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On the Move to Flexible Medical Device Production

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The demand for disposable medical devices continues to grow at an impressive rate, and that’s good news for machine builders who supply the market. At the same time, manufacturers are exerting more pressure on OEMs for automated processing and assembly equipment that can deliver highly specialized, single-use medical devices quickly and affordably.

Simply put, manufacturers need flexible machines that produce more variations at high volume. And oftentimes, they seek to ramp up production within existing manufacturing space as well. These objectives can be hard to achieve using conventional conveyance systems.  

The Shortcomings of Legacy Conveyance Systems

Rotary dial technology and precision-link conveyors are among the most prevalent transport methods used in legacy processing equipment for drug delivery devices, contact lenses and other disposable products.

Both conveyance options have limitations that are intrinsic to synchronous, fixed transport systems. Based on rotary motors and indexed motion, the systems are designed to advance to processing stations in one direction on a preconfigured path at a fixed speed.

For example, in a rotary dial system, the turntable may advance forward 45 degrees to each station every 0.5 second. The system cannot go backwards and a product requiring a different process cannot take an alternate path.

To accommodate product variations and divergent operations, additional process stations must be added – and be activated or remain idle depending on product run. This approach not only increases the footprint of the machine, but also compromises overall speed and efficiency as products advance to idle stations.

In addition, the systems rely on chains, roller bearings, timing belts and other mechanics that become more complex – and difficult to maintain – as system size expands.       

Making the Move to Independent Cart Technology (ICT)

Independent cart technology (ICT) – based on linear synchronous motors – changes the paradigm for disposable medical device manufacturing.

How? Linear motor technology allows conveyor modules to be configured end-to-end, creating an electro-magnetic force to propel carriers transporting product much faster than traditional systems.

And because independent cart technology uses far fewer moving parts than conventional fixed systems, machine complexity and maintenance is kept to a minimum. Fewer mechanical parts also means less component-generated dust, debris and oil residue – an important consideration for clean room environments.

When it comes to maximizing flexibility – and doing more in less space – modular independent cart technology is a game-changer. Each carrier moves independently and is fully configurable and programmable to easily accommodate process, assembly and size variations.  

Due to independent motion, the speed at which carriers move to each process station is based on the time it takes to complete that process – not a fixed conveyor rate. In addition, carriers can return to a previous station if the same operation is required more than once in the product run. Or carriers can take a parallel path – imagine a highway exit ramp – to accommodate different process steps with minimal impact to machine footprint.

And because independent cart technology is based on establishing and maintaining carrier position at all times, it intrinsically creates a high-fidelity track and trace record. For medical device manufacturers, this functionality can streamline validation and compliance.

For machine builders who have incorporated independent cart technology, the results have been impressive. Many report reducing machine footprints and/or increasing throughput by 50 percent or more.

See how turnkey machine builder Systematix used independent cart technology to reduce costs, improve flexibility and conserve floor space in a medical device assembly system.  

To learn more about how independent cart technology can optimize life sciences applications, view this recorded webinar

Neil Bentley
Neil Bentley
Product Marketing Manager, Rockwell Automation
Neil Bentley

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