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SUCCESS STORY

Six-axis robots in blood plasma processing

The debottling system from HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH is designed to slice through the middle of plastic bottles containing frozen blood plasma, an essential ingredient for numerous medical products. The handling of the bottles is performed by two Stäubli Stericlean six-axis robots.

CUSTOMER BENEFITS

  • High productivity
  • Compliance with industry-specific hygiene standards
  • Fully automated operation
  • Rapid changeover to different bottle sizes

TASK

Clean slicing for an efficient process

The handling of freeze-dried blood plasma requires stringent hygiene standards and a high degree of automation. The first step is to cut open plastic bottles containing thawed plasma and empty out their contents – a classic task for Stäubli Stericlean robots, which have been developed for use in hygienic and sterile environments.

For the past 30 years, HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH in Lohra has specialized in lyophilization, and is currently the leading manufacturer of high-quality, technologically advanced freeze-drying systems for the pharmaceutical industry. The HOF portfolio includes systems for slicing open the plastic bottles in which the plasma is stored.

“The high working speed of the robots was the decisive criterion here. It is the factor that determines the performance of the entire system.”

Jens Gemmecker | Sales Management Loading and Unloading Systems at HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH, Germany

SOLUTION

A fully automated process with high throughput

The process begins with one robot gripping four bottles by their top end and guiding them to the cutting station, which resembles a guillotine. A second RX160 six-axis robot positioned on the other side grips and steadies the lower half of the plasma containers.

At this point, the blade drops. The two robots empty out the contents of their bottle halves into draining trays. The human plasma – still in the form of a frozen core – slides down a channel into the defrosting tanks. The bottle halves are checked by sensors to ensure that they have been completely emptied, then placed onto a track leading to a disposal chute.

The debottling line can process up to 1,200 bottles per hour with a cycle time of 12 seconds. The throughput is so high that the specified production batch is ready and can be processed in minimal time – which is desirable for reasons of hygiene and process reliability.

CUSTOMER USAGE

An ingenious concept for a challenging task

The choice of robot was easy for the HOF designers in this instance, and indeed in all of their other projects. Because robots are integrated into many of the systems the company supplies, it has defined standards for robotic applications and, with a view to the requirements of the pharmaceutical industry, has opted for the Stericlean models from Stäubli. These robots impress by virtue of their fast and precise handling as well as their suitability for washdown processes and thus for the hygienic automation of sensitive processes.

With this particular machine, HOF Sonderanlagenbau GmbH has come up with a real problem solver for pharmaceutical production. The debottling system, usually in combination with the upstream water bath thawing unit, is used by many of the world’s pharmaceutical companies that process freeze-dried blood plasma.

The two robots work in tandem on either side of the cutting station. They ensure fast, precise and hygienic slicing of the thawed bottles of blood plasma without the need for human intervention. This results in a process with high productivity, maximum cleanliness, and enhanced flexibility: The system can be rapidly adapted to different bottle formats via the control system and the use of four-pronged grippers.