Production environment requirements in the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors are very high and producers need to keep abreast of current industry trends. Such trends include; process optimisation for the purpose of increasing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), effective asset life cycle management and predictive maintenance using enterprise mobility and intelligent solutions (smart apps). Increasing networking along with the use of automation technology in accordance with Industry 4.0 have paved the way for these developments.
The Internet of Things has found its way into production in the form of Industry 4.0: increasingly networked systems with more communication-capable components have meant an ever-increasing volume of data. Thanks to “big data”, production is being made more and more intelligent, with the pinnacle of achievement being the smart factory. The key to success lies in determining the right information from the mass of data available, analysing the data and drawing findings from them. The aim of such Smart Data Management is to optimise the plant in question and prepare it for the future in terms of site operational excellence.
In addition, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) has developed into an obvious trend. The main factors that have contributed towards this have been optimised plant utilisation and productivity for which manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are of vital importance. Interfaces such as the MES interface from Mitsubishi Electric enable data to be collected quickly and easily at plant level and transferred to higher-level MES or ERP systems at the control level for further analysis. OEE can be specifically optimised based on the results without the need for a gateway PC to transfer the data. Based on the System Q PLC from Mitsubishi Electric the MES interface can be configured by a plant engineer in just around 15 minutes.
Cost control strategies look for a more compact design, shorter production cycles and substantially minimised waste. Automation technologies strongly support these approaches with robot technology in particular being used to achieve these aims.
Collaboration between Robots and Humans
Today’s pharmaceutical and medical technology production environments see robots and human operators increasingly working side by side. Mitsubishi Electric’s integrated Robot Safety Solution helps manufacturers to boost productivity and lift human-machine collaboration by allowing the robot to continue operation, within tight constraints, while operators access its work cell. Safety sensing technology detects movements in two predefined zones within the operating environment of the manufacturing cell and transmits the information to the SafePlus safety system. A reduced operating speed or a movement stop is then assigned to the robot in real time, thus enabling operators to work in close proximity to the moving robot without a safety cage. As a result, humans and robots are able to work within an environment where the risk of danger is eliminated.
Robot-assisted handling solutions: compact, flexible and quick
Space is an expensive commodity, especially in cleanrooms. The manufacture and maintenance of these plants where an extremely high level of hygiene is required are extremely costly. Compact components are all the more important as ultimately, the machine needs to be space-saving. Mitsubishi Electric components such as SCARA and articulated arm robots, controllers and servo drives are characterised by their particularly space-saving design and are suitable for flexible applications even when space is restricted. Easy handling enables fast integration, commissioning and adjustment.
One example of a highly compact handling solution came from Robotronic AG. Their required a secondary packaging solution for supplying and packing filled vials of various sizes. The solution needed to be integrated in an existing system with limited available space. The modular design principle of the modular robot technology (MRT) produced by Robotronic provides excellent design flexibility. As a result, the basic module for the MRT cell has a footprint of just 1.0 x 1.30 metres and is approximately 2.20 metres high, so it also meets the minimal space requirements. The solution for the cleanroom class in accordance with GMP standard level D consists of two MRT cells, each with a compact robot from Mitsubishi Electric and a conveyor line with eight positioning screws, driven by Mitsubishi Electric servo motors. The robots place the vials in the blister packs at a processing speed of 300 units per minute.
Hygiene in cleanroom systems
The increasing use of automation technologies, especially robots, has led to an increase in the demand for systems which meet high cleanroom requirements. It is also just as important to be able to clean a plant before a production changeover without any major costs being incurred. That means that it must be possible to clean the components in place (i.e. be CIP-compatible) using aggressive chemicals like H2O2. For that reason, Mitsubishi Electric also offers its customers multi-resistant versions of its new generation of MELFA robots which have been approved for regular CIP cleaning using H2O2. MELFA robots can even meet cleanroom class requirements; ISO 3, are dust proof, and have IP67 environmental protection.