Accurate and timely test results can be the difference between life and death when dealing with infectious diseases.
Indeed, one of the most important advances in modern medicine is swift diagnosis, often via diagnostics.
Although you might panic at the sight of a medical professional with a tray full of syringes, those tests will guide your diagnosis and treatment – and with advances in technology, potentially save your life.
Thanks to modern reagents and automated analysis technology, diagnostics and syndromic infectious testing (SIDT) have made significant advances over the last few decades, allowing rapid disease identification and life-saving treatments to begin earlier based on laboratory results.
Like any scientific procedure, the process chain is only as strong as its weakest link, which is why the medical industry is so heavily legislated and quality driven. With infectious diseases, quick and accurate results matter. The optimal delivery of a patient’s samples is the most important step to confirm that the sample is not tainted, spoiled or wasted. Ensuring that everything the patient’s sample comes into contact with is free of contamination is crucial to sample delivery.
A market leader in diagnostics and SIDT, relied heavily on manual processes to manufacture its single-use testing cartridges – closed-system disposable modules that contains all the chemistry required to isolate, amplify and detect nucleic acid from a patient’s sample for IVD testing.
With any manual fabrication process – especially one like this, relying heavily on workers – there is the possibility for contaminants to be introduced. Manual processes can also influence fabrication quality, repeatability and yield.
It was this drive to boost quality, throughput and reduce losses that prompted the company to approach Switzerland-based Rychiger AG, a specialist in the design, development and fabrication of customer-specific solutions for packaging machines in the healthcare, food and beverage industries.
“We help healthcare providers improve patient care and satisfaction by providing faster and better results,” explains a representative from the end customer. “Our test cartridge solution is the standard for syndromic infectious disease diagnostics. Patients and doctors depend on us to deliver accurate results, quickly, and we value partnerships that allow us to constantly improve our processes and the care we can provide for people who need answers.”
Reduce variability and boost quality
“Our customer’s goal was to fully automate the cartridge fabrication process, while reducing contamination to an absolute minimum,” explains Bruno Lauener, key account manager, Healthcare Sales at Rychiger. “The solution would need to fully automate the handling of the cartridges to create consistency in the process, reduce potential contamination, and increase production capacity.”
The end user already had experience of automation solutions from Rockwell Automation, as did Rychiger AG. The end user had experience of the MagneMotion® independent cart technology (ICT), too, since it had previously developed a system, in-house, using this technology. As a result, the two companies agreed that the new machine should be designed around the MagneMotion ICT due to the flexibility, accuracy and repeatability it offers for a demanding multi-stage assembly process such as this.
Rychiger’s customer needed a solution to make it easier to move light loads, like its cartridge components, while maintaining full track-and-trace capabilities and faster cycle times. More precise control and intelligent motion could optimize assembly efficiency and speed while helping to eliminate disruption. With fewer moving parts than conventional systems, MagneMotion could result in less maintenance and downtime, simplify the handling of the cartridges to increase overall productivity, and make processes more repeatable at higher quality levels.
Accuracy, flexibility, repeatability
The MagneMotion system, using precision rails, delivers outstanding accuracy and flexibility in automation environments that require increased speed and decreased downtime. Its multiple independent movers effectively create a ‘pitchless’ conveyor system, the overall speed of which is not governed by the slowest process.
“This solution smooths the entire traffic flow by doubling up – or in this case tripling up – on the slowest process, which means the system is no longer held back by the slowest stage of the cartridge assembly process,” explains Lauener, “With MagneMotion, all these factors can significantly increase speed, getting life-saving products to laboratories quickly and accurately.”
Scalability and adaptability
According to Christian Sigrist, senior automation engineer at Rychiger: “At the forefront of our mind when we design and build machines is the ability to both scale and adapt/upgrade the technology. Our wide deployment of an integrated servo-based system – including the MagneMotion ICT solution – makes this significantly easier. It helps for maintenance too, as we can take a station offline and keep the machine running with little impact on production.”
In addition to the MagneMotion system, the MC 1400 machine Rychiger developed has multiple servo axes, all driven by Allen-Bradley® Kinetix® servo drives, two Allen-Bradley VersaView® 5200 thin clients and FactoryTalk® View SE SCADA software. All station-specific HMIs are managed by the Rockwell Automation ThinManager® software, which centralises information and data, as well as offers remote/mobile access.
Sigrist adds: “ThinManager helps the customer maintain the machine, delivering an overview and access to all parameters from a centralised location. It is especially useful where multiple HMIs are involved. Using a centralised HMI server also aided us in the design and development of the interactivity and control systems.”
Overall control of the machine, including the integration of third party Staubli robots, is handled by an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix® L8 programmable automation controller (PAC), with an Allen-Bradley GuardLogix® L7S PAC delivering the necessary safety functionality. All primary communication is via EtherNet/IP™, using Stratix® 5400 and 5700 switches.
Sigrist explains: “The main reason for our deployment of the Stratix managed Ethernet switches was so the machine could be tightly integrated into our customer’s network for security, safety and compliance reasons. It also fitted the customer’s requirements for CPwE (Converged Plantwide Ethernet).”
Clean lines avoid contamination
To counter the contamination challenge, the machine is enclosed – which keeps operators away from the cartridges – the enclosure is also ‘shadowless’, thanks to an advanced lighting solution, which delivers well-lit visibility to all aspects of the internal elements for cleaning, and all internal surfaces have been designed to be easy to wipe, with minimal trap points and voids.
Lauener explains: “From the very beginning of the project, our work with this customer quickly evolved into a real conjoint development of the two engineering teams. We visited them to see the existing manual production line as well as a MagneMotion-equipped machine and then started the new machine’s development with lab trials before improving, enhancing and enlarging the concept until the final design iteration was brought together. The development work was certainly aided by the deployment of the MagneMotion solution, as it can switch into simulator mode, enabling us to estimate cycle times before we actually built the physical model, in order to test the various functions and machine speed.”
Modern solution to modern needs
This integrated automation and control solution helps to reduce manual interactions an incredibly flexible, agile and accurate solution that delivers significantly higher throughput, while boosting quality levels. The machine can also be heavily modified with far less engineering effort than other solutions on the market. Indeed, engineers can now be a lot more imaginative in their designs, knowing that automation solutions exist that can bring their ideas to life.
“Our goal now is to take the lessons learned in this project,” Lauener concludes, “and apply the answers and technologies to the processes, machines and solutions we develop for this and the other markets we serve.”
“We appreciate the support of Rockwell Automation and Rychiger,” the customer representative concludes, “providing the quick, comprehensive, and accurate results our customers have come to expect from our testing solution.”