Automation pervades all areas of production for pharmaceutical and medical technology, leading to increased process quality with positive effects for patients and staff. Producers and plant engineers who work in close collaboration are succeeding in finding new, efficient automation solutions for the most demanding manufacturing procedures that were previously considered as non-automatable.
An example of this comes from Italy, where Elettrosystem succeeded in creating a world first for the realisation of a complex system that made mounting spiral tubes less difficult. The spiral tube is a special hollow probe used in anesthesia and intensive-care medicine. In the past, it was not feasible to mount a fine-screw spring made of steel on a PVC tube, let alone coat the component with adhesive. The challenge lies in distributing the spring coils uniformly, as well as handling the two flexible components.
The world's first facility for the partial assembly of four spiral tubes comprises two mirror-image designed cells, in which four precise Stäubli 6-axis robots handle complex tasks. The spring is mounted in an integrated process cycle that is linked via linear systems.
Fresenius Medical Care proves that it is possible to be located in Germany, and operate as the undisputed world leader in products and services for dialysis patients, with highly automated production lines, the relevant know-how and an eye for innovation. In St Wendel, the company manufactures dialysers for hemodialysis and bag systems for peritoneal dialysis. Globally, almost every second artificial kidney is based on a polysulfone dialyser made by Fresenius.
To produce dialysers in quantities exceeding 100 million worldwide each year, innovative process technology solutions must be in demand alongside the reliable control of each production step, which is crucial.
"We rely on fully automated processes to eliminate error sources in production. As a result, we achieve a consistent level of quality with extremely low tolerance as well as safe processes and cost-effective production," emphasises Dr Franz Kugelmann, head of the technology development at Fresenius.
ABB's 6-axis robots, and selective-compliance-assembly robot arms (SCARAs) from the Japanese manufacturer Epson, are used for assembling the dialysers. The latter's 4-axis robots handle different tasks, ranging from mounting and operating to feeding system components and packaging. Volker Spanier, head of factory automation at Epson, believes that Fresenius's production evidences that robot-supported automation solutions contribute significantly to maintaining production sites in Germany and Europe.
In Switzerland, Jean-François Bauer, head of marketing and business development at Mikron Automotion, also sees potential in Germany. He says, "The market is developing rapidly [with] new forms of medicine, more complex procedures, smart devices, changing patient needs and new global players [entering the] industry. This growth market offers many opportunities to European companies that are familiar with the strict industry regulations [of] FDA, EMA, GAMP, ICH and GMP."
At automatica in Munich, the company will show how Mikron reacts to the new market requirements, in terms of having higher flexibility and scalability for assembly plants, and a shorter time to market. A wide range of products will be presented there, ranging from manual work stations to 'proofof- principle' and well-known, high-performance systems.