Inhalers are used to deliver airborne pharmaceuticals. Because they contain valuable and sometimes toxic ingredients, delivering accurate doses is critical for patient care. As a result, pharmaceutical companies perform extensive testing on inhalers to ensure that they deliver accurate dosing when activated.

When testing is performed manually, it is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Additionally, boredom-induced inattention may lead to inaccurate recording of test results.

Novi Systems Ltd. (Maidstone, Kent, England), an automation company, developed a workcell that automatically tests inhalers and records the test results. Called ICTUS, the cell performs all the material handling, testing, result recording and equipment cleaning. These duties were previously done manually. In Novi System's workcell, they're performed by a SCARA robot from Epson Robots (Carson, CA).

Now, an operator simply loads a tray of inhalers into the cell, pushes "start" and walks away. Because the cell can operate without worker intervention, employee safety has improved. Operators are now removed from an environment that sometimes contains volatile solvents.

The robot picks up the inhaler, weighs it, and prepares the medication by shaking or other means according to the requirements of the inhaler. It then places the inhaler into a fixture and triggers the release of a dose. The final robotic handling operation moves the inhaler back to the weigh station so that the before and after weights can be compared to determine the size of the delivered dose. With this data, the pharmaceutical company knows how much medicine each inhaler shot delivers to a patient.

Since incorporating robotics from Epson, Novi Systems has experienced a 500 percent increase in testing throughput, and a 97 percent reduction in cost per test. The company has also experienced significantly reduced labor costs because the cell runs unmanned. Test results are more quickly reported, and rejection rates are lower because of the improved reliability of the results.

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