Machine Tending Robots Aid Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Compliance

The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has seen a lot of change in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, which required drug manufacturers to increase efficiency and provide products to patients as quickly as possible while still maintaining the highest levels of quality and adhering to strict pharmaceutical regulations. To keep up with demand, drug producers had to adapt their processes, which meant the addition of more manufacturing process automation, and this trend continues to grow.

As a matter of fact, a study by Grandview Research Inc. expects the global pharmaceutical robots market to reach just over $357 million by 2030. The report states: “The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted the pharmaceutical industry to increase its use of robots to optimize procedures. Robots will continue to be deployed in North America and Europe to cut the process’s costs and complexity. It has recently gained interest as a solution to medicine shortages caused by production delays.

Pharmaceutical companies are anticipated to form partnerships with robotics solution providers to incorporate robotics into manufacturing, medication development and anti-counterfeiting procedures. As companies increase their investments in the pharmaceutical sector, the use of robots may grow in the coming years.”

Machine Tending Robots for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Automation in the production of drugs involves the use and integration of robots, automated machinery and other advanced technologies throughout various stages of the pharmaceutical production process with increased efficiency as the main goal (although there are other benefits which will be explored below).

Specifically, robots are being employed in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry to manage tasks, such as pick and place, assembly, packaging, palletizing, filling, kitting and other previously manual parts of the process. One of the latest uses of robots in the pharmaceutical sector is machine tending.

Traditionally managed by human workers, machine tending tasks involve loading manufacturing equipment with parts or raw materials, then unloading the finished goods and restarting the process. More recently, machine tending robots are being used for these repetitive tasks, while employees are relocated to higher value activities that require more complex thinking.

There are many opportunities for robotic machine tending within the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Below are a few examples of potential applications:

  • Loading and unloading glass tubes and vials for filling, kitting or assembly.
  • Fabricating and finishing sharps, such as needles used in prefilled syringes.
  • Loading packaging, trays or lids to heat-sealing machines and removing sealed packages from the machine.
  • Feeding samples into a testing machine and unloading them after the cycle completes.
  • Opening cartons, extracting products and then flattening cartons.
  • Loading product into packaging machines and unloading after packaging is complete.

Manufacturing Process Automation Assists with Compliance

Using machine tending robots in pharmaceutical production for these and other machine tending activities provides significant advantages.

While efficiency is a definite benefit, there are other advantages for the drug manufacturing industry, which must comply with strict pharmaceutical regulations regarding traceability, serialization and sterility. Here’s a quick look at how machine tending robots can enhance compliance:

Ensure product traceability

Because today’s machine tending robots are automated and usually Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-enabled, they are likely to be fully connected and able to provide data regarding the manufacturing process, lot and other important information. This helps drug producers assure product traceability to guarantee that the process adheres to relevant pharmaceutical regulations for traceability.

Improved Sterility

One of the biggest contamination risks in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is the human element. By removing manual laborers from machine tending operations and replacing them with robots, the risk of contaminating sensitive pharmaceuticals is greatly reduced, making it easier to comply with pharmaceutical regulations related to pharmaceutical quality assurance.

Provide Serialization

Automated systems, including connected machine tending robots, enable tracking and tracing of pharmaceutical products, enhancing security of the supply chain in the pharmaceutical industry and compliance with pharmaceutical regulations.

Other Advantages of Machine Tending Robots in Drug Production

While compliance with pharmaceutical regulations is of the highest concern among pharmaceutical manufacturers, there are other significant advantages associated with the use of machine tending robots in the sector, including:

  • Increased productivity: The use of machine tending robots to automate previously manual processes is a sure-fire way to increase production rates as it will help eliminate bottlenecks on the line. Further, because robots do not require breaks, it is possible to run machines being tended by robots 24/7 or until they run out of raw materials.
  • Enhanced quality: Replacing human employees with machine tending robots often leads to higher quality products. In addition to reducing the chances of human-introduced contamination, using machine tending robots also aids with pharmaceutical quality assurance as the process is carried out the same way every time as programmed, eliminating variations within the same product and enhancing consistency and quality. Further, machine tending robots can also be programmed to identify flaws or defects and remove them from the line with greater levels of accuracy and reliability than human workers.
  • Reduced time to market: Time to market is crucial in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry as there is a constant demand for drugs, medications and treatments to reach consumers with the fastest possible turnaround. By using machine tending robots, which operate at significantly faster speeds than human workers, it is possible to accelerate several steps of the process while maintaining high levels of quality and compliance with sterility, traceability and serialization regulations. When machine tending robots are used in the lab for research and development, that timeline can also be accelerated, bringing novel pharmaceuticals to market much faster and providing a competitive edge for the manufacturer.

Today’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is adopting robots and automation at a much faster pace than it has in the past. Machine tending robots are an ideal starting point as they will not only enhance efficiency, productivity, throughput and quality, but they can also help ensure compliance with government mandated pharmaceutical regulations, improve the safety of the supply chain in the pharmaceutical industry and enhance pharmaceutical quality assurance efforts. To learn about the potential for manufacturing process automation in your pharmaceutical processing application, please contact JHFOSTER, a Tavoron company, today.