Packaging automation solutions

PACKAGING AUTOMATION INCREASES EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY FOR LIFE SCIENCES

The life sciences industry has unique and specific requirements for packaging products such as medicine. We are all familiar with different types of tamper and child proofing, from foil seals to special caps and linings. These features help preserve and sterilize pharmaceuticals and biotech products, providing consistent and uncompromised quality. The packaging process can be labor-intensive, however, with several manual steps that can add cost and increase risk of error.

Automation of life sciences product packaging lines can help reduce cost and add traceability, while ensuring quality and keeping employees safe.

 

WHERE CAN AUTOMATION OF THE PACKAGING PROCESS HELP YOU?

An automated packaging line removes the need for human effort across many aspects of the packaging process. Through a variety of mechanical and robotic steps, companies can automate key steps of the product manufacturing cycle:

  • filling,
  • sealing,
  • capping,
  • shrink-wrapping,
  • final packaging of products

Manufacturers can automate portions of their production lines, or the entire line, depending on needs. Packaging can be automated for a wide range of products, from labor intensive movements all the way to those applications that require extremely fine detail.

 

BENEFITS OF AUTOMATION FOR LIFE SCIENCES

These benefits and others translate well to the life sciences industry, where regulations and consumer safety requires strict tolerances. Because of unique processes, many companies already have a packaging system. However, these systems are often manual, requiring employees to perform tasks that can be tedious. Employees handling repetitive tasks can become bored and less likely to adhere to strict procedures, but errors in life sciences industry packaging can have an impact on public safety.

Automation in life sciences packaging adds efficiencies and controls, which can lead to greater quality, accuracy, and employee safety.

Life sciences industry: video of catheters assembly system.

Product traceability

While packaging automation provides for an efficient process that is less labor-intensive, for many businesses, its greatest value comes from enhanced traceability. Life sciences and other industries were embracing the traceability of packaging automation before the crisis. With automation, manufacturers can view products from start to finish, which helps ensure that they are in compliance with regulations and are able to more effectively handle product recalls.

Life sciences products, such as a vaccine or testing equipment, are often subject to regulation, and the traceability possible through automation helps manufacturers maintain compliance. From proof of product packaging sterilization to required tamper-proof sealing, automation not only allows manufacturers to incorporate steps into their lines, it also can provide accountability.

Data drives traceability. And the information that is essential for automation, such as a recipe or product weight, can also be used by organizations to further increase efficiencies.

 

Product quality

An automated system delivers a consistent end product. Weights and quantities are standardized for products and packaging media, so users can control costs down to the greatest level of detail.

For example, a manufacturer can set the system to automate the application of an ideal volume of adhesive to a container seal. Using the precise amount saves money, but it also ensures quality and consistency.

 

Employee safety

Automation also can help keep employees safe. In the life sciences industry, production and packaging of a product may require the use of UV lights or high temperatures for sealing or capping. Exposure to excessive UV lights poses a risk of skin cancer, and high heat equipment for sealing can be a burn hazard. By automating these steps, manufacturers can help minimize injuries and illness.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened businesses of all industries, shutting down manual production lines because of the difficulty in maintaining safe social distancing protocols in a manufacturing or packaging environment. Automated lines reduce the need for human intervention on packaging lines, making the process of resuming production easier and ensuring employee safety today and into the future.

 

Business continuity during crisis

Automation also helps businesses minimize the risk of a public health-related shutdown, either from a resurgence of COVID-19 or a different illness. Pharmaceutical companies that rely on manual packaging processes lost productivity during the height of the pandemic, because employees had to stay home. Automation could therefore have helped these companies, had they incorporated automation in their production components to allow for continued operation.

 

HOW ORIENTECH DELIVERS PACKAGING AUTOMATION SOLUTIONS

Automation is a complex process, with most manufacturers using unique and varied individual methods to produce and package life sciences products. Successful deployment of automation requires an analysis of existing lines to see what can be improved. Orientech’s integration team is made of experts in the packaging automation field, with experience working with manufacturers across many industries.

Orientech helps life sciences manufacturers ensure safety and quality in their products. From packaging sterilization, with full traceability and accountability, to full visibility of the production line, manufacturers can automate steps and tap into valuable data. To learn more about how Orientech integrates safe, efficient, turnkey solutions for the life sciences industry, contact us.

 

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6 STEPS FOR SUCCESSFUL MANUFACTURING LINE RESTART AFTER A SHUTDOWN

North American manufacturing plants are gearing up for a return to work following weeks of downtime. And while the momentum to get back to a normal production schedule is tempting for many businesses, this process should involve more than simply flipping a switch. While a shutdown period can be devastating to a manufacturer, it also presents an opportunity to optimize equipment, and reduce the possibility of an equipment-based shutdown in the near future. Once the dust of the pandemic begins to settle, and maximum levels of productivity can be attained, machinery failure can rob a business of hopes of recovery.

To smoothly transition from shutdown to full production, we recommend a methodical approach that ensures uninterrupted operations in the foreseeable future. Doing so requires attention to maintenance and exercising caution when going back online.

 

BEFORE STARTING YOUR ASSEMBLY LINE OR LINING MACHINE

As we detailed in our article on equipment shutdown procedures, we highly recommend focusing first on the maintenance of your machinery. A shutdown period is an ideal time for repairing issues or attending to any preventive maintenance according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Maintenance is especially essential for companies that had to shut down operations abruptly, and might not have had an opportunity to store or protect equipment properly because of the government suspension. When returning to your plant for a restart, first take the time to check for changes, updates, upgrades, and missing parts. Doing so now can help ensure maximum productivity during a ramp-up to a normal schedule.

In general, we advise you not to skip a step — to work sequentially so as not to delay a restart of optimal and rapid production rate.

 

Greasing and lubrication

For companies in particular that have a production schedule that usually stops at night or weekends, and for older generation machines, we highly advise following the daily routine outlined in your assembly line manuals, such as ensuring that lubrication points are adequately greased.

If you can not find the documentation or for any other reason, do not hesitate to contact your manufacturer, who can provide guidance. Bearing failure caused by inadequate lubrication can lead to costly repairs, additional downtime, and, in a worst-case scenario, a large mass force release that can damage property and lives.

If your company was able to follow optimal shutdown protocols including proper storage and maintenance, start-up should be essentially worry-free.

For example, when we ship a new machine, it is often in transit between our factory and the customer, and our equipment spends several weeks or months before the customer is ready to put it in its final place and then in production. The equipment doesn’t suffer from this transit period as we made sure before to follow all steps before putting it in “storage mode”. Well-prepared, equipment can remain dormant for a period of time without affecting its optimal operation.

But, even when equipment has been properly prepared for dormancy, it is essential to follow a startup routine. When you start a machine, you have to make sure that all the connections have been made. If you are at all uncertain about properly reconnecting the equipment, contact the equipment manufacturer as startup procedure assistance is often part of warranty protection.

 

WHEN STARTING YOUR MANUFACTURING LINE

For this restart phase, our first recommendation is to assign a technician from the maintenance team to supervise the process. If possible, we advise you to start slowly, be attentive to the machine, and work with technicians or operators who previously operated the production line and who also have experience with maintenance. The team that routinely runs the equipment can more quickly detect anomalies in operation, while problems can go unnoticed with a new group.

 

Steps to follow to restart your equipment

1. Cleaning

Clean the equipment when it has been stored for a long time, including the outside, the machine, the panels, and internal mechanisms (feeding equipmentstacking and packing sections, etc.) . Pay particular attention to the sensors, especially optical sensors, which are the most sensitive such as vision systems and camera lenses. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning, and avoid accessing internal components that are not user-serviceable.

 

2. Visual appearance

Check that the machine has no physical damage apparent to the eye. If there were some temporary ‘home’ changes or user modifications made before shutdown due to a lack of time, now is the perfect opportunity to make these quick fixes permanent. It also is the right time to document these modifications as improvements to technical drawings or maintenance log notes.

Once the visual inspection is completed, you can contact the manufacturer for guidance on improvement or to provide feedback on their machines. Also, review your preventive maintenance procedures and determine if any additional actions are required or outstanding prior to startup.

 

3. Connection

Reconnect the machine to the power source and its fuses. Then test the security equipment to make sure that no alarm codes appear on the electrical panels. Make sure all guards are in place and secure before putting power on the machine, look at the HMI and any electrical components with a display screen user interface to determine if all is properly connected.

 

4. Batteries

Once you have made sure that everything is functional on the machine, check the batteries and recharge them to avoid any potential damage. Consider changing non rechargeable batteries that may have been depleted even while the machine was turned off. Examples include the batteries for PLCs, Robots and other electrical components.

If you followed our shutdown advice, your batteries should be in good shape.

 

5. Soft start

After all of the electrical and mechanical checklists/checks have been made, we recommend putting the machine first in “jogging” mode, cycle by cycle, to see if there are any problems. After that, you can continue in auto mode, but a low-speed cadence is recommended to make it easier to identify any problems. Depending on the complexity of your manufacturing line (e.g. different assembly steps), it is actually suggested to go with a low rate at the start. This will take a few hours at most.

 

“Patience is a key element of success.” Bill Gates

 

Shutdowns are difficult, economically and on your production line. It is tempting to rush back into production as soon as your business is given the green light. Take the time, however, to exercise caution. By attending to maintenance, fixing apparent problems, and tempering equipment restart, you can avoid costly downtime in the future.

 

Orientech checklist to successfully restart production and manufacturing line after a shutdown

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Fanuc robotics application

3 WAYS PARTS AUTOMATION HELPS BUSINESSES AND PEOPLE

The global Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in modern times. Governments, individuals, and businesses are finding that they need to adapt rapidly to this exceptional situation. Distilleries in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere have started producing and bottling hand sanitizer instead of their usual liquors and spirits. Increased need for medical devices, such as ventilators, has spurred talk that automotive plants could divert their production to manufacturing critical supplies and equipment.

These measures are made possible by extremely resilient and creative human beings and teams, but parts automation is a key component of this response.

What exactly is parts automation? At its most basic definition, parts automation is the reduction of human involvement in a process or procedure of handling parts or products, usually in manufacturing. Through automation, manufacturers are less dependent on people for various production steps. Automation can be accomplished either semi-autonomously (automating part of a process while retaining some manual component) or fully-autonomously (no human interaction at all). Almost all industries have moved toward automation to reach three main goals:

  • Improving lives
  • Increasing output
  • Improving efficiency or cost

 

BETTER LIVING THROUGH AUTOMATION

Today, most people in highly industrialized countries feel pressured by time — mostly the lack of time to accomplish desired or necessary tasks. Time-saving measures, even seemingly small ones, translate to significant value. When combined with other technology such as apps that remind you where you parked your car or device features that instantly switch to silent mode when you enter a certain place (such as work), you can easily free up hours of productivity.

This gives people the chance to use those saved hours in other ways, such as for personal development, taking some time for their own well-being, or just having the time to finish work that was previously taken up by an inefficient process..

One company that has leveraged parts automation to improve the lives of people working for their customers is Fanucan automation company specializing in heavy industrial applications. Fanuc provides everything from small pick and place robots to large automated manufacturing lines.

Fanuc saw an opportunity to improve one of its customer’s manufacturing processes by installing a new full automation line. Usually, this move would mean making workers redundant. However, by putting a regularly scheduled maintenance system in place, the company increased machine efficiency while keeping people employed by hiring and training maintenance workers.

This means that the people working for them can continue to live their lives without the fear of redundancy through automation, as is often the fear on the shop floor whenever change comes in the manufacturing industry.

Parts automation also improves lives by making a greater variety of products available to more people, as small parts are manufactured for a fraction of the price.

How to implement a preventive maintenance strategy to enhance production

 

OUTPUT IMPROVES ACROSS THE BOARD THROUGH AUTOMATION

Humans are not perfect — it’s what makes us unique and interesting. When these flaws result in mistakes, however, output suffers. This is especially apparent in repetitive or monotonous tasks, where issues such as attention span, fatigue and stress can cause wide variations in quality and speed. Take, for example, a manufacturing line that produces plastic electrical fittings — a single worker may be tasked with placing each fitting onto a conveyor in a single line of parts. Then the part goes off for further processing. Staying with this example, consider the following:

  1. How do you control the process of placing the fitting onto the line?
  2. How do you ensure that fittings aren’t dropped or damaged?
  3. How do you ensure spacing between fittings for machines downstream?
  4. How do you ensure all of these steps are done the same way every time, especially if product orientation is crucial?

All of these are issues that can dramatically affect your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and have an impact on your output.

This is where full parts automation demonstrates tremendous value. By using a pick and place robot, for example, you can not only ensure repeatability of the process (as the robot will place the fitting on the line with the same spacing, at the same orientation and with no damage), but you can also increase the speed of the process.

You are no longer subject to human limits on strength and endurance but can rely on the power and durability of the electric motors driving the robot. With automation, you now have control over how the product is picked, placed, and spaced with repeatability. This is another area where Fanuc has introduced automation at customer sites to improve speed and quality.

Fanuc Robotics stacking and packing

 

AUTOMATION SAVES MONEY

In the previous example, we talked about controlling repeatability and speed through full parts automation, but by doing this, we have also gained the ability to control efficiency.

On any production line, you need to balance the line to the speed of your slowest machine so that you can have a smooth flow of product through the entire line and avoid either starving a downstream machine or causing blockages by feeding too much product to a machine. By putting a robot in place, for example, you can now request a pick and place tempo that the robot will meet every single time. This avoids expensive stoppages from having to clear blockages, and increases efficiency by reducing the possibility of starving downstream machines.

Automation requires an investment, but the increase in productivity and efficiency leads to a positive return on this investment in just a few months. The cost savings and productivity of an assembly robot or other automated system then reverberate, delivering returns for years in the future. And, since it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit workers willing to perform repetitive tasks for long hours, manufacturers experience even greater ROI.

The cost of automation has also dropped over the past 30 years. Robot prices have fallen in comparison to the steadily rising cost of labor compensation in manufacturing. While labor costs have approached 220% of 1990 figures, robot prices have dropped to 50% of the cost.  This trend will only continue, as demand from emerging economies drives increased use of automation.

 

FULL OR SEMI-AUTOMATION?

One question remains: should you go with full or semi-automation? The answer depends, on your company’s production goals, your product requirements and your volumes.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have a skilled labor force that could be improved by introducing some automated “help”?
  2. Do you need to have flexibility in your process? And be able to speed a process up or down quickly?
  3. Do you have tight budget constraints?
  4. Is your product uniquely shaped, presenting assembly challenges for a machine?
  5. Is your average assembly-line defect rate with manual assembly steps acceptable?

If you answered yes to most or all of those questions, semi-automation is likely your best choice. Semi automation allows you to improve your current processes and redeploy your labor force, without making the full commitment of capital expenditure and time to implement a fully automated production system.

If you answered no, then full automation is probably the best for your production needs. It allows you to produce and handle the most amount of product in the shortest amount of time with the fewest errors. Full automation, however, must be planned holistically, with processes considering all inputs and outputs from across the plant to ensure efficiency.

But remember, each case is unique and will have widely varying requirements and limitations, so it is best to consult an expert in the field. If you have any questions about automating your processes and part handling, contact Orientech to see how we can assist you.

 

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Turn-key automated assembly machines

WHY SCHEDULING FAT/SAT FOR YOUR AUTOMATION PROCESS SHOULD BE MANDATORY

Are you an automation engineer with a focus on safety, quality, and cost? Are you looking for ways to receive machinery deliveries in the promised time, according to your expectations? Do you want to optimize operations to maximize productivity and reduce interruptions to your usual workflows?

One of the best practices to avoid unplanned downtime is to implement mandatory well-organized, and managed FAT and SAT into your processes. These testing periods are major milestone during project execution and installation. They can help manufacturers, avoiding some of the common problems associated with projects, such as the impact of parts changes or variations.

 

WHY DO FAT AND SAT MATTER?

 

FAT (Factory Acceptance Test) is a process for evaluating equipment both before and after the assembly process. The test seeks to verify that the process operates following design specifications. It is performed at the manufacturing site or factory when the equipment is ready for use and according to industry requirements. Because the tests occur before being shipped to the customer, it is easier to make modifications. The purpose of a FAT is to qualify the machine before shipment. It should never occur at the customer’s premises.

FAT is an essential protocol after the purchase of automation equipment, and should ideally kick off with an initial meeting. During this meeting, the manufacturers receive the client specifications and requirements at the manufacturer’s site to check that the new equipment works precisely according to the needs and exchanges between the two partners.

This test identifies any potential problems before the equipment is shipped and delivered to the end customer.

FAT reassures the equipment sponsor, significantly reduces the time and cost of resolving potential issues and ensures that the production lines are in place and ready for operation at the right time.

SAT (Site Acceptance Test) is a type of testing that occurs after the installation and final configuration of the equipment at the end customer’s premises. SAT typically uses the FAT results to ensure that everything works according to previously approved test plans and specifications. SAT includes checking that the equipment has not been damaged during transportation or installation and checking that systems and peripherals are connected correctly.

 

CHECK OUT HOW TO IMPLEMENT A PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE PROGRAM 

 

SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS WITH OUR CHECKLIST

 

There is no basic, catch-all list that engineers can use to cover all possible tests. That said, our experience with our partners allows us to establish a list of inspection points necessary to control each testing process, which is essential for the proper functioning of any industrial equipment in automation. We’ve created a comprehensive and handy checklist for implementing FAT and SAT methods. Click here to download the checklist.

When all requirements have been met for both parties, we recommend that you record the test run details in a document. It should highlight test planning, results, troubleshooting or deficiencies, task repetition, and problem-solving.

Once the parties approve the document, it is time to schedule the delivery of the equipment and the SAT.

 

HOW TO PREPARE YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR A SMOOTH SAT

 

Before we dive into the detailed protocols required for effective SAT, let’s focus on a few preliminary items that should be addressed during the delivery and installation of equipment.

  1. Make sure there is enough space at the plant entrance for the new equipment. We’ve experienced the need to disassemble and reassemble equipment at the manufacturer’s site, which adds unnecessary time and delays to the process.
  2. Verify and confirm with the dedicated team about on-site environmental details such as power, pneumatic, dedusting, peripherals, and lighting. Since visual inspection is key to performance, low-light environments may need adjustment.
  3. When necessary, ensure that all other equipment and non-essential materials are moved before the start of installation to avoid installation delays and downtime.
  4. In our experience, most of the equipment stops could have been avoided through personalized training by our technicians during machine installation. Do not wait until installation to schedule and plan training, and arrange to have anyone who will interact with the equipment available during our stay on your site, including the night-shift employees.
  5.  Make sure the dedicated team members read the equipment document/manual and plan to follow the recommendations and “what’s needed” to keep it running efficiently (spare parts, tools, cleaning, etc.).

 

If you want to learn more, download your free template by clicking here or on the button below.

 

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IMPLEMENT A PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE STRATEGY TO ENHANCE PRODUCTION

Maintenance programs ensure the proper operation of your equipment without failure or unplanned shutdown. Preventive maintenance encompasses routine processes to ensure optimal equipment functioning. Conversely, reactive maintenance involves — as the name states — a reaction to a problem as it occurs. While some degree of reactive maintenance may be required, prudent planning can minimize the need for reactive measures. Poor or no planning results in missing maintenance intervals, which degrade equipment value and utility.

People and processes are the two critical success factors for your plan production, so an equipment maintenance process should begin with a high-performance team.

 

HOW TO BUILD A HIGH-PERFORMANCE MAINTENANCE TEAM

 

Building a maintenance team can be a long journey. As soon as possible, you should implement a dedicated team that understands the essential role of the maintenance department in executing the business strategy and achieving operational performance and safety objectives.

If not possible, we would recommend having at least the following profiles working together:

  • Technical team

An electromechanic on-site would be ideal because they can handle the electrical and mechanical sections of your equipment. They will understand the automation of assembly parts and will be better able to respond quickly in case of breakdown or a need for troubleshooting.

  • Procurement management team

Simplify the parts purchasing process and speed up maintenance-related procurement by creating documents dedicated to the purchase of critical items and a purchase order for all parts required for rapid response. The maintenance department should manage these functions.

 

10 STEPS TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE SYSTEM

 

1. Start by creating a maintenance type for each equipment and establish how to optimize it.

For each machine:

    • Analyze applicable maintenance types
    • List existing techniques, qualified subcontractors and instrumentation
    • Estimate maintenance costs and compare to potential benefits
    • Analyze feasibility according to available resources.

 

2. Identify the tasks to be performed in preventive maintenance for each equipment.

Group them into action sections per cycle/calendar/ shift, and establish daily routines.

3. Keep a history of repairs by developing documents (i.e., forms) to manage interventions in the manner of a work order.

 

4. Identify cost and labor cost data to establish the repair record.

Compile data on response times and impact on production.

5. Create a master equipment file that lists all the critical data used by your organization and external stakeholders.

List essential parts and potential suppliers, incorporate photos and equipment development diagrams, and detail security information.

6. Choose the equipment that will be the subject of a preventative maintenance program.

Establish equipment selection criteria based on its importance and select a limited number of people to test and implement the preventive maintenance system.

7. Establish the required workloads for each daily preventive maintenance routine.

Create an annual calendar by taking into account working days, holidays, and vacations, and plan the various monthly or yearly maintenance routines according to the needs of the production.

8. Ensure the availability of ‘must-have’ parts to be kept in stock in the inventory and create a precise and easy to access catalog of parts in stock.

 

9. Evaluate the effectiveness of this program and adjust as needed.

Check response reports, compile repair history sheets, confirm availability of maintenance equipment, adjust maintenance intervals as required, and compile and evaluate results using reports, indices, and ratios.

10. Always install your equipment indoors, with a temperature of 10 ° C to 38 ° C and relative humidity of 30% to 80%.

Sprayed oxidants should be kept to a minimum, as they can cause rust on machine parts that are not made of stainless steel. Adequate lighting and a work area will facilitate the operation and maintenance of the equipment. The machine does not require any foundation or particular floor. A typical concrete factory floor is adequate because the machine is designed with leveling feet.

PROACTIVITY

 

Whatever your desire for preventive maintenance implementation within your team, a willingness to be proactive, rather than reactive, is needed to achieve the best results. Beyond an evolution in its corporate culture, it is mainly about anticipating needs and risks through a high-performance plan.

 

Today, there is a wealth of professionals and tools to put in place an effective preventive maintenance strategy. Do not hesitate to contact your equipment manufacturer to guide you if you need it. Our experience confirms that with sound risk management, your equipment will benefit from reduced downtime, increased production, reduced backlogs, and a safer workplace.

Download the checklist to avoid any non-planned shutdown of your lines and become proactive in your production management.

 

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