Could robotic-led injection molding support the manufacturing of the estimated two million different types of medical devices on the market?
Nigel Smith, TM Robotics
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for medical devices across hospitals and medical laboratories, and business analyst Mercer Capital expects this growth to continue. that it Five Trends to Watch in the Medical Device Industry Report He cites several driving factors including an increasingly aging population, emerging economies and efforts by governments to curb rising medical costs.
Due to the nature of the sector, companies developing devices for the first time in the market can benefit from patents, intellectual property protection, and competitive advantages. However, these new devices are subject to strict regulations. As written in The changing economics of medical technologypaper from United States National Academy of Medicine (It was published when it was still called Institute of Medicine): “It is inevitable that important products such as medical devices will attract many levels of scrutiny because of the significant social costs and benefits associated with health care.”
A large part of this audit targets manufacturers and relates to accountability, device traceability, post-market monitoring, clinical evaluations, and performance studies. Everything must be taken into account in new medical designs and developments. To quote a Mercer Capital report, the rules promote “an environment in which companies can earn an acceptable level of return on their investment in research and development.”
To comply with these regulations, medical device manufacturers must research new ways to efficiently produce new innovations without falling short Quality system regulations, such as the current Good Manufacturing Practices specified by the Food and Drug Administration. One method of efficient, quality-conscious production is injection molding, which is one of the most common manufacturing processes in the industry.
Injection molding machines are already used to produce monitors, infusion pumps, and other vital medical equipment. But there is a drive to manufacture these devices with new and more advanced materials, with better die flow and higher impact strength. This includes bioplastics, which are a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic. Bioplastics made from corn, sugarcane or sugar beets are increasingly being used to manufacture medical devices.
Moreover, there is increasing pressure to produce medical devices at a faster pace. Large and small production operations must operate without interruption to produce a certain number of products per hour. Standards ensure predictable and efficient mold loading and unloading, along with seamless work between humans and machines. To achieve this, automation and robotics is crucial.
New ways of doing things
Industrial robots already play an important role in the loading and unloading of plastic injection molding machine applications. Six-axis robots in particular, apart from being among the most widely used industrial machines in general, have become known as reliable workhorses for injection molding loading and unloading.
TM Robotics, partner of Shibaura Machine (formerly Toshiba Machine) is a robot distributor specializing in integrating robots with injection molding machines. The company has recently expanded its range to offer a more comprehensive choice of six-axis robots to suit these applications
The Shibaura Machine series of 6-axis vertically articulated robots is available in three models, all of which offer lower headroom, wider reach, and other benefits. Each robot range has varying reach and payload specifications, and a longer arm length compared to previous robot ranges.
It includes the latest TVM range of highly productive and reliable robots targeting industries including the automotive, medical, packaging and pharmaceutical industries. The largest of the TVM models is the TVM1500, which offers a maximum reach of 1715mm. The TVM1200 can reach a length of 1418mm, and the smallest model, the TVM900, offers a maximum length of 1124mm. In addition to three distinct arm lengths, the operating range of each model can be expanded by mounting the robot on an optional linear actuator.
Crucially, these robots integrate easily with the Shibaura Machine’s Injection molding machines. Among the latest equipment is the SXIII range of injection molding machines, an all-electric range with enhanced performance designed to deliver much faster injection speeds than conventional molding equipment.
When paired with a 6-axis fast cycle robot for loading and unloading, manufacturers can expect to increase productivity. These machines are engineered for enhanced versatility and performance, with a streamlined design. With these features, the range can support significantly faster loading and unloading speeds.
The robots are also designed for plug-and-play installation to facilitate programming by operators and reduce training costs. The end result is better collaboration between machines and operators in injection molding lines, and industrial robots that fit more easily into a manufacturer’s ways of doing things.
Extended automation will be necessary to ensure that injection molding is essential for the cost-effective and highest-quality manufacturing of medical devices of the future. Even with strict regulations, industrial robots such as TVM range It can help manufacturers find new and better ways to bring new medical innovations to market, supporting a bright future for patient care.
Nigel Smith is CEO TM Robotics is an industrial robot specialist. TM Robotics has installed thousands of robots in factories worldwide, and in partnership with Shibaura Machine – is the only company to offer a comprehensive range of all three robot classes: 6-Axis, SCARA and Cartesian.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of MedicalDesignandOutsourcing.com or its employees.
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