Indramat servo motors are commonly used in the packaging industry, including medical packaging. There is a sense, however, that medical packaging — whether for medical devices or for pharmaceuticals — is falling behind when it comes to automation. Medical packaging automation may feel like a special case.
There are good reasons for medical manufacturing to be conservative. Regulation is a fact of life for anything related to health or health care. Rules about the type of packaging allowed, the kind of labeling required, and the materials that can be used can all be subject to government and legal requirements.
Since those regulations change frequently, manufacturers may think twice about investing much in systems or technology that may end up requiring replacement next time the rules change.
Medical packaging automation requires special care.
Human beings are more versatile and more flexible than machinery. It’s also easier to validate manual processes than automatic ones.
We also have common sense on our side. There have been cases of hospitals automating the distribution of meds and having 10 times the correct amount of medication dispensed. A human being would notice that extra zero and would check before dispensing. People think about an error of this kind being made in the packaging of medicines — and potentially thus being replicated millions of times — and think it’s better to keep medical packaging in human hands.
On the other hand, only a human would add that extra zero. Automation can ensure accurate, consistent packaging across the board.
But automation can reduce human error.
The stakes may feel higher in medical packaging than in other areas of industry, but this is an illusion. From securely attached small pieces on toys to properly secured automotive parts, there are thousands of objects whose correct production can mean life and death. We’re just more aware of the potential dangers in a hip replacement or a narcotic drug than in a teddy bear.
In spite of the hesitation among manufacturers of medical products to entrust their packaging to automatic systems, or to invest in them, medical packaging automation is on the increase. As nanotechnology, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things all push the envelopes in medicine — and all three are doing so now — medical packaging may be forced to step up.
There are already some companies that are paving the way. Bosch Rexroth’s Indradrive-powered medical pouch conversion machine for a Wisconsin packaging company is just one excellent example. There are enough examples around to prove that medical packaging automation is a practical option.