Fully automated manufacturing cells - investments that pay off

How can plastic systems be produced even more efficiently and with superior quality? In its day-to-day activities, the medical technology company Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. focuses on questions like this. Mostly, a fully automated manufacturing cell is the most effective and economical solution for high volumes and several production and assembly steps of complex components. The individual production steps are analyzed, compressed and integrated into customized systems. Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG has been able to increase its know-how enormously in recent years by increasing the degree of automation to meet the high demands of the diagnostics, medical technology and pharmaceutical industries.

There are many good reasons in medical technology to automate manufacturing processes. In addition to the constantly increasing cost pressure, environmental influences on the production process are reduced. Automation also increases cost-effectiveness and enhances both the quality and the safety of the production processes. The plastic components are either manufactured in highly automated production cells with linked injection molding machines or individual molded parts are assembled into modules in the clean room in accordance with the assembly concept. The robot-assisted manufacturing cells or assembly systems grip, place, move, weld, print, cut, inspect, check, convey and package in the production process.

Each project is planned individually and is assigned to a project manager with technical and industry experience who takes responsibility for it. The specialists at Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG rely on proven and experienced plant engineers. Innovation plays a key role in the conceptual design of the plant. Due to the complexity of production, the plant engineers do not use standard modules. Many mechanical assemblies have to be individually designed and manufactured. This is necessary to integrate the highly complex steps.

Automation including printing
Plastic components for DNA analysis are manufactured in one of the new, fully automated production cells with adjacent injection molding machine. The components were originally manufactured in a clean room and then printed by hand. Due to the massive increase in call-off quantities and the customer's high quality requirements, Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG decided to automate the process for this project. Thanks to vision systems, quality can be monitored by 100 percent, which is a great advantage for the customer. The new technology also represents a great relief for the employees at the machine. In addition to the injection molding process, removal handling, 100 percent inspection by means of camera monitoring, and packaging, a two-color tampon printing process is also integrated into the production process. A major challenge during the project planning phase was the implementation of existing modules from Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG into the system. In addition, a handling system had to be developed that is capable of compensating for the dimensional variations of cardboard boxes and simultaneously processing the inserted PE bags.

Automated storage
Another optimization in production is a system for storing 2 ml bottles used by the customer in automated laboratory diagnostics. Here, a fully automated solution was also implemented in order to realize large material requirements. The system is designed as a turnkey solution and reduces material movements to a minimum. The production personnel responsible for operating the production line only have to position empty pallets and remove full ones.

Assembly lines for volume increase
Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG not only succeeds in process optimization, but also in speed. For example, due to an increase in the number of pieces, another assembly line for so-called "filter tubes", a plastic component required by the customer for the purification and preparation of DNA samples, could be realized within five months. On the line, three layers of glass nonwoven are punched out fully automatically and inserted into the tubes. The tubes are then sealed on the bottom by thermoforming. The line is also equipped with cameras for 100% inspection, a host computer system and fully automatic packaging. Due to the necessary processing of glass nonwoven in the ISO Class 7 cleanroom, a multi-stage cleaning system using ionized air and a high-performance extraction system were implemented to remove particles and dust and thus prevent contamination

The perfect team solution
"Investing exclusively in expensive automation technology would be too short-sighted. It is important to have well-trained personnel who can maintain and operate the machines," explains Dr. Thomas Jakob, Managing Director at Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG. Wirthwein Medical GmbH & Co. KG therefore relies on comprehensive training for the individual further development of its specialist staff. "I am proud that in-house specialists are implementing these solutions. The employees are involved in the projects right from the start. When people, machines and business know-how are in perfect harmony, we are able to create the best solutions for people's health," says Managing Director Dr. Thomas Jakob.

The new storage system was painted in the Wirthwein corporate design colors and is illuminated from inside the 4.5 meter high glass tower with an LED strip.