Six Surprising Applications for Automation in Medical Manufacturing

When it comes to robots used in the medical and healthcare industry, surgical-assistance robots tend to get all the glory; however, automation and robotics are also being applied behind the scenes with great success in the manufacturing, assembly, inspection and packaging of medical devices.

The Benefits of Automation in Medical Manufacturing

As with many industries these days, manufacturers of medical devices now face increasing pressure to optimize processes, increase efficiencies and reduce downtime in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, they have an additional burden in that the products and devices they produce are evaluated using stricter regulatory standards regarding consistency of process and quality of product. And, as a result, medical manufacturers are embracing automation and robotics more than ever because of the benefits provided, including:

Improved Product QualityBecause automation and robotics perform tasks with more consistency, precision and accuracy than is possible with human workers, the produced medical devices will be manufactured in the identical manner each time and will be assembled, inspected and packaged with higher levels of precision and accuracy. In the manufacturing of medical devices, this is essential as medical devices and products are held to the highest quality standards because they are used in patient care. In addition, the increased consistency, precision and accuracy of automation will result in significantly fewer defects in products that are intended for use in healthcare, resulting in better, more effective and safer treatments. It will also help prevent costly recalls of defective medical devices and pharmaceuticals, which can severely damage a manufacturer’s or brand’s reputation.
Reduced Risk of ContaminationBecause the use of automation reduces the need for human intervention, using robots and automated equipment reduces the risk of contamination in the manufacturing of medical devices and pharmaceuticals where sterility is strictly regulated.
Suitable for Use in Cleanroom Environments As many medical devices and pharmaceuticals must be processed under strict cleanroom environments, many robots are designed for such locations so they do not harbor contaminants and can withstand frequent washdowns. When manual laborers must enter a cleanroom environment, it can be time consuming as sanitation and personal protective equipment must be used before entry.
Improved Worker SafetyAs automation can safely handle toxic substances, robotics can more safely be used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other potentially hazardous substances used in medical manufacturing. In addition, using robots to perform any repetitive manual processes reduces injuries to employees who were previously tasked with bending, lifting and carrying heavy objects during the manufacturing process.
Increased Productivity:Using automation and robotics to replace manual labor in any process is likely to increase productivity as robots are more efficient, accurate and precise than human workers. This will help reduce bottlenecks or other slowdowns in a medical device manufacturing facility. In addition, the accuracy and precision of robotics and automation will reduce the risk of producing defective parts, which helps eliminate waste, scrap and labor costs, freeing up resources and further increasing productivity.
Greater FlexibilityToday’s medical manufacturers require solutions that offer flexibility. Modern robots and automation are more easily programmed to accommodate changes in production – whether it is for customized devices or medications, frequently changing product lines or new medical innovations. The modularity and flexibility of modern automation and robotics is a drastic improvement over older manufacturing equipment that required re-tooling or new molds for each production variable.

6 Applications for Automation in Medical Device Manufacturing

Thanks to the ability to increase productivity, improve product quality and reduce the risks associated with contamination and defective devices or products, it’s no wonder more medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers are embracing automation and robotic solutions. Here, we highlight six of the applications for automation in medical manufacturing.

  1. Mass production of disposable medical devices: With the rise in single-use medical devices, manufacturers require technology that allows them to cost effectively produce high-quality, but disposable items in bulk. Automation and robotics lend themselves to quick, efficient and low cost mass production of disposable medical devices without the risk of contamination associated with human workers. The speed and precision of automation allows the production of these items without bottlenecks, downtime and errors that result when human workers are tasked with repetitive operations.
  2. Assembly of medical kits, tests and devices: Robots can be used to assemble kits containing surgical instruments, device components, dental tools, testing kits or any kitted solutions needed for use in patient care. Using automation for these tasks ensures that kits are swiftly and efficiently assembled with great accuracy and that the task is completed without errors or contamination.
  3. Contamination-free sealing: Using robots to apply adhesives or sealants to packages that contain medical devices, surgical kits, dental tools, medical instruments, test kits or pre-dosed medications results in consistency of the process, ensuring that there are no defects and reducing the risk of contamination of the objects within the sealed package.
  4. Labeling: Accuracy and consistency of labeling is essential and strictly regulated in medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Automation can help ensure that items are properly labeled with more accuracy and consistency than human workers can provide. This helps prevent product recalls due to labeling errors.
  5. Inspection: Robots equipped with machine vision can help ensure that labels are precisely and correctly applied, that kits and devices are properly assembled and that items are packaged per regulations with more consistency and accuracy than human workers are capable of because automation is programmed to find defects that the human eye can miss during inspection. Automated equipment will also remove these items from continuing along the production line, reducing the chances of defective medical products making it to the consumer, lessening the risk of adverse reactions and recalls.
  6. End-of-Line Packaging and Palletizing: Automation can enhance the speed and accuracy of end-of-line packaging and palletizing operations simply because automated equipment is more efficient than manual labor. The increased accuracy can also help ensure that product is correctly packaged as automation can be precisely programmed to complete the task. And, much of today’s automation can be equipped with end-of-arm tooling that allows even the most delicate medical devices to be handled with care to avoid damaging finished products.

Thanks to the flexibility, accuracy and precision of today’s automation and robotics, medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers are beginning to take advantage of the efficiency of automation while also increasing product quality and reducing risk of contamination, allowing them to cost effectively boost productivity and adhere to strict regulatory guidelines concerning sterility, consistency and quality of essential healthcare items. To learn more about automation and robotics for use in medical manufacturing, please contact JHFOSTER.