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How to Use Collaborative Robotics for Pharmaceutical Automation

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on May 12, 2022 5:11 PM
Posted on Sep 17, 2021 3:54 PM. 5 min read time

According to the latest industry trends, robotics are increasingly being used for pharmaceutical automation.

Various pressures across the pharmaceutical industry mean that robots are more beneficial now than ever before. Challenges facing pharmaceutical manufacturers include the high cost of drug discovery, increasing demand for clinical trials, and rising global competition.

Robotic automation offers a way to improve the productivity of your operations in a way that is more flexible than conventional types of pharmaceutical automation. Collaborative robots are some of the most flexible robots available on the market and have opened up robotic automation to companies that would not have been able to access it in the past.

But, are collaborative robots right for your pharmaceutical company?

What tasks could you use a collaborative robot for?

And what's the quickest way to get started?

Why use collaborative robotics for pharmaceutical automation?

Automation is nothing new in the pharmaceutical industry. Automated machines have been improving pharmaceutical manufacturing for decades.

Back in the 1800s, when all pharmaceuticals were dispensed by apothecaries, it would take several people to manufacture just one drug.

Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has slowly and gradually increased its efficiency by taking advantage of the latest developments in manufacturing technology. Now, one person could feasibly oversee the manufacturing of thousands of drugs per day.

Robotic automation is just the latest step in this journey for more efficient pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Collaborative robots provide extra benefits over other forms of automation because they apply to many parts of the manufacturing process that couldn't be automated in the past.

Previously, only very high-volume processes could be automated. They required custom-built automation solutions that took weeks or months to deploy to a facility.

By contrast, collaborative robots can be deployed in a matter of days and can be used for smaller tasks with lower volumes.

Finding the right robotic application for your business

The question is… which cobot application will be beneficial for your business?

Each pharmaceutical company has a slightly different setup and, thus, a different set of needs when it comes to automation.

A good first step when looking to add collaborative robots to your business is to look for bottlenecks and non-value-added steps in your processes:

  • Bottlenecks — Signs that a task is a bottleneck are when piles of inventory start to "pile up" before that particular task (either literally or in your flow management). Robots can either be used to tackle the bottleneck task directly or they can free up resource elsewhere in your process. That extra resource can then be reallocated to the bottleneck task.
  • Non-value added tasks — Plenty of tasks in pharmaceutical manufacturing do not directly add value to your products but are, nonetheless, important to carry out. If these tasks take a lot of time from your workers, adding a robot can often be a good way to move people to more value-added tasks.

Look at your existing workflows and identify one task that would clearly benefit from adding a robot.

7 profitable uses of robotic automation in the pharmaceutical industry

What sort of pharmaceutical automation tasks are good candidates for robotics?

Here are 7 ideas of some profitable robotic applications to get you started:

1. Assembly of pharmaceutical devices

Medical devices often have detailed assembly steps, which can be perfect for a robot. To perform assembly with a robot, you will likely need a robot with force control, precision grippers, and maybe a vision sensor.

2. Machine tending of autonomous equipment

You likely have various semi-autonomous machines in your manufacturing workflow. One great benefit of using collaborative robots is that they can load and unload those machines in a similar way that humans do.

3. Pick and place for further processing

Pick and place is a classic non-value-added task and is one of the easiest to perform with a robot. As a result, it makes a good first choice for pharmaceutical automation. A simple pick and place task can be programmed in less than an hour.

Programming a pick and place application in the pharmaceutical industry.

4. Quality testing and inspection

Quality control is paramount in the pharmaceutical industry and there are many testing and inspection steps per product. Collaborative robots apply to a range of inspection and testing steps, from physical stress testing of medical products to automated scanning with inspection sensors.

5. Palletizing products for shipping

Palletizing is a dull, repetitive task and can lead to injury when people perform it for many hours on end. A palletizing robot can relieve the pressure from these workers and have the added benefit that they can work around the clock.

Check out the Palletizing Solution

6. Filling and sealing products

Many pharmaceutical processes involve filling and sealing liquids or other substances into receptacles. For example, millions of syringes are filled with product every day across the industry. Using a collaborative robot in conjunction with automated filling machines can improve the consistency of the task and help achieve a more regular throughput.

7. Packaging products

Each pharmaceutical product undergoes various packaging steps before it is shipped to the end-users. At each of these steps, there is a danger of contamination. It's much easier to control this risk with a robot than it is with human workers.

How to speed up your collaborative robot deployment

These are just some of the many applications that you could use a robot for in a pharmaceutical company.

But, how do you get your robotic application up and running as quickly as possible?

The fastest and most reliable way to deploy a robot to your company is to use an application solution. Such kits include all of the components necessary to perform a particular task.

Using an application kit removes many of the headaches traditionally associated with robotic automation.

You can find out more on our application solutions page.

Discover our Cobot Solutions

What tasks are causing a bottleneck in your pharmaceutical manufacturing process? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the DoF professional robotics community.

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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