Handling solution for ready-to-use syringes

Paul Boughton

Mitsubishi Electric Europe and robotics specialist Robotronic will be demonstrating the world's first handling concept for supplying ready-to-use syringes to an end-of-line packing system. 

The solution concept is exceptionally compact and extremely fast with a processing rate of up to 600 syringes per minute. It is also so flexible that easy switching between different syringe and syringe carrier formats is possible and a wide range of handling tasks can be performed quickly and easily. 

The handling solution supplies disposable syringes to the packing process quickly and flexibly via a rail system. It comprises two modular robot cells developed by Robotronic, so-called MRTs (modular robot technology). In one cell, two precisely coordinated Mitsubishi Electric MELFA robots from the RV-4FL series look after the whole process of handling tubs and syringe carriers as well as the different syringe formats ranging from 0.5 to 10 millilitres. To do this, they have a suitable conversion option. The second cell contains a rotary magazine turret which supplies up to 20 tubs filled with syringe carriers to the packing system.

Measuring just 1.0 by 1.3 metres, the MRT basic module occupies a space slightly smaller than a europallet and is 2.20 metres high. Mike Weber, managing director of Robotronic AG, explains: "Similar handling machines have been on the market for a long time. What makes our MRTs unique is their compact design. A comparable machine from another manufacturer takes up roughly three to four times as much space – and space is usually in short supply in production plants." The concept comprises a complete set of components which can be assembled specifically to suit requirements. As the exclusive robotics distribution partner of Mitsubishi Electric Europe for the Swiss market, Robotronic uses only Mitsubishi Electric robots.

The two compact overhead articulated-arm robots can perform both renesting and denesting tasks and process 400 syringes per minute in the sample application. By integrating an additional axis, the output of the cells can be increased to 600 syringes per minute. The rotary turret is driven by a Mitsubishi Electric MR-J4 servo motor. The turret is used to reload the MRT while the process is in operation, thereby reducing idle time to a minimum. To achieve the same autonomy with a conveyor belt, the belt would have to be four metres long.

"Mitsubishi Electric's industrial robots are distinguished by their flexibility, speed and long-term reliability. The broad scope they offer in construction, for example due to overhead mounting or extreme rotary movements, is also advantageous. The slimline design of the robots helps us to create MRTs within an extremely limited space," points out Mike Weber.

Handling solution for vials

Robotronic has also developed a customised overall concept for supplying and packing vials of various sizes which likewise incorporates two Mitsubishi Electric MELFA robots from the RV-4FL series along with a total of twelve MR-J4 servo drives. The unit comprises two MRT cells, each with a 6-axis robot, and can be expanded to virtually any extent. A conveyor system with eight servo-driven positioning screws supplies the vials to the robots which are responsible for handling. To do this, they use vacuum grippers to remove two rows of vials, each containing five vials, from the conveyor and place them into waiting packing units. The processing speed of the machine is 300 vials per minute.

The dynamics of the Mitsubishi Electric servos come into their own in the conveyor system in particular, due to fast acceleration and high braking torques combined with a very gentle start-up and deceleration. This high level of precision is important in the indexed conveyor system for the packing units because the machine has to position new blisters every 300 milliseconds in order to keep pace with the second-by-second cycle of the cartoning supply chain.