Stoppering and Capping with Robotic 3D Control and Picking

3D vision systems and robotics to reduce the release of particles in pharmaceutical primary packaging. Shown at PACK EXPO, the system generates reliable trajectories for movement, and avoids collisions with the surrounding environment.

Steriline's Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution at work
Steriline's Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution at work

Much innovation in pharmaceutical processing and packaging can be attributed to contamination reduction strategies that require innovation in robotics. At PACK EXPO 2022, Steriline showcased its new Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution (3D CPS) that includes both robotics and vision systems. The system was developed in partnership with ISS – Innovative Security Solutions, a spin-off company from acclaimed technical university Politecnico di Milano in Europe.

The Robotics 3D Control and Picking Solution is particularly suited to capping and stoppering in the primary packaging of small batches that require an aseptic environment, such as in personalized medicine and the production of cell and gene therapies.

As Federico Fumagalli, chief commercial officer at Steriline, explained at the show, the company continues to innovate with robotics in its aseptic filling machines, and they develop their robotic software in-house to offer intelligent motion and activities often performed by people. He said that in many cases, a robotic arm will move from A to B and B to A, but this application shows how robotics can be programmed by a 3D camera that scans—in this case the ARaymondLife cap—finds a good trajectory to move in, picks up the stopper, and places it on the vial.

“The Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution is a mechatronic component equipped with a vision system that can detect tools within a defined area and adapt its function based on the relative feedback,” reports Steriline. “It is composed of a robotic arm, a picker, an infrared ray (IR) stereoscopic vision system and software for planning trajectories, accessing the recipe database and interpreting the input data coming from the sensors.”

  • The robotic arm moves the picker throughout the working area, the dimensions of which can be modified based on the length of the levers.
  • Sophisticated algorithms generate trajectories to allow the picker, located at the end of the arm, to reach the item, pick it up, and then move it to its final destination.
  • These paths are generated based on the information received by the 3D vision system which uses a stereoscopic vision-based measuring technique: an IR source emits an IR light pattern that is visible to visual sensors and not to the human eye. The scattering of the light is detected, acquiring a profile of the scene. This technology allows the system to autonomously generate reliable trajectories for simpler and more linear movements and avoid any collisions with the surrounding environment.

Steriline's 3D CPS, Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution.Steriline's 3D CPS, Robotic 3D Control and Picking Solution.“In the pharmaceutical industry, limiting the release of particles during sensitive processes makes the difference because it reduces the risk of contamination,” said Fumagalli, whose vision it was to use robotics to avoid contamination in primary packaging. “With this in mind, we looked for different solutions on how to remove the main parts that increased the dispersion of particles during, in this case, the stoppering and capping processes so we chose to replace the hopper, the vibrating cup, and the linear slide with robots combined with a vision system.”

The partners also sought to simplify format changes. “Flexibility is definitely an added value of robotic solutions” added Alessandro Caprioli, partner at ISS – Innovative Security Solutions. "In fact, with standard solutions, the production process and the relative mechanical parts need to be reconfigured in order to manage or handle a different container. With a robotic application, you generally only need to set up a different recipe via the software."