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Chris Sumner, Managing Director

FANUC UK and Vice President of FANUC Europe Corporation

figure represents an increase of 115% since 2011, and makes it the biggest growth sector for robots between 2011/12, after the automotive sector. In 2009 FANUC reached a total of 295 robot installations in the pharmaceutical sector, 150 of these are being used in major international pharmaceutical companies. Figures from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR)* also demonstrates a noticeable increase. Global robot deliveries into the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors in 2010 totalled 1,468, with Europe accounting for 512 of these. European figures include a mix of articulated, cartesian, articulated parallel (also known as delta robots) and SCARA style robots. The main type of robots used in these sectors are said to be articulated arm robots (mostly 6-axes) for picking, packaging, handling and palletising. A large number of SCARA robots are used for picking and packaging. A new and growing area highlighted by the IFR for the sector is that of delta type robots, for high speed picking and packaging. FANUC has identified some typical application areas, which include palletising, packaging and pick & place, as well as machine tending. Although not currently well used in the sector, there is also a growing trend towards the use of delta robots too, which are able to offer a very high-speed picking solution for small parts. Merck, for example, has successfully employed a FANUC M-1iA delta robot on a bottling line, to place dispenser caps onto bottled allergy medications. The M-1iA is capable of operating at 120 cycles per second. Ten variants of the bottle can be run on the system and the only robot line change requirement is to select the appropriate programme on the robot controller. Although uptake of robotics in the

pharmaceutical sector is increasing, it is still slow and this can be attributed to companies continuing to rely on specialised manual labour for picking and packaging operations. Many, wrongly, believe that a robotic solution would be too costly and would require too much system integration work and expensive personnel training. A good solution to overcome this initial reticence could be to start to introduce robots

initially into areas where working conditions are toughest for human operators – where noise and dust can pose problems, for example, allowing operators to be redeployed to more pleasing working environments. Areas that could gain the most benefits from the introduction of robots are in pick & place applications, where product needs to be removed from a machine or conveyor and packed into blister packs or boxes. Robots can also offer consistently gentle packaging solutions including palletising boxes at the end of the line. In such applications robots are already well-proven and evidence has shown that they can offer a fast, clean, efficient and cost-effective alternative to manual labour.

A vision solution is vital in many

pharmaceutical applications to enable inspection, position and orientation capabilities. Where products are picked from conveyors by a robot, the addition of robot vision is essential to ensure fast and precise handling and packaging. Additionally, barcode reading and visual quality control can be incorporated to further streamline and accelerate production capabilities.


FANUC’s iRVision is an integrated solution, consisting of both software and hardware, which can add easy-to-use vision capabilities to an application. Because the vision solution is integrated into the robot controller no third- party software is needed. Vision solutions from FANUC include iRVision 2D which includes part location, barcode reading and anti-defect checking and iRPickTool for picking and placing from/to conveyors. The pharmaceutical sector in particular depends on automated process-control and quality-assurance systems to ensure that every batch is identical to the previous one. In addition, the requirement for pharmaceutical packaging to carry identical labels can be streamlined through the use of robot vision and barcode scanners which help speed up throughput, automating the task of comparing the labels on incoming products with an original, master copy.

There is also a growing requirement to monitor and record every step of the production process. These traceability requirements – combined with the need for labelling and traceability right down to the individual product – will almost certainly benefit from an automated solution which can >>>

Solids and Bulk Handling September 2014 11

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