Field Report: Robotic remedy

April 1, 2004
A SCARA robot with vision guidance loads pharmaceuticals into cavity blister packs with little scrap

Background: In today’s competitive global marketplace, every company is under tremendous pressure to keep costs low and quality high. Healthcare companies face the added challenge of government-mandated rules for their manufacturing processes and public scrutiny over rising healthcare costs.

Problem: When Janssen Ortho LLC, a Johnson & Johnson Co. pharmaceutical partner in Gurabo, P.R., manually packaged an orally dissolving tablet, scrap rates as high as 25% were common because of the tablets’ soft exterior finish.

Engineers faced with the challenge of designing a cost-effective automated packaging system decided the best solution was to rebuild an existing packaging machine and add a high-speed SCARA robot equipped with vision guidance to pick up the tablets and place them in blister packs. The SCARA arm design was selected for its speed and because it’s compact enough to mount on tabletops. Vision guidance means costly part-placement fixtures wouldn’t have to be built and changes to part locations could be easily accommodated.

But a SCARA robot and vision guidance weren’t the only requirements. The robot’s programming language had to be easy to learn and use, and the vision guidance system had to be tightly integrated into it.

Solution: The SCARA robot meeting all these criteria was Epson Robots’, Carson, Calif., EL653 equipped with Epson RC+ software and Epson Vision Guide running on a RC250 PC-based controller.

The major hardware components of the new automated packaging system are a rebuilt packaging machine, SCARA robot with vision guidance, special endof- arm tooling, and a conveyor for feeding trays in and out of the robot’s work envelope.

Operators load trays of molded tablets on the conveyor. After the tray is conveyed into the robot work envelope, the vision guidance system finds the location of each tablet and sends this information to the robot. The EL653 robot moves over the tray and picks up multiple tablets. One attribute of its end-of-arm-tooling is that each “finger” is independently activated, giving it the ability to single out tablets at pick up and set down. After picking up a load of tablets, the robot rotates around to the set-down location and places each tablet into its individual blister cavity.

Benefits: Janssen Ortho saw immediate gains from this robot-based automated tablet-packaging cell, such as an increase in production rates and a major decrease in scrap rates and packaging times. In addition, the simplicity of Epson’s programming language reduced the amount of time and money invested in operator training.

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