Pharmaceutical companies often assemble medical syringes by hand. Doing so not only limits the number produced, it 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. The customer required an advanced pharmaceutical-grade system that would deliver an accurate throughput of twenty units per minute. But how does a designer automate a process that handles needles with a tip smaller than a pinpoint?
A state-of-the-art robot fed machine not only increased production, it reduced the safety risk associated with manual handling of needles. Built with stainless steel for use in a class 10,000 (ISO 7) cleanroom, the machine is rapidly driven by a precision pick-and-place pharmaceutical grade robot. This machine plugs the end of the needle, with its small tips, to prepare it for backfilling with medicine.
A sheath covers each needle protecting 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, where biodegradable glue is applied. The glue forms a seal at the end of the needle, preventing medicine from spilling out when it is backfilled.
Sealing requires precise positioning. A high-tech vision system uses two ultra-precise cameras. One camera is for the X-axis; the other is for the Y-axis. Each camera directs 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 tip, thus preventing lacerations when the needle is being filled with medicine. The machine gives the operator the option to skip the sheath replacement stage so that the factory-inspector can check 10% 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 improvements in productivity and product quality while allowing skilled labor to be re-deployed on less hazardous tasks. Supported by a FDA documentation pack, the machine was commissioned and seamlessly integrated into the client’s production facility meeting all applicable UL inspection and certification standards.