By Del Williams
Working with an expert packaging-device fabricator and integrator to overcome challenges to manufacturing
For medical device manufacturers, the continual need to increase production speed and efficiency, while reducing labor, has spurred a shift toward implementing automated systems.
However, off-the-shelf equipment will not accommodate every application, particularly the more complex ones with robots and conveyors, as well as a host of equipment for manufacture and assembly—in addition to packaging, labeling and palletizing—that must be flawlessly coordinated.
For this reason, even some large automation companies will not take on applications considered too difficult.
In such cases, medical device manufacturers looking to increase the speed and efficiency of their production and packaging lines need an automation partner that can quickly and cost-effectively deliver custom-tailored solutions.
This includes the ability to design, build and integrate high-speed, high-volume automated equipment and systems for some of the largest companies in the world.
For projects of any size, however, it can be crucial to partner with an expert supplier to overcome a range of obstacles such as meeting specifications and regulatory requirements, system integration, and necessary customization, as well as completing the work on time and within budget.
“While implementing off-the-shelf solutions can be a starting point for some projects, automating and incorporating robotics frequently requires a custom solution that meets very specific process requirements.
“For this reason, even large suppliers in this space will often pass on opportunities if they are not easily resolved,” says Leon Gurevich, founder and chief technology officer of Rapid Development Services (RDS).
Based in Earth City, Mo., RDS (www.rapidds.com) is an industrial automation equipment builder providing design, engineering, integration and fabrication of production and packaging machinery.
The company has implemented over 300 complex, robotic, assembly and manufacturing projects worldwide, and has been awarded more than 40 patents.
According to Gurevich, to avoid delays or failure on larger and more complex projects, it is particularly important to work with a supplier that not only has expertise, but is also nimble and flexible.
“When it comes to automating production, equipment can range from very small to complete lines several hundred feet long that can consist of robots, conveyors, vision systems, server drives, etc.,” says Gurevich, who has worked with companies such as Medtronic, Johnson and Johnson, Abbott Labs and Pfizer.
“So automation suppliers and integrators need a ‘tool box’ full of solutions, including the ability to design and build from scratch in order to fit together all the pieces of the puzzle.”
In the case of RDS, the company typically uses standardized off-the-shelf solutions and integrates it with other systems, but can also design and manufacture equipment and sub-systems from scratch, as needed.
This includes machinery such as packaging equipment, labeling/marking systems and palletizing automation, as well as automated assembly solutions, inspection systems, filling systems and machine tending automation.
As an example, after a major medical device manufacturer received FDA approval of a real-time insulin pump for continuous glucose monitoring, the company needed to automate production with specific attention to packaging.
To do that, RDS was called on to develop an automatic system to package insulin reservoir-syringes into a Multivac FFS (form-fill-seal machine), followed by carton and case-packing for ready-to-ship product delivery.
The reservoir-syringe was presented to the system in a bulk form. The robotic system utilizes vision inspection to check for the presence of subcomponents before placing reservoir-syringes into the Multivac machine’s formed web cavities.
The vision inspection identified the presence of the plunger, guard and overall geometry pattern of syringes by inspecting a set of 10 units per cycle.
The system used two six-axis robots, two Vibro-feed bowls, and the Multivac web machine to feed, pick, place and seal the reservoir syringes.
With the robotic system, each of two cells packaged product at a rate of over 120 reservoirs per minute, for a total of 240 units per minute. The packaging system also had a carton erector, and the sealed packages were robotically inserted into cartons.
RDS initially installed the system in a California plant, which ran the robotic system trouble-free in a clean room for over five years.
At the company’s request, RDS disassembled, moved, reinstalled, and started up the system at a new facility in Puerto Rico, where it has continued to run trouble-free, three-shifts-per-day, for another 10 years.
According to the market research and consulting company Grand View Research, the global medical automation market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.9 per cent from 2016 to 2024 to reach US$79.4 billion by 2024.
Grand View Research cites the rising prevalence of chronic diseases and the increasing adoption of automated equipment for diagnosis and therapy as the some of the key factors propelling that market growth.
So whether packaging device manufacturers need help automating their production, or the equipment used in other settings, partnering with an expert in automation can be the surest route to ensuring compliance, reliability and efficiency.
Companies sometimes shy away from automation when only focusing on direct labor savings or short-term ROI (return-on-investment,” says RDS president Sunit Mishra.
“However, if you factor in increased production speeds and improved quality along with reduced waste, labor management savings, labor hiring and training savings as well as repetitive motion injury, the investment in automation usually provides an attractive ROI in the short term itself,” Mishra states.
“Our history shows equipment life-spans of well over 20 years, so the ongoing benefits continue to accrue to the bottom line for the life of the equipment.”