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Automated Packing of Parenterals in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Stäubli Robotics

Bayer Schering Pharma relies on Stäubli industrial robots for the automated packing of medicines. These robots enable uninterrupted production, and their stiff structures and high precision make them fit for the task. The new TX200 six-axis robot puts it heavy-load capability to good use in a packing line for pouches.
Bayer Schering Pharma is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the international arena. It has production sites in the USA, Latin America, Asia and Europe, including several in Germany. In Leverkusen the company produces parenterals under strict hygienic conditions. Parenterals are medicines that are not intended to be taken orally, but instead intended for injection, infusion or implantation in the body. The liquids are first filled into in primary packaging such as bottles, ampules or plastic pouches. After this the robots pack the medicines for further transport.
Since August 2009, a pair of Stäubli robots have been showing what they can do in two production lines for filling and packing pouches. These two machines – an RX160 and a TX200 – work hand in hand. The smaller RX160 is responsible for handling the pouches, while the larger TX200 transports empty trays and trays filled with pouches.

A cost-effective and compact solution
Klaus Radke Industrietechnik GmbH & Co. KG, located in Neuwied-Block (Germany), won the bid for the project engineering of this packing station. Manfred Broustin, Head of Process Control for Parenterals at Bayer Schering Pharma: “Radke implemented the specified concept using robots because that is their speciality. Other companies proposed gallery cranes or automated handling equipment for this task. We were also interested in this approach, but in the end we chose the robot solution because it needs the least space for the specified task and because it is the most cost effective solution.”
Another factor was that Stäubli’s product portfolio includes robots that are ideal for use in packing stations. The RX160 and TX200 models feature fully enclosed construction, which makes them highly suitable for use in cleanrooms and very easy to clean. The stiff structure of the robots also allows them to excel in dynamic tasks. “These units are an excellent choice for use in cleanrooms”, according to Broustin, “because their compact construction and their smooth, closed surface structure gives them the best cleaning characteristics of any units that we are aware of.”
The TX200 heavy-load robot, which has been available since mid-2009, has an IP65 rating in the standard version. It also features pre-installed user interfaces located on the front arm near the tool, as well as the CS8C HP controller, which was specifically developed for this robot model. With a rated load capacity of 100 kg, the TX200 is particularly suitable for use in the pouch packing line. The trays to be transported hold 24 pouches and are surrounded by a heavy steel frame. The dead weight of the gripper also has to be taken into account. The resulting total weight to be handled is around 30 kg. A tong-like gripper is used for reliable purchase. In combination with the high stiffness of the robot, this allows the trays to be transported at the required speed.
The application in a nutshell
The process works as follows: the pouches to be packed are fed in on a belt in a series of individual compartments. There the RX160 removes three pouches at a time and places them in a tray. This is done eight times, with the result that a total of 24 positions on the tray are filled. The filled tray is placed on a turntable at the removal position, and a prepared empty tray is swung into the loading position.
After this the fast TX200 removes the filled tray and places it on a stack of previously filled trays. On the return path it picks up an empty tray and places it in an empty location on the turntable to close the loop in a continuous process. A total of fourteen trays are stacked together and then ejected from the station.
To avoid interrupting production when exchanging trays and allow the RX160 to place new pouches, the robot controller of the TX200 organises all of the processes – from buffering the pouch feed to synchronising all of the handling actions. This allows the trays to be exchanged without any forced breaks, so that the product can be processed continuously.
Tried and true technology
Automated bottle loading using a RX170B robot has been proving its worth at the Leverkusen plant for around ten years. The robot picks up the bottles, travels over a defined route, and stacks them in wire mesh crates. The control program takes into account the fact that the number of packing levels depends on the height of the bottles to be packed. This information is stored in the RX170B in the form of size-dependent parameters, and the program finds the right packing scheme for each bottle size. Here rubber suction cups ensure a reliable grip.
The robot places separator sheets between the individual layers. It uses the same gripper for both steps. After placing a separator sheet, it sets a new layer of bottles on top of it. A turntable buffer bridges all of the exchange cycles occurring during the process. The RX170B does not take the bottles directly from the filling machine. Instead they are first buffered on the turntable, and the robot removes them from the turntable at a rate that is higher than the loading rate. This results in breaks that can be used for exchanging wire mesh crates or placing separator sheets, without leading to production
The objects must be presented to the Stäubli robot in a manner that allows it to pick them up easily. For this reason, the bottles are not placed on the conveyor belt at random, but are instead presorted. They are guided to a V-block where the robot picks them up the same way each time. The RX170B control software and the feed belt controller are linked together to ensure that the robot always has the data it needs to know where the object of interest is located.
Manfred Broustin is pleased with the Stäubli robots. The incidence of faults during the process is virtually nil. In the words of the process control manager: “We are very happy with Stäubli's products. Fast delivery of spare parts and the repair service also work perfectly. We could have hardly found a better solution to our requirements.”
For more information please contact:
Stäubli Robotics (Germany)
Sonja Koban
Head of Marketing
+49 (0)921 88 32 12
About Stäubli: Textile Machinery, Connectors and Robotics
Stäubli is a mechatronics solution provider with three dedicated divisions: textile machinery, connectors and robotics. With a workforce of 4000, Stäubli has a presence in 25 countries and agents in 50 countries around the world.

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