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Packaging Solution

Automated Handling of Sensitive Products with Novel 3D Technology

| Author / Editor: Carsten Peters / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Eager eye: The 3D camera detects the exact position and layer height of the pens by scanning the complete top layer in the bulk box after each pick of the robot. This image allows the pens to be taken out of the box with high-level precision.
Eager eye: The 3D camera detects the exact position and layer height of the pens by scanning the complete top layer in the bulk box after each pick of the robot. This image allows the pens to be taken out of the box with high-level precision. (Source: Lukas Gojda/Fotolia.com, Schubert Packaging Systems, [M]-Sahlmüller)

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In order to expand its capacities and modernise its packaging line, those responsible for the location of a large biotechnology firm in the Netherlands were looking for a new system to pack vials and pens in different configurations. Automating this small-component packaging task would open up the possibility of increasing efficiency and saving production costs. At the same time, the chosen packaging solution needed to offer a high level of flexibility and precise handling.

From its locations in America and Europe, the biotechnology company presented in this article provides patients with medicines for cancer therapy or severe chronic diseases and metabolic disorders. To ensure simplicity, safety and overall patient compliance, the manufacturer not only offers vials, but also pens for a precisely dosed administration of a drug to battle high cholesterol. The delicate products need to be handled with extra-special care during the packaging process. Apart from glass breakage, the pens should not be activated prematurely during the packaging process.

Until then, the pharmaceutical company had not deployed any solutions from Schubert worldwide. During a face-to-face meeting, Karin Kleinbach, Sales Account Manager at Schubert-Pharma, established the first contact with the pharmaceutical company. The new customer was quickly convinced by the advantages of the Schubert TLM modular platform. For this challenging task, Schubert-Pharma developed a combination of efficient robot technology and advanced 3D image recognition — both of which were key to the decision to partner with Schubert.

Designed for Safety Without Glass-to-Glass Contact

In the design of the machine, gentle, product-friendly handling was top priority: special attention was paid to avoiding glass-to-glass contact. To meet this requirement, the vials and pens are placed into fluted cardboard dividers or pre-formed trays within the cartons.

Furthermore, only extremely low forces could be exerted upon the products during this process. 60N force was the limit which was set by the customer to ensure that the sensitive products would not be damaged and that unnecessary production downtime would not occur. Should this value be exceeded, the machine stops to enable checking of the problem source and removal of the products from the working area.

The packaging process begins with the feeding of the standing vials on a conveyor belt which transports them to the F4 robots. A camera detects their position on the belt and simultaneously controls the presence of the caps. The F4 robot then respectively grips one vial from the belt and groups it horizontally on the Transmodul. The pens, on the other hand, are fed to the F4 robots in transport crates with 120 pens each on a separate conveyor belt.

In the carton erecting station, the blanks for the vials or the pens are denested from a magazine and erected. During this process, the pharmacode on the blanks is controlled and verified. Blanks with incorrect codes are rejected beforehand and do not even enter the packaging process.

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