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Company insight


Diagnostics on a testing deadline


The ability to produce machines on a short timeline to manufacture Covid-19 test kits at scale was vital to combatting the pandemic. Medical Device Developments speaks to Joel Pepper, senior director of life sciences at custom assembly and test automation company ATC Automation, about how precision, collaboration and customer engagement are the foundations of on-time delivery.


D


uring the pandemic, testing was a cornerstone of the response to the spread of Covid-19. Manufacturing the test kits on a vast scale, while ensuring that they are cost- effective and perform to the highest standards, was a major feat requiring the highest degree of automation expertise. In May 2020, ATC Automation was approached by a diagnostic device company with an urgent request, which required the company to marshal all of its resources to deliver reliable, high-performance machines capable of manufacturing emergency testing kits in vast quantities.


“Our client had received Department of Defense authorisation to manufacture emergency testing kits, so they came to us,” says Joel Pepper, ATC’s senior director of life sciences. “They had a tight schedule, which meant we had to deliver the machines in just 24 weeks from design concept to testing and deployment.”


that can be integrated into an existing manufacturing process.


Its expertise in customised automation solutions, which stems from its close-knit customer service and engineering teams, enabled the company to deliver the first machine on time. Following a dry run at the ATC facility, the first machine was debugged and commissioned in the field, where the feeder mechanism was added. “One machine running on a 24-hour cycle can produce 223,200 kits per day,” remarks Pepper. “Initially, we were asked to build three machines but we ended up supplying five. Since they went into service, there has not been a single problem with any of them.”


Overcome problems with partnerships The machines ATC delivered comprise several market-leading technologies. Among them is the iTRAK chassis, a modular, scalable and linear motor system that provides track-based


“Everything was the result of a collaborative effort with the client and with our supply partners, including specialists in robotics. It required collaboration, especially with our commercial component manufacturers, whose delivery times were stretched.”


ATC, which manufactures its equipment at a 200,000ft2


facility


in Cookeville, Tennessee, provides custom assembly and test automation for a variety of industries, including automotive, energy storage, medical and consumer products. Its automated systems range from complete ‘factories in a box’ to small systems


56


industrial motion control. The production process also relies on FANUC M1 automated spider robots for lightweight material handling, and also features an integrated packaging stage. “Normally, with four or five processes in the manufacturing process, you would need more than one station, but we could use just one thanks to the remarkable


precision of the linear synchronised motor systems and the expertise of our programmers,” says Pepper. “Our engineering and technology expertise, and our commitment to building long- term customer relationships, meant we could handle the complexity and deliver exactly what the customer wanted.” ATC pulled out all the stops to deliver on time, without compromising on the performance of the machines. Perhaps the biggest challenge was testing and debugging the machines remotely, given that only the assembly staff were working on-site full-time. Fortunately, the company fosters close ties not only with its customers, but also with its suppliers, who were able to expedite the delivery of vital components.


“Everything was the result of a collaborative effort with the client and with our supply partners, including specialists in robotics,” says Pepper. “It required collaboration, especially with our commercial component manufacturers, whose delivery times were stretched because they had their own problems sourcing components from around the world. For instance, we needed a very complex feeding system, which usually requires a long delivery time even under normal conditions.” The customer’s expectations were high, but the results speak for themselves. “The deadline was short but, for us, realistic,” says Pepper. “Together, we made it happen despite all of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. We will only take on a project if we know we will succeed. At ATC, we are committed to helping our customers get across the finish line.” ●


https://atcautomation.com Medical Device Developments / www.nsmedicaldevices.com


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