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How Much Do You Know About The Counting Machine Industry?
Sep 20, 2018

How much do you know about the counting machine industry?

Source : Pharmacy automation

Any product needs to be packaged. Here is a history of changes in pharmaceutical packaging methods for pharmaceutical companies. As a leader of smart pharmaceutical packaging equipment industry in Asia, we continue to strengthen our research and development capabilities, and now we have successfully launched automatic tablet or capsule modular counter.Please let us tell you about the history of the counting machine.


Dispensing medications in a pharmaceutical factory before the 1970s was a time-consuming operation. The operator dispensed prescriptions in tablet or capsule form with a simple tray and spatula. Many new medications were developed by pharmaceutical manufacturers at an ever-increasing pace, and medications prices were rising steeply. A typical community operator was working longer hours and often forced to hire staff to handle increased workloads which resulted in less time to focus on safety issues. These additional factors led to use of a machine to count medications.


The original electronic portable digital tablet counting technology was invented in Manchester, England between 1967 and 1970 by the brothers John and Frank Kirby.


I had the original idea of how the machine would work and it was my patent, but it was a joint effort getting it to work in a saleable form. It was 3 years of very hard work. I had originally studied heavy electrical engineering before changing over to Medical School and qualifying as a Medical Doctor in 1968. In fact I was Senior House (Casualty) Officer (A&E or ER) in 1970 at North Manchester General Hospital when I filed the patent. I must have been the only hospital doctor in Britain with an oscilloscope, a soldering iron and a drawing board in his room in the Doctors’ Residence. The housekeepers were bemused by all the wires. Frank originally trained as a Banker but quit to take a job with a local electronics firm during the development. He died in 1987, a terrible loss. [Extract from personal communication received in March 2010 from John Kirby.]


Frank and John Kirby and their associate Rodney Lester were pioneers in pharmacy automation and small-object counting technology. In 1967, the Kirbys invented a portable digital tablet counter to count tablets and capsules. With Lester they formed a limited company. In 1970, their invention was patented and put into production in Oldham, England. The tablet counter aided the pharmacy industry with time-consuming manual counting of drug prescriptions.


A counting machine consistently counted medications accurately and quickly. This aspect of pharmacy automation was quickly adopted, and innovations emerged every decade to aid the pharmacy industry to deliver medications quickly, safely, and economically. Modern pharmacies have many new options to improve their workflow by using the new technology, and can choose intelligently from the many options available.



On 1 January 1971 commercial production of the first portable digital tablet counters in the World began. John Kirby had filed U.K. Patent number GB1358378(A) on 8 September 1970 and U.S. patent number 3789194 on 9 August 1971. These early electronic counters were designed to help pharmacies replace the common (but often inaccurate) practice of counting medications by hand.


In 1975, the digital technology was exported to America. In early 1980 a dedicated research, development and production facility was built in Oldham, England at a cost of £500,000. Between 1982 and 1983, two separate development facilities had been created. In America, overseen by Rodney Lester; and in England, overseen by the Kirby brothers. In 1987, Frank Kirby died. In 1989, John Kirby moved his UK facility to Devon, England.


A simple to operate machine had been developed to accurately and quickly count prescription medications. Technology improvements soon resulted in a more compact model. The price of such equipment in 1980 was around £1,300. This substantial investment in new technology was a major financial consideration, but the pharmacy community considered the use of a counting machine as a superior method compared to hand-counting medications. These early devices became known as tablet counter, capsule counter, pill counter, or drug counter.


The new counting technology replaced manual methods in many industries such as, vitamin and diet supplement manufacturing. Technicians needed a small, affordable device to count and bottle medications. In England and America, the 1980s and 1990s saw new the development of high-speed machines for counting and bottle filling, Like their pharmacy-based counterparts, these industrial units were designed to be fast and simple to operate, yet remain small and cost effective.


Current state of the industry

A tablet counter has become a standard in more than 30,000 sites in 35 countries (as of 2010) (including many non-pharmacy sites, such as manufacturing facilities that use a counting machine as a check for small items).


During the 1990s through 2012, numerous new pharmacy automation products came to market. During this timeframe, counting technologies, robotics, workflow management software, and interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems for retail (both chain and independent), outpatient, government, and closed-door pharmacies (mail order and central fill) were all introduced. Additionally, the concept of scalability - of migrating from an entry-level product to the next level of automation (e.g., counting technology to robotics) - was introduced and subsequently launched a new product line in 1997.


Future development

Various companies are currently developing a range of remote tablet counters, verification systems and pharmacy automation components to improve the accuracy, safety, speed and efficiency of medication dispensing. Products that are used in retail, mail order, hospital outpatient and specialty pharmacies as well as industrial settings such as manufacturing and component factories. These advanced systems will continue to provide accurate counting without the need for adjustment or calibration when counting in different production environments.(A useful security feature in a large pharmacy with public access.)

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