A pharmaceutical OEM that began an automation project in 2018 reaped unexpected rewards as demand for syringes surged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the company engaged the services of custom automation specialist NuTec Tooling Systems to automate syringe manufacturing, which involves a proprietary coating process that imparts plastic syringes with properties similar to glass syringes. The system employs four cleanroom SCARA robots from Epson Robots, a global leader in PC-controlled precision factory automation.
The concept phase of the project started in 2018, and the machine was ready for operation in November 2020, reports Epson in a news release. The serendipitous timing enabled the OEM to work with government agencies at a critical time to develop a cost-effective process for manufacturing mass quantities of syringes to use in the fight against COVID-19. Plastic syringes are less expensive to manufacture than their glass counterparts, and automating the process allowed the OEM to further reduce costs and rapidly ramp up mass production.
"Epson’s high-speed G6-Series SCARA robots with Epson RC+ software enable precision processes with exceptional repeatability and assembly pick-and-place capabilities,” said Brent Martz, Director of Sales and Marketing, NuTec Tooling. “The ease of use and application versatility within the Epson RC+ development environment, plus an ISO-3 rating and compliance with cleanroom standards, makes them ideal for this project and the medical sector in general, where speed and precision are vital to the manufacturing process.”
Within the machine, the first Epson G6 robot removes syringes from a tub in preparation for the coating process. The syringes are coated at a rate of 38 parts per minute and then pass through various inspection stations. Next, the syringes are siliconized, temporary caps are changed to final caps, and they are x-ray inspected before being added back into a container by a second SCARA robot. A third SCARA robot picks up a full container of syringes, applies an inner and outer cover, and seals it before releasing it to the fourth and final Epson SCARA robot that applies a label with a laser marker. NuTec chose to synchronize the third and fourth Epson SCARA robots within the same envelope, reducing a production step and creating greater production efficiency.
"At Epson, we innovate to solve today’s challenging automation needs, and our partners play an instrumental role,” said Scott Marsic, Group Product Manager, Epson Robots. “NuTec’s breadth of experience and talented staff help provide customers with a clear vision of custom automation projects. Together, we deliver the perfect blend of innovative, high-performance solutions and design expertise for complex assembly applications in the medical sector, including COVID-19.”