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Explosive growth of a new test kit product left a major medical devices manufacturer with the need for additional production capacity to fill the order backlog. Automation investments with tight timeframes would have to be made in the packaging area where workers across three lines would manually match two components together, place them in pouches, and put into heat sealers. VMRA designed three identical robot work cells that to occupy the fast and dangerous portion of that work and enable the company to meet its orders on time.
Rotary pouch, fill, and seal machines were purchased for each line to accelerate the pouching and heat-sealing processes, yet manually feeding the machines would still not keep up with desired cycle rates and would place workers close to fast moving equipment.
Each robot would be handling the diagnostic test kit while it was still a loose grouping of two components. The delicate needs of the kit combined with a high speed environment meant that any gripping solution would have to be well engineered to assure that the full kit would be passed along to the pouch, fill, and seal machines without any movement in their alignment.
Lastly, long-term support and response time where concerns as well. Longstanding work with the Rockwell Automation components in their capital equipment meant that facility engineering and support staff were highly trained in the RSLogix 5000® environment but were unfamiliar with any robot languages.
VMRA designed three identical robot cells that would be mounted outside of each of the pouch, fill, and seal machines. A phased in automation approach led VMRA to integrate a cleated conveyor that would allow operators to purely address the task of connecting the two components. The conveyance would index the test kit into the robot’s operating area where they would be grabbed and vertically feed into their premade pouch packaging machines. Solid PETG guarding was used throughout the cells to retain a compact footprint and maintain worker safety within RIA standards.
While seemingly simple, the gripping solution was the result of an intense testing at VMRA headquarters. VMRA built spec end-of-arm-tools with different materials that could be mounted to an VMRA testing robot for analysis. The analysis was done in parallel with the lead times of major components resulting in a robust gripper that could be trusted without extending already tight timelines.
To create a familiar and internally supportable system, VMRA programmed the robots using Yaskawa’s MLX Software option. This enabled all control and programming of the robots to be handled by Rockwell hardware within the RSLogix 5000® platform which staff was well trained and skilled in. Operators were subsequently able to hit the ground running with any program changes or troubleshooting procedures.
Learn more about Yaskawa MLX Software here.
The optimizing of the human-robot workload proved to match the production needs precisely. Each system was able to clear the cycle time needed that would allow the packaging area to be aligned with production.
The efficient, compact, and supportable nature of the robotic loading cells has proved them to be an important asset in the continued success of the product. As sales continue, additional lines with this solution are being explored.