Stäubli robots play a central role in the production of vaccines. The large six-axis TX200 Stericlean robots are used to shake and tilt so-called “cell factories” (culture chambers) in a programmed sequence of movements, thereby stimulating the reproduction of the active substances they contain.
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”.
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.
MMS chose Stäubli's brand-new TS2 series SCARAs because of their ideal interaction with the vision systems for part alignment, as well as their communication with the feeding systems.
The uniVAL plc interface of the Stäubli robots paid off when programming the system. It enables simple connection to the higher-level Siemens S7 controller. MMS meets the demand for flexibility by making it possible to change variants without having to modify the hardware.
Other important factors in the selection of robots from MMS's point of view were the extremely high availability, precision and dynamics of the robots. The assembly system runs around the clock with short cycle times. Because of the small components that are handled, long-term precision is an additional decision criterion. And MMS was also enthusiastic about the customer support provided by Stäubli in Austria and Bayreuth.