Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Factory
Automation speeds up medical syringe assembly


July 26, 2013
By Special to Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Pharmaceutical companies often assemble medical syringes by hand. Manual assembly is time-consuming, potentially dangerous and lacks the repeatability and reliability of an automated solution.

Automation GT was asked by a leading pharmaceutical company to design and build a system to prepare needles for drug filling. This task was previously carried out by hand, completing only a few per batch.

But how do you automate a process that handles needles with a tip smaller than a pinpoint?

That was the challenge. The answer was a state-of-the-art robot fed machine. To reduce the safety risk associated with manual handling of needles, the machine plugs the end of the needle to prepare it for backfilling with medicine.

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The customer required an advanced pharmaceutical-grade system that would deliver an accurate throughput of twenty units per minute. Built using stainless steel for use in a class 10,000 (ISO 7) clean room, the machine is rapidly driven by a precision pick-and-place pharmaceutical grade robot.

The machine handles needles with tips smaller than a pinpoint. Each needle is covered by a sheath to protect the user from the sharp tip when manually handled during transport. The robot swiftly selects a needle from the pallet, removes the sheath and slides over to the orientator, which locates the bevel side of the needle by rotating it vertically.

With rapid, purposeful motion, the robot takes the needle to the dispensing station and a special biodegradable glue that is smaller than the ID of the recipient needle is applied.

By dispensing the biodegradable glue, a seal is formed at the end of the needle, which prevents medicine from spilling out when it is backfilled. When the needle is being sealed it requires precise positioning—a high-tech vision system is employed using two ultra-precise cameras—one for the X-axis and one for the Y-axis—directing the robot using the precise coordinates for the correct location.

When the dispensing process is complete, the safety sheath is replaced back onto the needle, to protect the user from lacerations from the tip when being filled with medicine. The machine hands the operator the option to skip the sheath replacement stage so that the factory-inspector can check 10 per cent of the needles.

The system is controlled by a PLC multi-axis control system, which networks with the human machine interface (HMI), Vision Inspection System and the Robot. The HMI incorporated into the dispensing system allows the user to monitor the process at all times, displaying run-time, machine yield and the total rate of good/rejected needle assemblies.

Automation GT delivered a fully-automated dispensing machine that provided dramatic improvements in productivity and product quality while allowing skilled labour to be re-deployed on less hazardous tasks. Supported by a class-leading FDA documentation pack, the machine was commissioned and seamlessly integrated into our client’s production facility meeting all applicable UL inspection and certification standards.