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Home » Life sciences » The value of robotics in life sciences manufacturing

Brian Cooney

Managing Director at KUKA Robotics Ireland

Neil Mead

Area Sales Manager, South East, KUKA Robotics UK

Robotics are set to be the future of the life sciences industry with their innumerable benefits to manufacturing processes.

Robotics play an integral role along production lines in medical device, biologics and pharmaceutical manufacturing. From parts sorting, product assembly and light machine-tending, to quality inspection and packaging. environmental and product sampling, to seed laboratory automation, kitting logistics, UV-C disinfection and cleaning processes.

Qualitative considerations of adopting robotics

Clean room space is costly; the use of robotics reduces the overall footprint. Labour content is traditionally high so consider reduced resource pools and rising costs. Robotic technologies also provide the basis for more applications, versus legacy technologies; cobots, vision, mobile robotics and haptic control which all support this growing sector.

Stringent regulations mean medical device manufacturers must reproduce identical products, under rigorous cleanroom conditions, within reduced time frames. Keeping pace with innovation, manufacturing agility and adaptability, aligned with changing product iterations, is essential.

The features and benefits of robot process automation

Modular robotics systems are easy to update and efficient in operation; automated quality inspection systems enable 100% parts inspection; machine vision technology can verify serialisation numbers, satisfying compliance and traceability regulations. Robotic cleanroom processes eliminate human contamination risks for processes involving high toxicity ingredients as operator safety is paramount.

Personalised medicines and medical devices are prohibitively expensive. Automation reduces production costs delivering critical, life enhancing treatments as widely as possible. Consider personalised cell and gene therapy, implants and prosthetics – high variety, small batch production requiring highly flexible, robotic manufacturing processes. Operational benefits include productivity, quality, repeatability, waste reduction, traceability, health and safety, cost savings/ROI.

Why life science sector needs automation

The clear shift within life sciences is towards robotics. Traditional, manual operations are being evaluated for automation and greenfield plant designs incorporate automation as standard. Historically medical device design focused on the ‘use case’ with little consideration of successfully manufacturing at scale. Engineers now engage at concept through launch, ensuring products are designed for manufacture and automation. Operatives are increasingly receptive to the benefits delivered by automated manufacturing.

Robotics are the way forward

Pharmaceutical and biologics companies are investing in robotics, many with dedicated teams further exploring automation opportunities. Robots are increasingly being incorporated into applications as technologies evolve and demand increases, such as for new medicines and treatments. Notably those arising from COVID-19. Robotic automation is integral to sustaining the growth and evolution of life sciences – an important sector for economic growth, which in 2019 generated a turnover in excess of €80 billion.

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