Robotic Handling More Gentle Than the Human Hand



A pick-and-place robot from Epson now handles Risperdal from Janssen Ortho.

Robots are hard at work in Puerto Rico. Janssen Ortho is currently using a pick-and-place system from Epson Robots (Carson, CA) to handle Risperdal MTAB, a lyophilized tablet often prescribed to treat symptoms of schizophrenia.

The drug, launched in the United States last year, was too fragile for an automatic feeding system, so it was originally placed by hand into blisters. But manual feeding was often too rough for the product. About a quarter of the product was lost due to handling damage.

Jose Denis Santiago, an engineer at Janssen Ortho, decided to look into adding robotic handling to his blister line, a Kl�ckner CP-5. The tablets needed to be unloaded from their lyophilization tray and then placed into the Aclar blisters just after forming on the continuous-motion machine.

Santiago visited a few suppliers of robotic technology �to challenge them to show how easy it was to program the robots,� he said. Santiago ended up choosing an EL653 with a RC420 controller system from Epson. 

�We selected the system from Epson because it was the easiest to program,� he says. �In two months I had developed the program to run the robot on the line, without any training.� 

Because the blister line was in full operation during the week, Santiago worked on programming and other aspects during weekends, completing his initial work in December 2002. In January 2003 he started validation, and robot handling was up and running that same month. 

Matching the speed of the continuous blister line, the robot picks up 16 tablets using suction cups, which are powered by vacuum pumps, and places them into blisters. The robot uses vacuum to remove the tablets from the trays, so Santiago installed antistatic bars above the robot to control the static created by the vacuum. �The robot uses two set points of vacuum, the highest of which is used to pick up the tablets. We use less vacuum to drop the tablets in order to minimize tablet damage.�

Scrap has been reduced to about only 5%, which Santiago attributes mainly to the usual cosmetic defects from manufacturing. �Management is very happy,� he says.

Janssen Ortho�s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, is also pleased with Santiago�s work. He and his team have achieved internal recognition�a green belt in J&J�s company wide six sigma program that encourages employees to investigate new technologies for continuous process improvement. Santiago is now working toward his black belt. The project was also submitted to CIAPR (Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores de Puerto Rio), Puerto Rico Engineering Association competition for project of the year in four engineering categories.

Santiago is currently scaling up production for Risperdal MTAB, with the help of Coqui, the nickname he and his team have given the Epson robot. (In Spanish, coqui means a small frog indigenous to the island of Puerto Rico.) Santiago is also planning to purchase two more robots to handle Risperdal MTAB, one for another Kl�ckner CP-5 and another for a rebuilt thermoformer from Uhlmann Packaging Systems. He is even considering adding cartoning to these lines, and robots may play a part in those operations as well.


No votes yet