Robot revitalises pharmaceutical packaging line in Melbourne

An ABB FlexPicker robot plays a role in an expanded packaging line that has increased production and throughput at a pharmaceutical plant in Melbourne, Australia.

The IRB 360 FlexPicker is the second generation delta robot solution for high-speed parallel arm pick-and-place applications.

The combination of ABB PickMaster software, IRC5 robot controller and FlexPicker can improve productivity and flexibility in numerous packing operations.

At the pharmaceutical production facility near Melbourne, engineers needed to increase production and throughput on the blow-fill-seal packing line, which packages sterile liquids into blister packs.

They decided to increase the number of items passing through process by speeding up the production line. The pharmaceutical plant’s packing line includes a sterile section where bottles are blown, filled and sealed before they are moved into a non-sterile packaging area for further processing and labeling.

Here, a vision system ensures the bottles are correctly labeled. A robot picks up correctly labeled bottles and places them in blister packs, which are sealed, weighed, collated and bundled, ready for shipping.

The line moves fast and many precision actions are performed, so it was essential that any solution to increase line speed and throughput also guarantee the quality and integrity of the product, with a minimum of waste.

The pharmaceutical company hired Andrew Donald Design Engineering (ADDE) in Melbourne to do the design, build and installation.

“They helped with the selection of the robot, and then with the integration of that into the wider control system for the rest of the packaging line,” said the plant’s Capital Engineering manager, Simon Whitehead. “They made sure the installation was as smooth as possible, and that there`s as little downtime on the line as possible.”

For increased line speed to work, we needed a system that could “accurately and repeatedly put the product into the right part of the blister pack, every time,” said Whitehead.

“We also needed to be able to pick up the good product, dispose of any defects, and we needed a system that could repeatedly put those products into the right spots at the right time, at our increasing speeds.”

ADDE general manager, Barry Hendy, said a key part of the solution was finding a system that could correctly load the blister packs at high speed.

“We initially looked at dedicated pneumatic transfer equipment, but realised that FlexPicker could do this with a lot more flexibility and speed, and really expand the capability of the line by introducing the accumulator shelf. This has allowed us to keep the blister packer running much more consistently and reliably.”

ADDE is an ABB Authorised value provider, and has a lot of experience with ABB robots, so they were no strangers to the Flexpicker.

“In particular, it`s the speed and flexibility of the machine which is needed to keep up with both the incoming product and the set cycle of the blister packer. It is also great that it sits above the line which is very good for the line clearance requirements in pharmaceutical production,” said Hendy.

“But speed and capability really makes FlexPicker the best choice,” he added. “This is a demanding application, in terms of cycle time and the interactions that are required, so we really needed speed and fast decision-making to enable the process to work the way it does.”

“The big thing for us is the increased throughput down the line,” said Whitehead. “This is part of a wider project where we`ve significantly improved the volumes and production speed of the packing line, and to do that we had to be able to run the packing line faster, which means we had to place the product into the blister packs faster. FlexPicker has been a key component of this process for us.”

Check out the video and see the robot in action.

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