Andy Jefferson, Key Account & Deputy Sales Manager (South) at Mitsubishi Electric, looks at how industrial automation applications can support the creation of agile and flexible manufacturing facilities for medical devices.
The world created by Industry 4.0 technologies is all about flexible and agile just-in-time manufacturing. These technologies allow companies to effectively address market variability and customer demand by supporting a high level of complexity and customisation as well as delivering the right volume of products at all times. The latter being particularly beneficial to medical device manufacturers, whose products can have a limited shelf life and may require special storage conditions, as it allows them to maximise profitability and quickly scale up production while limiting inventory.
Smart Factories are designed to leverage the constant flow of data across a product’s entire value chain to learn and adapt to demands in real-time. Moreover, advanced Industry 4.0 technologies can help companies to streamline what is perhaps one of the most crucial tasks in the medical device industry: scale-up activities. As a result, it is possible to considerably shorten the time-to-market for the latest innovations developed in laboratories and R&D departments, supporting a quick return on investment (ROI), improving profitability and competitiveness. These next-generation facilities can help medical device manufacturers support the needs of the market as and when they arise.
The importance of generating data
Creating data-driven operations, plants and enterprises certainly forms the foundation of flexible and agile manufacturing strategies. To achieve this, key information generated by automation devices, such as PLCs, HMIs, Variable Speed Drives (VSDs) and robotic solutions, needs to be turned into knowledge and actionable insight.
Moreover, advanced automated systems can also use the data for self-regulating closed or open loop control. By creating an environment rich in these features, medical device manufacturers can maintain optimum operating conditions on their production lines at all times, while also enabling quality assurance practices.
To fully benefit from responsive smart manufacturing, medical device producers should identify solutions with high processing power when selecting automation components for data-driven applications. These are needed to support real-time control capabilities as well as high speed applications for fast production cycles.
The hardware behind effective, automated systems
In addition to installing proactive data-driven systems, medical device producers also need to implement robust automated processing units. The ideal solution should be compact, in order to optimise the available floorspace and capable of easily accommodating new equipment to support future expansion. This means that key components, such as PLCs and VSDs should have minimal footprints while offering high-level data processing capabilities for ‘data-intensive’ smart manufacturing applications.
When looking at floorspace utilisation in robotised units, it is important to also consider their range of motion as well as the need for protective guards or other barriers. Cooperative systems like horizontal SCARA robots, can address the needs of medical device manufacturers with limited room available. When space is not a constraint and speed is a paramount, high-speed six-axis industrial robots may offer an ideal solution. Conversely, the use of collaborative robots (cobots), may be suitable for applications where humans and machines work together on tasks.
Smart specialists behind smart solutions
To develop successful Smart Factories for medical devices, manufacturers need to choose an experienced automation specialist as their partner. The right one can help identify and even create the ideal automated system for medical device production. Even more, it can help navigate the offering of automation products available to select the ones that best address the intended application.
An expert automation partner can also help its customers develop advanced automated systems quickly thereby shortening scale up times and maximising ROI. Furthermore, by utilising a strong network of system integration specialists, such as Mitsubishi Electric’s System Integrator Programme, it can offer localised implementation support, further streamlining the entire project. For example, Mitsubishi Electric and one of its leading system integration partners, Horizon Instruments, concluded a six- to eight-month project in half the time to address the needs of a manufacturer of rapid diagnostic tests, scaling up its production from 100 to over 1,500 tests per hour.
Ultimately, medical device manufacturers can leverage Industry 4.0 technologies to build flexible and agile factory floors. They can achieve this by relying on the support of a highly skilled and business-oriented automation specialist as well as state-of-the-art units with advanced components. By doing so, medical device manufacturers can increase their profitability and competitiveness in the market as well as support changing global health demands.