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"Robots are our life"


Robotics has been experiencing a boom in recent years as processes are automated to make them more productive and counteract the shortage of skilled labour. Robots are also very flexible to use and their prices have fallen in recent years. Robotec Solutions AG from Seon in the canton of Aargau is leading the way. The company's success is down to its passion, years of experience and expertise, as well as the ideal technology from sound partners.

Robotec Solutions AG develops customised robot solutions for a wide range of industries such as medical technology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, logistics and metalworking. The company was founded in 1983 and has been pioneering robot-assisted automation in Switzerland ever since. Upon entering the production facility in Seon, you immediately sense the passion for robotics. General Manager Nick Koch's first sentence sums it up: "Robots are our life." Everywhere you look, experts are busy working on robot arms and machine controls or computer programming, including the latest project for one of Switzerland's largest pharmaceutical companies. The project involves preparing syringes for self-treatment, so-called auto-injectors, for further mounting and filling. The challenge? Only one and a half seconds are available per injector.

Passion for robotics personified: General Manager Nick Koch of Robotec Solutions AG
Kevin Bossard, Design Engineer, and Project Manager at Robotec Solutions AG, explains how the machine handles the auto-injectors


The smallest pneumatic rotary actuator
Given that the injector parts come in blisters with seven rows, the entire process takes 10.5 sec-onds. During this time, the parts are removed from the blisters, rotated by 15 degrees and then transferred further along - all in a reduced space. Four robots, conveyor belts and additional devices compete for space in a processing cell. "This requires compact components that we prefer to mount directly on the robot heads," explains Kevin Bossard, Project Manager and Design Engineer at Robotec Solutions AG. There are seven miniature vacuum suction cups, installed in series on the first robot head, which grip the injector parts and transfer them to pneumatic rotary actuators. "The rotary actuators were a very special challenge. We scoured the entire market and found the world's smallest ones supplied by our partner SMC," says Bossard. Once the parts have been rotated, they are removed, once again using vacuum suction cups and transferred to the next processing station. In addition to the component compactness, Robotec also requires components with integrated functions. This is another reason why SMC was chosen for vacuum generation which takes place on a modular station (island) consisting of the vacuum ejectors, bus connection and a monitoring system - all in the one product and therefore easy to procure and integrate into the machine.

The parts are rotated by 15 degrees using the smallest pneumatic rotary actuators on the market from SMC


Vacuum generation (left) takes place via a modular island which integrates ejectors, bus nodes and a monitoring system


Concealed digitisation
What you don't see on the machine is all the digitisation - Industry 4.0. "It's all concealed in the lower, closed part," points out General Manager Koch. "But it's precisely these tasks, such as wiring, programming logics and data analysis, that have in-creased astronomically." In the current project, the workload was somewhat higher because the pharmaceutical industry has to have everything precisely documented: different access rights to the machine and a history of who has changed what in the settings and when. Robotec trains its own specialist staff and "we also have experts with more than 25 years of experience in robot programming," says Project Manager Kevin Bossard proudly.

"We need sound partners"
Nick Koch confirms however, that nothing works without partners and suppliers: "We’re under enormous time pressure. It's good to be able to rely on sound partners like SMC. Price is not our main concern; we attach much more importance to close cooperation and reliability." It's precisely in these times of global supply bottlenecks that this plays a new pivotable role for many industrial companies. Design Engineer Bossard, meanwhile, appreciates SMC's local support and its broad product portfolio: pneumatics, vacuum, sensors and electric actuators from a single source. He already has ideas for the latest SMC product combining pneumatic valves and vacuum ejectors on a modular island with a bus connection. It's entirely possible that you’ll soon come across it on a robot from Robotec Solutions.

Fitting 4 robots in a very tight space is the ultimate challenge


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