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Robots offer vaccination packaging accuracy

When it comes to packaging life- saving and expensive pharmaceuticals, robots provide a precision that not only meets stringent safety guidelines but also improves efficiency. Claudia B Flisi reports.


ertain diseases – rabies, meningitis, cholera and yellow fever, for example

– are natural-born killers. Even a prosaic cold-weather flu can be fatal. As many as half a million people die from influenza every year. So a decision to specialise in vaccines against such diseases makes good sense socially and ethically as well as commercially.

In Rosia, a small town near Siena, in Italy’s Tuscany region, vaccines for threatening illnesses, including polio, diphtheria and tetanus, are produced and packaged by Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, a division of Swiss-based Novartis AG.

Novartis is the fifth-largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and it is also the second-largest supplier of influenza vaccines in the United States.

To preserve a safe and sterile environment, everyone at the Novartis plant in Rosia has to respect Good Manufacturing Practices. GMP are standard guidelines set out by the US Food & Drug Administration to ensure that the development and manufacture of food and drugs are carried out safely. Here up to 35 different vaccines are prepared and packaged for shipment to 70 countries around the world.

Te only workers who do not have to follow the GMP-mandated dress code are three hard-working ABB robots.

Scanners Te first to arrive was an IRB 660 Flex Palletizer. Te robot is equipped with two scanners and sorts boxes arriving on a conveyor belt by reading their barcodes. Depending on their contents and destination, it

meningitis vaccines that handles up to 500 syringes a minute.

Photo: Maurizio Camagna

Above The IRB 260 anchors a new 40-metre packaging line for flu and

places them on one of three pallets for shipping.

“Te shapes of the boxes change significantly for different markets worldwide,” says Carlo Romani, process engineering manager for secondary technical operations.

Te robot is designed to do the placement in a way that ensures maximum stability in the loading of the pallets. Te palletiser has proved so fast and reliable (replacing the work of up to three employees) that it will soon be moved to a larger area, where it will load six pallets at a time.

An ABB FlexPicker is used in packaging oral vaccines for polio. Te FlexPicker’s advanced vision system is an essential component of the production process because it has to pick up each polio cartridge individually from a conveyor belt

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