Stäubli Tec-Systems robots are known worldwide as the benchmark and first choice for use in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. The Swiss manufacturer is continuously working on redefining and extending its range of FAST picker, SCARA and six-axis articulated robots for life sciences applications. The latest developments will be showcased at AUTOMATICA 2016 in Munich, 21-24 June.
Hoyer Montagetechnik has built a test cell for medical products that is setting new standards for the industry. Inside a chamber with a footprint of just 3.5m2, a Stäubli six-axis robot tests the various components that make up the Respimat Soft Inhaler manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim.
Boehringer Ingelheim asked Hoyer for an automated plant to test its inhaler sprays. The two major design criteria were clean-room specification and a space-saving layout. Clean-room specification is expensive, with each additional cubic metre driving production costs up.
The number of inhalers manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim under the Respimat brand runs into the millions. Typically for the medical manufacturing sector, the most stringent safety and quality standards apply. This requires extensive testing during production. Over and above the tests that are already integrated into the process, it is also essential to subject randomly chosen items to destructive testing.
This involves various tensile, compression and high-pressure procedures. Conducted in parallel with production, these tests deliver continuous feedback on quality.
Testing the working parts of the inhalers takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The handling of the parts to be tested is performed by a centrally mounted Stäubli TX60L six-axis robot (clean-room version). The system tests the individual parts to destruction. To simulate the forces experienced during normal use, the maximum realistic load is first applied, and this is then increased until the part is destroyed. It is only in this way that the specified safety factor can be checked, and 100% operability and safety can be guaranteed to the consumer.
In the construction of the pilot cell, Hoyer paid special attention to the robot, as explained by Eberhard Walther, the company's head of design: "For a medical manufacturing plant of this kind, Stäubli robots are the natural choice because of their fully encapsulated design and outstanding clean-room suitability. More specifically, we chose the Stäubli TX60L - a compact, six-axis machine that offers almost 100% availability, a long reach, high precision and exceptionally long service intervals."
After the manual filling, the machine sorts and positions the trays at the point of transfer to the test cell. For example, if the high-pressure spray nozzles are presented, the gripper is positioned according to the information entered and picks the unit from the tray. It then goes into an enclosed test device that grasps the nozzle by its thread. Next, the robot picks up a plunger that it quickly and accurately inserts into the test device. The plunger fills the nozzle with water, steadily increasing pressure up to 2,000bar until it bursts. After fragmentation, all residues must be efficiently removed from the test socket.
The Stäubli TX60L has also proved its worth in the tensile strength and compression tests on the other components of the Respimat inhaler. The automation of testing represents a quantum leap. In addition to a significant increase in productivity, the system ensures compliance with the most stringent quality standards.
"For Stäubli Robotics, AUTOMATICA is one of the most important trade shows in the world," explains Sonja Koban, marketing manager at Stäubli Germany. "This year, we will present numerous product innovations for sensitive environments, a new version of our FAST picker TP80, as well as high-performance TX2 industrial robots for human-machine interaction with outstanding safety technology developed in house."