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Increased Competitiveness through Automation

Stäubli Robotics

In an effort to remain competitive in the market place, Baxter Healthcare has continued to evaluate their manufacturing processes for production throughput. Baxter, one of the world leaders in the Medical Device industry, has been a progressive company and has implemented innovative techniques and equipment in their production facilities.  Because of this approach to manufacturing,  they have realized increased throughput and quality.  Baxter’s Fenwal Division in San German, Puerto Rico has an in house group, MDE Automation, that has designed and built various pieces of assembly automation equipment with continued success.

When the team was asked to look at ways to improve the manufacturing process for one of their Plasma Device assembly lines, they decided to investigate different and new technologies.  They discovered that they could reduce their costs of manufacturing further by implementing a 6 axes robot.  “Until now we have used primarily linear and cam drives for our automated equipment.  But, it would have been cost prohibitive to utilize this type of equipment for the complex motion that was required for this project,” remarked Guillermo Morales, Project Manager.  After reviewing the various 6 axis robot manufacturers they selected Stäubli Robotics.  According to Mr. Morales, Stäubli Robots was the clear solution because of the performance characteristics of the equipment design.  “The robots must work in a clean room environment and Stäubli has a long history of success in this area,” explains, Miguel Lopez, Robotics Engineer.

The MDE automation team has implemented 18 Stäubli robots on six assembly lines with loading, unloading and assembly at a high rate of speed.  “Another reason we chose Stäubli was the robot’s ability to work so precisely and achieve our requirements for a demanding cycle time.  Also the design of the working envelope of the robot allowed us to work in a very small foot print, yet reach varied positions,” said Mr. Morales.  The robot interfaces with the existing automated assembly machinery and communicates with the PLC. There is constant feed back information between the assorted pieces of equipment to insure the process throughput without jeopardizing each individual piece or the product. “Stäubli’s application team worked with us from the development stages of the project and performed a feasibility study to help determine the best positioning for success,” remarked  Mr. Frank Cosmo, Director of Manufacturing.

The environment and physically challenging work had often effected the production process.  The robotic automation not only offered the repeatability, but presented the opportunity to make a safer environment.  Baxter learned that by using a six axis robotics solution, it was feasible to duplicate the human wrist’s flexibility.   “These systems helped to reduce our accident rate,” offers Mr. Morales.

While the direct labor cost associated with the production line was a factor in redesigning the process, the implementation resulted in enhanced job opportunities.  Some job classifications were upgraded as more technical positions were required.  Since the maintenance roles became more critical Baxter supported employee training and worked with Stäubli to provide a tailored training program for their team.  Miguel Lopez commented, “Additionally, we began an extensive in-house program to prepare employees for the transition.  We provided for group leaders and supervisors to participate in company financed training in robotics, but we also had Stäubli experts work with our employees on site.”   “We work to manage our direct labor costs cautiously so that we can continue to pass on benefits to the employees, as well as maintain our competitive position,”  stated Mr. Cosmo. “With robotics, we have been able to meet our productivity and profitability targets as well as demonstrate our long-term commitment to retaining and enhancing employees jobs.”

“Although the implementation of robotics was a new area for our division, the cooperation between the two companies assured the success of the project.  Utilizing our product and process knowledge combined with the exchange of information with Stäubli’s application engineering team we developed a smooth transition into this technology,” concluded Mr. Morales.

Baxter San German reported that the performance of its first robotic cells have met their expectations in reducing direct labor costs, decreasing work related injuries, as well as benefiting from reducing some work in process.

“Robotics also provides us with the kind of flexibility that will keep the process competitive. Unlike fixed automation, robotics gives us the ability to adapt more quickly to market demand and process developments. We now have the ability to re-program the robot and re-fixture the part for the existing line or another product line in the future,” concluded Mr. Lopez.

Increased competitiveness through quality and productivity has always been among the main objectives of Baxter.  Today, Baxter continues to be an efficient and modern company with advanced manufacturing capabilities supplying quality products in their industry.

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