We recently upped the automation of an existing inspection line at Pfizer in Puurs, increasing its capacity to 600 vials per minute. The line, which checks ‘white stock’ vials for conformity and appropriate sealing, was upgraded to fully automated input and outflow.
The vials arrive in plastic trays from the sterile filling department. The trays are stacked in pallet containers. A four axis depalletisation robot grabs the trays and places these on an unloading station suitable for two trays. While a small six-axis ABB robot, the IRB 1200, empties the tray in one position, a large robot removes the empty tray in the other position and places this on a free pallet container. The small robot also removes the identification label from the trays, as the large robot takes an image of the tray and sends the label’s position on to the IRB 1200, which then is positioned directly in front of one of the two trays.
Inspection and reloading into trays
Before the inspection, the small robot pushes the vials to an accumulation table, which has one exit for individual vials onto the inspection line, where they are visually inspected and tested for leaks. There is another accumulation table at the end of the inspection line where the vials are grouped per tray in a comb. A camera checks the comb to ensure it is complete. Once a camera has checked the tray presented is indeed empty, the vials are pushed in this tray with a servo movement. The refilled trays are given a new identification label, after which a similar four-axis robot used as at the start of the process automatically palletises the trays into a pallet container.
Options for additional checks
Three trays enter and leave the robot cell every minute. The robot can also place the filled trays in a sample-taking position and retrieve them once a quality check has been performed outside the cell. The operator can easily adjust the frequency of this in the hmi.
After inspection, the pallet containers with the trays are removed to Pfizer’s centre for secondary packaging located at the other end of the Rijksweg in Puurs.