Through Jan. 28, some 26.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the United States. However, given that the U.S. population totals 330 million, and that each person will need two doses of vaccine, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Hundreds of millions of syringes will be needed just in the United States. Automation is the only way to meet that kind of demand.
Recently, a large medical device OEM contracted with NuTec Tooling Systems, a machine builder in Meadville, PA, to design and build a system to automate the process of coating plastic syringes for medical diagnostics, including a COVID-19 application. Competing products are made from glass, which is more costly than plastic. The OEM gained a competitive advantage by developing a process to coat the inside of a plastic syringe to give it a glass-like finish. That makes the OEM’s plastic product as good as glass versions, but less expensive. The problem then became how to automate the coating process.
That’s where NuTec stepped in. NuTec has been designing and building automation for more than 35 years. The company specializes in solving the unique challenges of contract manufacturers and operations that produce complex components. Its team of experienced engineers and project managers help manufacturers develop a clear vision of automated processes and then deliver custom projects that align with their goals.
NuTec’s syringe-coating machine employs four Epson G6 cleanroom SCARA robots at various stations to handle the parts efficiently and cost-effectively.
The G series is Epson’s highest-performing line of SCARAs. The series consists of 12 models, ranging from the G1 Mini, with a reach of 175 to 225 millimeters and a maximum payload of 1 kilogram, to the G20, with a reach of 850 to 1,000 millimeters and a maximum payload of 20 kilograms. With a unique high-rigidity arm design that reduces vibration, G series SCARAs deliver fast speeds and high precision with no overshoot or ringing.
The G6 SCARA has a reach of 450 to 650 millimeters and can carry a payload of up 6 kilograms. The robot can complete a round-trip arch motion (300 millimeters horizontally and 25 millimeters vertically) in just 0.33 to 0.38 seconds. Repeatability is ±0.015 millimeters. The robot is available in standard, clean room, and static-safe models. The cleanroom version used in NuTec’s machine meets the ISO Class 3 standard.
“Epson’s high-speed G6 SCARA robots with RC+ software enable precision processes with exceptional repeatability and reliability,” says Brent Martz, director of sales and marketing at NuTec.
In NuTec’s machine, the first SCARA removes syringes from a tub in preparation for the coating process. After the syringes are coated at a rate of 38 parts per minute, they pass through various inspection stations. The syringes are also siliconized, and temporary caps are changed to final caps. Finally, the syringes are X-ray inspected before they are added back into a plastic container by a second SCARA robot. Depending on production requirements, each container may contain 100 to 160 syringes.
A third SCARA robot picks up a full container, applies an inner and outer cover, and seals it before releasing it to the fourth SCARA robot, which applies a label with a laser marker. NuTec chose to synchronize the third and fourth SCARAs within the same envelope, reducing a production step and creating greater production efficiency.
The syringe coating machine, which was ready for operation in November 2020, proved to be a timely project. The OEM is now working with government agencies to produce mass quantities of cost-effective syringes to use in the fight against COVID-19.
“Epson’s partnership with NuTec represents the perfect blend of high-performance product and design expertise, which benefits OEMs requiring complex assembly applications in the health and life sciences sector,” says Bruce Courtney, managing director of NuTec.
For more information on robots, call Epson at 562-290-5997 or visit www.epson.com. For more information on automated assembly systems, call NuTec at 814-724-6336 or visit www.nuteccustomautomation.com.