and clean outside and inside thoroughly using mild soapy water and alcohol.

ii. Cleaning of the glass detector window

Remove the square guards by unscrewing the two round thumbscrews on top of the unit.

Lift the entire channel assembly and wipe the excess dust that has accumulated inside the four clear detector windows.

This can be done using a dry cloth.

After that, take a clean wet cloth with mild soapy water or alcohol and clean the four glass windows.

This will help to remove all remaining dust and residues.

Be careful to wipe back and forth and not up and down.

Dry the glass windows by wiping using a dry clean computer screen cleaning cloth to remove streaks.

You can then inspect the outer part of the inner channel assembly for dust or streak.

If there is any of these, clean them off using clean distilled water and wipe to dry.

Look inside the machine and visually inspect the four inside glass windows.

If it warrants cleaning, do so using clean water and wipe dry using a clean cloth.

Lastly, replace back the inside channel unit and square guards and tighten the round thumb screws.

Push down the sliding ring that spreads the two black clips holding the glass window holder gently in a manner that it cannot break.

iii. Cleaning of the counting tray

Counting tray is cleaned using mild soapy water alone. Alcohol is not recommended.

iv. Cleaning of tray sensor

This is located behind the counting tray, and it informs the unit that the tray is appropriately placed.

To clean it, remove the tray and clean it using distilled water.

After that, wipe dry to remove streaks.

v. Touch screen cleaning

Spray a clean, lint-free cloth or computer screen cleaner with non-ammonia glass cleaner.

Use this cloth to clean the touch screen.

Check for any remaining dust and clean again if any is visible.

Troubleshooting Pharmacy Pill Counter Machine

Here are some possible errors you encounter in pharmacy pill counter machine:

Challenge/ problemThe cause of the problemPossible solution
Unit counts by itselfIt’s caused by tablet dust or residue on the detector glass window. It can also be caused by a cracked detector glass window.The detector glass window should be thoroughly cleaned. Also, the cracked detector glass window should be replaced.
Over-count of pillsThis happens when there is pill fragmentation or tablet dust on the detector glass windows.For tablet fragmentation, check counter medications.

You should also ensure the detector glass window is thoroughly cleaned with mild soapy water and alcohol.

Undercount of pillsIt happens when you pour out pills into the funnel too fast. It happens also when they are poured directly into the funnel hole.The remedy here is to pour the pills into the funnel slowly to prevent the “pour slowly” indicator from activating.
When the tray is pushed in, the display reads “—-” instead of “0000”.The reason could either be that the tray is not fully inserted or the tray sensor window might be dirty.The solution here is to insert the tray fully or clean the tray sensor window in-case it is dirty.
When the display reads “0000” even when the counting tray is not fully insertedThis happens when the tray sensor is either dirty or damaged.Clean the tray sensor window if it is dirty or if damaged, repair it.

Conclusion

This machine is very crucial in the medical industry particularly in the current world where there is a population explosion.

With this machine, pharmacies can attend to many patients more efficiently, safely and.

This results in a good patient-pharmacist relationship, quality services and substantial economic gains for pharmacists using it.

Therefore, the use of this machine does benefit not only pharmacists but also pharmaceutical industries, hospitals, and pill packaging industries.

It promotes pharmacists responsiveness.

For questions and inquiries about pharmacy pill counter machine, contact us today.

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