Every year, Gerresheimer’s pharmaceutical industry customers order several hundreds of mil-lions of glass pharmaceutical packaging products manufactured at the company’s plants in Essen and Lohr. Packing robots were re-cently introduced to improve the efficiency and reliability of pack-ing operations before the pharmaceutical glass products are deliv-ered to customers.
“Innovative automated processes are safeguarding the future of our plants and improving the quality of our products,” commented Dr. Jürgen Unruh, General Manager at Gerresheimer Essen. He added that the installation of packing robots at the Essen facility serves as an example for the other production plants in the Gerresheimer Group.
Pharmaceutical packaging products, such as the glass bottles manufac-tured by Gerresheimer, have to satisfy stringent requirements and be low in germs and particles. The extremely high temperatures in the glass moulding process initially kill all the germs. To prevent re-contamination, the bottles go straight from the annealing oven to the clean room, where various mechanical and optical inspection systems are used to identify and sort out defective bottles. After the final inspection, the bottles in the clean room are shrink wrapped in the required pack size with safe pack technology to ensure that they are hermetically sealed in a germ-free environment.
The shrink wrapped packs then have to be packaged and palletized to prevent transportation damage. In the past, production plant personnel working in shifts loaded the transport pallets. This kind of work involves a great deal of effort and concentration because it takes place at high speeds. Gerresheimer decided to automate the process in order to eliminate the resulting pallet packing errors.
Over 1000 packing formats
All the necessary information for the palletization process is contained in the order number. The products are shrink wrapped with safe pack tech-nology in a clean room environment according to the customer’s specifi-cations on packing format. There are currently around 1500 different packing formats, 1000 of which can be implemented by the safe pack machine. In the future, a 100% reliable camera system will perform continuous visual inspections to ensure that the packing formats, stability and quality are correct.
The shrink wrapped packs are transported by conveyor belt from the clean room to the packing robots. At the removal station a robot takes a pack off the conveyor belt and places it on the pallet as per the packing instruction. An operator can use a touch screen to adjust the position of the packs. When one pallet layer is finished, and before the next layer is placed on top, the packing robot adds a protective interim layer. When the pallet is ready it is taken to the holding area in front of the turntable, and the next pallet is loaded. The pallet labels are affixed manually by an operator, who also releases the pallets for delivery. The final stage of the process is the shrink wrapping of the pallets.