Utilizing Automation in the Medical and Pharmaceutical Industries | Automation Insights
Hello, everybody. My name is Darren Greene, Director of Marketing Communications for Destaco. I'd like to thank you for joining us. I'll be the moderator for today's topic, “Utilizing Automation in the Medical and Pharmaceutical Industries.” This is a pre-recorded session, but we do have experts available to you right now on the chat, so please send any of your questions that you may have to them, and they'll be happy to answer them during our presentation. I'd like to introduce our panelists today, Gary Labadie, Global Project Director for Automation. Ravi Savannah, Global Engineering Manager for CAMCO. Jim Geary, Engineering Manager for Grippers. Tom Stimac, Distribution and Automation Sales Manager. Tom Mikrut, Sales Director for North America. And Ray Tynczuk, Applications Engineer for CAMCO. So as we look at automation, it is a defining technology and is transforming the medical and pharma industry regarding how products are developed.
The commercialization and the production of the product requires real-time monitoring, it's helping manufacturing excellence through leveraging sensors and identifying what's being produced and what's being made, and doing it all at a lower cost. In-fact, I've seen reports that predict that the pharmaceutical robots being used in the market today will reach about 222 million dollars by the end of 2026 and will be up from 93 million back in 2019 - almost an annual growth rate of 13 and a half percent. I know Destaco has some other solutions that could help in these medical and pharmaceutical markets. So guys, what are some of the requirements that are unique to the medical and pharma markets?
Well, if we want to talk about just the needs for a moment. First, we got to understand what's happening in the market. You look at the demand for large-scale medicines to get to the market quickly and get distributed fast. That's great. What that has done has taken a certification process that takes years, down to months. That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing, but behind the scenes, what happens is you're putting pressure on the manufacturing operations of a supplier to ramp-up quickly on their production and produce automation equipment in bio. So because that's happening at such a fast rate, you see integrators and manufacturers partnering-up to leverage their skill, their skill sets, their core competencies, to address those needs of the market.
So that's where an experienced manufacturer that has an expert staff is ready to adjust and be agile to those demands, and knowing specifically about the medical and pharma markets, they hardly ever go through without some sort of customization, so that manufacturing operation has to be prepared to have engineers on-staff to make the changes to the product as needed - and then get those changes through the operations quickly to deliver the solution. So those are just some of them. Destaco does a lot of customization in the medical market. We'll probably talk about that later, but from the top level, everything has been sped-up in the automation supplier, operations portion of it, so if I can add to this - because this is a very interesting and good point that Gary brought-up, is there is a lot of pressure up-front to bring the equipment to the market in a very short time-frame.
So the pressure on the builder is tremendous, yet on the back-end, medical customers are looking for something that's going to still be precise, fast, and long-lasting. So as we're thinking about the tooling, they kind of looked the opposite direction. Right - bring something to the market, on the front-end, that is quick - but also on the other end, that's going to last long and provide the precision and speed that is required. Those are two different things, and again, the second - very much, is looking at how we can utilize standard components that can suit both sides of the equation. And we do have a lot of that and utilizing the applications as much as we can. So Tom and Gary, you guys talked about the need for precision, reliability, and getting things fast to the market. I'd like to ask Jim and Ravi, can you guys talk about, when it comes to our grippers and indexers, how do we meet those needs?
Yeah, from the gripper side, we have families of products that are designed for high precision applications with really tight tolerances and excellent repeatability, and our repeatability is set in our catalog and based on a 10 million cycle life for the product. So the repeatability is as good as the day you started your project, until you've run the 10 millionth component, as long as the application is adequately sized, operated, and maintenance is done as required. One of the things that we find with a lot of medical device manufacturers is it's usually very high-volume. The parts tend to be relatively small, and in many cases, the precision is absolutely crucial, and so having a repeatability, high repeatability - is very important.
The other thing is, a lot of them are delicate parts, and so you need to be able to have the ability to pick-up the part without damaging it. So a lot of these products that we have designed for this market are designed to operate down to as low as 5 PSI of air. That allows you to really be able to have the exact amount of force that you want to have on the part, to handle that part, and it's a simple way to make sure that you have a good speed of closing on the part, but that you'll maintain that part without damaging it all. Right, thanks Jim. From CAMCO indexers and conveyors point of view, our products would not actually get directly in-touch with the medical or the pharma product manufacturing, but this would actually get into the machineries that actually manufacture this product; wherein grippers actually pick-up these kinds of pharmaceutical products that are being manufactured.
So for the CAMCO indexers and conveyors, we have a wide variety of products that we actually offer into the pharma applications which includes a majority of our mechanical indexers - and also servo-related indexers, the precision link conveyor, also the tube frame conveyors, and the right link conveyors. So these actually get into the requirement of the pharma applications, wherein the indexers have an accuracy somewhere in the range of 20 to 40 arc seconds, but the repeatability can be as high as a plus or minus 3 arc seconds to about 20 seconds. So it depends on whether the accuracy and repeatability is working in conjunction with the cycle time.
For example, in the precision link conveyors, our cycle times could be as low as 0.25 seconds but still maintain an accuracy of 5,000th of an inch for a standard center distance of 10 feet or 10.5 feet. And from the perspective of manual clamps, we do have a variety of different manual clamps that are suited for these markets - ranging from the very small 60 pound capacity clamps, all the way up to 16,000, so it really does run the gamut of different types of applications where you can utilize these products, in a variety of different styles of manual clamps - from vertical handle, hold downs, horizontal handle hold downs, which will constitute what space requirements you have. We also have latch clamps that can be used to latch things together. We have squeeze action clamps to pinch things together.
We have straight line action clamps. So really, a wide variety of different clamping products that we have on the manual clamp side, and even on the pneumatic clamp side too. We have a variety of different clamps to help you with your applications, from pneumatic swing clamps to pneumatic hold down clamps, straight line clamps, and we even have high-cycle life power clamps which are designed to last millions of cycles for your applications. So again, we have a wide variety of solutions to meet your needs. Well, one other item that I'll bring up here, which already Jim and Ravi hit on, is equipment going into a medical market is quite complex because of the very tight requirements, and tight control, that is obviously required to make sure everything is done properly. And because of that, people need to provide as much information up-front with our engineering group and work on the application.
So when we put this equipment in, sometimes it is embedded so deeply into the machinery that it is not easy-access, and for this reason, it's quite important that it's not desired to have a downtime and not produce parts or getting people in for corrections afterwards. So for that upfront application, proper study and proper data obviously guarantees the longer lasting and the proper utilization of the components. So again - quite important, just because of the complexity, and then tight space that they're going into, it's very important up-front to make sure that it's taken care of. Thanks, Tom. I think that's a very good point which you actually brought in, that if you are actually building anything as a custom for these pharma applications, we need to ensure that we have all the loads that are coming onto the indexers and the conveyors getting into this application need to be up-front available.
So that way, we can have the rightly-sized product which can actually serve into these pharma applications. One of the other things which I wanted to mention is, with respect to any of the custom conveyors that is built for pharma applications, the accuracy actually changes with the center distance. So for example, let's say you have the link size of 9 inches for it. Until 10.5 feet, we have five thousands of an inch as an accuracy. Beyond that, for every feed, the accuracy actually starts increasing from three tenths of an inch. So thereby, we need to ensure that the center distance is 100 percent clear and then we calculate the accuracy based on the central distance. That is going for the conveyors.
Okay, so Jim. Going back to your question. I'm going to get back to you on grippers for a second. I know as you pick-up, as we're picking up certain things in different environments, like clean rooms, do we have certain products that have certain ratings or certain qualifications in those type of environments? Yeah - there's a couple things as far as the actual environment. Clean room rating; we have about 40 grippers that are actually off-the-shelf, ISO-4, which is the old style class 10. We have about 150 that meet class five ISO so we have these right out of the catalog and off the shelf. So there are a lot of things that are available for those types of environments. The other thing in those environments, they tend to want to be non-corrosive components, special types of greases, and then we have ways to get to those clean room class levels through “scavenging”, which is applying vacuum to the product and actually drawing air from the clean room into the product, so that nothing like lubrication or debris can come out of the gripper and into the environment.
So, Ray - if we look at conveyors and indexers, what kind of things do we do to prep those indexers and conveyors for those types of environments? Well, on the index drives typically, any exposed metal or steel would be plated nickel or hard chrome plated, electrodes nickel or hard chrome plated input shafts, output flanges - something that's normally cast steel or aluminum, we would go with what we call a “med-ready” white epoxy, enamel paint. That seems to hold-up very well. Seals - we would typically go to a viton instead of a rubber seal on the inputs and outputs.
And our index drives are typically internally vented for gas expansion and just normal temperature variations. We would seal that up with what we call an “expansion chamber”. And as far as lubricant, we'd use food-grade oil and grease and any combination of those two. More recently, we find that some of our customers will actually take a deep look at it and say, “well, your product isn't going to be in contact up to a certain level, and we can do any combination of those.” So we like to look at every application individually. The same goes for the conveyors, too. Typically, we will use a stainless steel drive shaft.
Any covers would be stainless steel covers. The main frame or support ribs, depending on the type of conveyor, is typically either plated or white epoxy enamel. Again – our med-ready, white paint at the track pieces. “Side bars”, we call guide plates, are combinations of hard chrome. If it's a wear surface or or 17/4 stainless steel, the other items, the drive and the take-up end of the conveyors, we would typically use hard chrome plates since those are our wear surfaces. And any other support plates would typically be a stainless steel, as well. And then of course, all exposed hardware would be stainless steel, as well.
So it sounds like there's a lot of things we can do to help fit our products into those markets. So one other item I want to add is that again, conversation with the machine builder as well as and the customer on their requirements, and then we're adapting - obviously to their needs. And in a lot of cases, we can have our conveyors in either over-and-under or carousel configuration. And some customers, specifically medical fields, go to what we call “over-and-under”, and the product is positioned on a conveyor, on-top, and it is disposed before it’s actually finished. It's a flat surface, so a part never sees the bottom of the conveyor, because you don't want any particles coming out of the conveyor, obviously, to get into the product itself. So again, there's a lot of different ways we can do it, but a lot of that resides with the customer and us in those conversations, and based on those needs, we provide the best solution possible - the solution that suits that application. And like I said, we have engineers on staff, very knowledgeable representatives in the fields, who are also engineers by trade, and a lot of those conversations up-front that we can obviously narrow the zone and provide best in class solution that suits our customers right.
From the indexer's point of view, we have one of the popular products called a 601 RDM which is actually a class-4, as per ISO-146441. This is a most popular product which we use for the pharma and medical and applications. It’s a pre-certified product, but we also have other products, like ring drives and precision link conveyors that we actually get into the applications. So Tom Stimac, I think we need to talk a little bit about clamps now. There's things that we do with our clamps, because our clamps are also used in these environments. There are things that we do on our clamps to fit these needs, several different things. One of the most popular requests we have from that market is for stainless steel products.
We have a wide variety of the industry's broadest line of stainless steel clamps in all different sizes, shape, styles, and actions. In-fact, over the last couple of years, we've launched a completely new line of stainless steel products to the industry to help supply some of these needs. As we listen to the voice of the customers or people who are in the industry, what are you looking for, what are the things you need you know? They're looking for non-magnetic, non-corrosive products for this environment, so we have a wide array of products and solutions we have for that. In-addition to that, one of the other things we heard from the industry was they want to have more safer and more ergonomic manual clamps, so we again launched our line of Toggle Lock Plus which has been in our line for a while but we greatly expanded that line over the last couple of years. What Toggle Lock Plus does is to give that user a secondary locking release lever, so in-addition to these being over center locking toggle clamps.
Certain applications, where there's perhaps vibrations or the product is moving along a conveyor or a transport line, you want to have a secondary lock on there to ensure the over center condition is maintained. So we have a full array of those products, again, available to people for this industry. So we have standard products that could work for us with a couple of modifications or additions or changes. What happens if a standard product doesn't work for our customers? What can we do? Well, on the gripper side, we've been doing special customs for 30 years and we've done literally thousands and thousands of them. And I would say that we have definitely done in the high hundreds quantity of different specific specials for various medical, pharmaceutical applications, and these range from just some basic minor changes, like changing the lubrication, all the way to white-paper, from scratch, totally custom-designed for the customer.
This is something that we do on a regular basis and that we've done for years. And one of the things that comes with that is the experience of our engineers who have been working on those types of things over time, who can actually guide customers to the right solution for them, based upon their previous experience knowledge. And I would say on the manual clamp side, we have very similar types of specials that we've done which are very customer-specific. For example, we will do on our latch clamps, which are probably our most popular clamps for this industry, we will do different lengths of hooks that latch the top and the bottom of a container or lid together. Maybe it's configured to exactly match-up to the lid or the container to what the customer wants it.
It may be something totally different - style, shape, configuration, or length. We do those pretty routinely. We'll also maybe change the position of the handle. Perhaps it's at a different angle so it's more ergonomically pleasing to the operator. We'll even take our stainless steel products and do some passivating, so that it comes out very clean, very crisp - especially for those applications where it's going on a piece of product or machinery or equipment that the builder is building, so it's very aesthetically pleasing. One of the things that Ray mentioned that they do on the CAMCO side is plating things. So if we don't have a stainless steel solution currently available, we can do different plating options to help meet those requirements. So just like Ray said, we also do chrome plating as specials. We can do electroless nickel plating on top of our carbon seal products to provide that added utility for the customer.
So even on the pneumatic clamp side, we've even done stainless steel, complete stainless steel pneumatic clamps for specific applications to meet those requirements. From the CAMCO side of it, we actually have certain products which actually we usually sell to the customers, which is the RDM family of indexers - basically a small to medium size, ranging from 80 RDM, 601 RDM, and 902 RDM. We also have precision link conveyors of the link size 3 inch, 4.5 inch, and 6 inch conveyors, which we use in the pharma applications. We also have the servo indexing products, which is GTB and 115 RSD which also gets into this application point-of-view.
I would have Ray add more details to this application with respect to the products. Yeah - those are, as Ravi mentioned, servo-driven. We have some dedicated servo indexing products but we've been technically offering any of our products to be servo driven as well. And we can prepare them to any level of med-ready or wash down as well. As Tom and Jim had mentioned too, that we've done ground-up specials as well. A couple applications in particular were for mixing soup and it was a really heavy wash down. We designed formed, stainless steel smooth housings just for those applications. We've designed a special pitch, all stainless steel and with the with the prep that I've mentioned before but a special length, link pitch for a particular customer as well.
So we'll do any level of customization, any level of integration. We've done a particular razer blade producing machine that had very high speed that had a lot of auxiliary line shafts and shot pinning, which was very unique. And so we don't shy away from any custom specials in any of the indexing products as well. Yeah - so the thing that you can actually pull from this whole group of experts is that customers know their products. Destaco knows their products, and we're in the business of clamping, conveying, gripping, and indexing products. We know how to make. We know how to move products or hold them in place, so when you're working with a custom medical application, or whoever it may be, we actually give them ideas of better ways to actually approach a solution.
And that's, at the end of the day, what comes out of it if it's truly collaborative; instead of just taking their needs, we'll go back and give feedback to them on a better method that probably reduces their cost and increases their performance. That's it in a nutshell. What all this group can do, and the other very quite important item is when we approach those applications, is you always have to look at the lead time and the budget. Right - and is it a “must have” versus a “nice to have” item? And those discussions quite often take place, and again, we always would like to serve our customer with the most standard express products, because they can get it very quickly, and then typically, it is within the budgets. But again - we're open for discussion, and sometimes a standard product might not work, and then we're forced into doing enhancements of specials, which again - it's a discussion and upfront conversation with the customer.
That's what we're going to do, and like I said, in a lot of the cases our standard product is very well suited, and then people are very happy with it. But again - if it doesn't, then obviously we go to the plan B which is coming-up with the enhancement and specials, which again, our customers also enjoy that we can provide that service. So it sounds like we can provide anything that they need - either standard or custom, they just need to talk to us, and we'll be able to help them through their decision-making. But we’ve come-up to the end of our time guys. I would like to thank you guys for your insight and your knowledge. I think you guys have provided some really good information on our grippers, clamps, and indexers and conveyors. Hopefully our viewers have been able to find this informative and that they know that Destaco has the expertise that they need, that they can count on. If you still have any questions, please feel free to add them to the chat. We'll be around for a little bit longer to answer your questions.
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