Life Sciences Success Story

Shaken, not stirred: Robots in the “cell factory”


  • High-quality vaccines
  • Reduced investment and operating costs
  • Resistance to VHP cleaning procedures
  • Rated GMP class A
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The camera-controlled robot docks onto the “cell factories”, each of which contains 160 trays of vaccine.
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The filling and liquid exchange processes in the individual cell factories are also supported by the Stericlean robots.


Production of vaccines

The Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturer Chengda Biotech cultures vaccines in “cell factories”. These consist of small trays that have to be shaken at regular intervals so that the vaccine is able to reproduce itself. Stäubli TX200 Stericlean robots perform this specific task at a newly built Chengda production facility. It is the first deployment of this type of robot by China’s biopharma industry.

Biotechnology opens up completely new possibilities for the production of medicines and vaccines. Under certain favorable conditions, the active ingredient reproduces itself. The prerequisites include stable environmental conditions and processes, both of which can best be realized with a high degree of automation.

For the manufacture of its hepatitis A vaccine, Liaoning Chengda Biotechnology Co. Ltd. has set up a production facility with an output of between three and four million vaccine doses per year. Stericlean robots supplied by Stäubli have taken on a central task here, namely the manipulation of the “cell factories”.



Shaking and tilting with TX200 Stericlean

The rather grand term “factory” in this case refers to a rack containing 160 trays. Each tray initially contains a nutrient solution into which the mother cells are introduced. The cell culture is then left to grow, although the nutrient solution has to be occasionally changed. In a second step, the virus-infected cells and another growth-promoting medium are added. At the end of the process, it is a simple matter of harvesting the attenuated virus constituting the highly effective vaccine, which has virtually reproduced itself.

The Stäubli TX200 Stericlean robots come into play when the cells have already been “inoculated” and the active ingredient is ready to grow. The robot, which is equipped with an image processing system, picks up the “cell factory” and sets it down at the point of use, carefully shaking the rack to distribute the liquid evenly. It then deposits the rack at the designated storage location. During the culturing process, which continues for at least ten days, the robot repeatedly picks up the individual racks and carries out its set program of shaking and tilting movements.



Highest level of cleanliness is assured

One reason Chengda wanted to automate this complex process is the need for stable environmental conditions, including temperature. Because there is no need for human workers to enter the workspace, it is easier to keep the temperature constant, which in turn makes it easier to guarantee the reproducible quality and effectiveness of the final product. In addition, the deployment of Stäubli Stericlean robots has made it possible to achieve the top GMP A classification.

The production environment of the “cell factories” has to be disinfected regularly. Chengda Biotech uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) for this process, an aggressive cleaning agent that would immediately spell the end for conventional robots. The TX200 Stericlean robots, with their special anti-corrosion coating and sealed housing, remain unaffected by these cleaning procedures.

Robot-supported cell production also offers the advantage of reduced investment and operating costs. The robotic solution is not only much more economical, it also takes up less space and the process design is much more flexible. The decisive advantage, however, lies in the consistently high quality of the vaccine, an outcome that can only be guaranteed with innovative automation.

In the course of the pilot project, the customer’s confidence in this solution and in the Stericlean robots grew. Consequently, three robots were ordered instead of two. Following this first successful deployment of a Stäubli TX200 Stericlean in the Chinese biopharmaceutical sector, Stäubli China expects other companies to go down the same route of automation.