As of May 26, more than 5.6 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 235 countries. Worldwide, nearly 349,000 people have died from the disease, but 2.4 million have recovered. The United States is now the epicenter of the pandemic, with 1.7 million cases and 99,927 deaths. Both figures far exceed the totals of any other country.

Testing and contact tracing are critical for controlling the spread of the pandemic. To do that, hundreds of millions of test kits and supplies must be produced worldwide—and quickly.

Afag Automation, a manufacturer of linear and rotary actuators, grippers and parts feeders, is playing its part. Recently, a machine builder contacted the company to design and build four vibratory bowl feeders for an automated system to assemble diagnostic test supplies. Given the nature of the pandemic, the bowls had to be delivered in a very short timeline. They also had to meet stringent testing requirements.

Less than three weeks after receiving the order, Afag delivered the feeders. To put that into perspective, such an order would typically take 10 to 12 weeks.

Specifically, Afag supplied four bowls made from medical-grade polyamide. The bowls are molded in a general shape and then milled to meet the feeding requirements of each specific part. Engineers design the bowls in CAD software. The CAD file is then turned into a numerical-control file for precise five-axis milling. Thus, if identical bowls are needed in the future, they can be reproduced quickly and inexpensively.

Blanks are available with outside diameters ranging from 105 to 630 millimeters and depths ranging from 27 to 193 millimeters. Volumes range from 0.07 to 15.3 liters. Bowls can be machined with a step helix, a groove helix or a radius helix.

The vibratory drive unit has a closed design and feeds parts quietly and reliably.

“We’re very proud to be able to respond in such fashion,” says Helmut Niederer, president of Afag’s U.S. operations in Nashville, TN. “Our integrated technology, coupled with the know-how of our team, have proven to be a most impressive combination.”

“It wasn’t easy, but it certainly was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of,” adds Markus Werro, CEO of Afag, which is headquartered in Huttwil, Switzerland. “Our team never let up and saw it through to the end, delivering ahead of schedule and within production requirements.”

For more information on parts feeders, call Afag at 615-730-7515 or visit