The COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on manufacturers of medical devices and pharmaceuticals to deliver life-saving products. Automation will play a key role in fighting the disease.
Last year, Dynamic Automation and Robotics, a systems integrator in Simi Valley, CA, designed and built a system to automatically fill vials with a medication for treating COVID-19.
Starting with bulk parts, the system automates everything from beginning to end, including assembly, filling, labeling and inspection. Operator interaction is required only for parts replenishment, allowing one operator to run several machines simultaneously or to perform other tasks in parallel. The machine can fill 50 vials per minute and run uninterrupted for more than an hour. Each machine can produce more than 20 million vials per year.
To maximize speed, the machine controls every aspect of part orientation. The process begins with the empty vials. Once the vials have been loaded into nests on an electromechanical rotary indexer, they are weighed using the first of two high-precision Mettler-Toledo scales. From there, they are filled using servo-controlled pumps that can be adjusted and programmed from the HMI. The vials are then weighed again to verify that the correct amount of medication has been dispensed. A Fanuc SR-Series SCARA robot loosely caps each vial, and a SMAC moving-coil actuator tightens each cap to a preset torque.
“A key feature is the sophisticated method for weighing the bottles,” says Max Kondrath, senior account executive for Dynamic Automation. “The machine contains two in-line scales that weigh the bottles before and after filling to ensure that the amount of medication in each bottle is highly accurate.”
The machine labels the vials in two ways. An ink-jet printer applies a 2D code to the top of the bottle cap, and an adhesive-backed label is applied around the outer diameter of the vial. All printed information is supplied by the customer and inspected using Cognex vision systems.
“Quality, efficiency and safety are always our top priorities, but through continued development our experienced team has put together a system that also gives the customer a compact and user-friendly machine,” says Kondrath. “Our standard design has a minimal footprint, giving greater flexibility to the layout of the production floor. This also allows for easy operator access to all internal areas of the machine, whether it be for cleaning, preventative maintenance or calibration.”
Centrifugal bowls equipped with sound guarding feed the caps and vials, keeping noise levels to a minimum. Diagnostics and programming are all done through Ethernet IP communication.
The system can handle multiple sizes and styles of vials, as well as fluctuating fill volumes and label information. With minimal design changes, that range can be adopted for many more configurations.
If requested, Dynamic can incorporate a dedicated rework station that gives the ability to bypass the first steps of the process and manually add product to be retightened or individually labeled.
To see a video of the system in action, click here: https://bit.ly/3d0aoFb.
For more information, call Dynamic Automation at 260-489-3572 or visit https://dynamicautomation.com.