Using robotics in healthcare industry isn't just about robotic surgery. For the manufacturing of medical devices, accessories and pharmaceuticals, flexible automation is used for packaging, assembly and inspection tasks to improve consistency, lower costs and maintain aseptic environments. Medical assembly robots produce medication, diagnostic test kits, syringes and devices of every kind. Packaging robots fill individual primary packaging like packs and bottles, as well as secondary packaging such as cases and trays. Robots are even useful for palletizing. Medical device automation also simplifies 21 CFR Part 11 traceability and verifiability compliance.
Why Use Robots in Health Care Manufacturing
Robots are flexible and consistent in medical manufacturing applications.
Flexibility — Often aided by vision or force-sensing technology, a robot can change to different product or pack formats in just seconds. These changes include in how a component is presented, product design, or changes in pack or kit format. It's even possible to mix similar products on the same line when using medical assembly robots. In contrast, hard automation needs precise, repeatable part presentation and costly retooling to handle the smallest design alteration.
Changeover time for packaging and medical assembly robots can be just minutes, sometimes only seconds. In many cases, all it takes is to load a new program, so robots are ideal for shorter production runs. More extensive changeovers can usually be handled with quick-change, end-of-arm tooling. Additionally, if a product line is eliminated completely, the robot can be redeployed to a different task.
Consistency — Consistency is one of the biggest benefits of using robots. Robots follow a programmed path to make identical products that meet specifications every time and without mistakes. When applying adhesives or sealants, the result is uniform thickness or bead width. Since there is no assembly variation, every kit is packed identically, and the customer gets the exact same product each time. Consistency supports 21 CFR Part 11 compliance because robots won't drift or change process after validation, and program-change authority is managed to comply with local procedures.
Types of Applications
Medical robotics companies offer solutions for tasks like device assembly, labeling, picking, packing and inspection. Robots are generally smaller, faster and more accurate machines, such as the delta-style M-1iA from FANUC or its six-axis LR Mate family. Applications for these machines include:
- Labeling packages randomly oriented on a conveyor. Using vision for package location on a moving belt avoids costly part presentation devices that increase changeover time.
- Assembling medical test kits. Force sensing lets the robot adjust to fit issues just as a human worker would. Assembly errors are avoided and part-to-part variation is recognized and accommodated.
- Syringe assembly. Size changes between products need only an adjustment in the program rather than expensive new tools.
- Transferring vials between trays. Controlled, repeatable motion prevents damage and spills.
- Assembly inspection. Mounting a camera on the robot enables close-up inspection of kits, ensuring none ship with pieces missing.
- Packing. Moving faster than a human, the robot doesn't drop or damage products, which avoids waste.
- Palletizing. Lifting, twisting and bending are leading causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Giving tasks like those to a palletizing robot protects employees from such potentially debilitating injuries.
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