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Automated vial handling in lyophilization

Feeding and unloading freeze dryers for sensitive and critical pharmaceutical substances: This is the task of Stäubli six-axis robots in the lyophilization stations of Barcelona-based Dara Pharma Group.


  • High productivity
  • Highest level of hygiene (aseptic conditions)
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Connectivity with the main PLC (via Ethernet)


High productivity and precision in hygienic environments

Freeze drying or lyophilization is a common process in pharmaceutical production. Feeding and unloading with robots makes double sense: It increases performance and productivity. And it ensures the highest hygienic standards – as long as the robots are designed for hygienic or sterile environments.

The Dara Pharma Group, based in Barcelona, Spain, designs and manufactures filling and freeze drying machines for vials, bottles, syringes and cartridges. Often these machines are part of complex (and flexible) production lines, including washing, sterilizing, packaging and other processes. Thus Dara has tremendous expertise in connecting these processes and handling precious pharmaceutical products, including integration and validation services for complete production lines.

In designing a new machine line for lyophilization, the engineers aimed for the highest grade of automation, while at the same time ensuring the highest hygienic standards.


Fast handling – with hygiene-compliant Stericlean robots

On the basis of this aim and their expertise, the Dara Pharma engineers developed a robot-based nesting and loading/unloading station for trays with vials.

The loading line is adaptable to the individual production requirements: The vials can arrive in ´Nest´ mode, i.e. ready to use. In this case, they have been sterilized previously and handling must take place under aseptic or sterile conditions.

When the vials arrive in trays, a Stäubli TX2-60 robot in the Stericlean version grips one tray after the other and loads them into the shelves of the freeze dryer. Here, the special Schott nests are used, which can be docked to each other, easily enabling the process of properly pushing the nests into the lyophilizer and pulling them out again.

The six-axis robot takes a nest out of the tub and puts it into the freeze dryer, at the same time connecting it with the previous nest in the line. The empty tubs are removed from the process. When the loading is completed, the freezing begins. After lyophilization, unloading takes place in the same way, but in the opposite direction. Each nest with the frozen products is disconnected and positioned on a conveyor for transport to the next process step.  


High productivity – high precision

In this way, up to 11,400 vials per hour can be processed with high precision – under hygienic or aseptic conditions – with the Stäubli TX2-60 Stericlean robot.

The robot is able to feed and unload the freeze dryer quickly, precisely, and without human intervention, achieving a process with high productivity and the highest level of cleanliness. The robot can be included in wash-down processes, and easily adapts to the processes of individually feeding, unloading and transporting vials and trays.

For the Dara engineers, the use of the Stäubli Stericlean robot in this application was clearly the best choice, due to its flexibility and adaptability, as well as its outstanding hygienic qualities and wash-down capability.


Visit website of Dara Pharma