How Invotec helped one medical device manufacturer increase the efficiency and accuracy of a microscopic process with automated assembly.
An ophthalmic drug delivery company faced an inaccurate, manual process as well as increased demands for their ocular drug delivery systems. They needed an automated solution to replace their tabletop process, which relied heavily on operators and yielded only a 40% success rate.
The challenge involved loading a needle hub assembly with a compact, cylindrical medicine. Due to the dimensions of the needle and the medication, the assembly required a push wire with a diameter of approximately .014”, making it difficult for an operator to handle without damaging the needle or bending the push wire. These dimensions also meant it was hard for the operator to visually confirm that the medicine had been placed into the needle and was in the correct position.
With no previous experience leveraging automation equipment, the customer needed a partner who could assess their current process for solutions that would meet their expectations—while staying practical within the boundaries of their budget and operator expertise.
Given the delicate nature of the products, Invotec used a semi-automated approach that would minimize operator involvement in order to increase efficiency while providing feedback to confirm accuracy. The resulting system uses a robotic arm and four different sensors throughout the process to indicate the success of each step.
Here is how the system works:
- An operator loads the medicine from a tray into the machine nest. Once it is loaded, a sensor confirms the presence of the medicine.
- The robot will then grab one of the needle hub assemblies from a pre-loaded tray and bring it to the nest. A swing arm clamp, transfer tube, and push wire are used to load the medicine into the needle at a specific depth. Sensors monitor the force to ensure the push wire is not bent in the process.
- Finally, a fourth sensor performs a process verification that confirms that the medication has been loaded successfully.
The cycle time for the process is 10 seconds—a significant improvement over the 30 seconds per device achieved in the manual version of this process. Most importantly, though, the original 40% acceptance rate is now 90-93% with this semi-automated solution.
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