Swab manufacture made easy with robots

Posted on 12 Sep 2014 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Secure Technologies has developed an efficient and cost-effective solution based on an Omron SCARA robot to improve the manufacturing process for water-testing swabs.

The swabs resemble cotton buds with a specially formed end and are first dipped into a liquid reagent, and then allowed to dry for several hours.

After the drying process is complete, each swab is placed in its own test tube. Until recently, the process was manual.

Steve Badger, a director of Secure Technologies

“Industrial robots are often thought of as expensive and complicated, but the truth is that robots provide exceptional flexibility in complex handling operations at very reasonable cost.”

Swabs emerging from the production line fall onto a conveyor where their position is determined. The robot then picks up each swab and transfers it to a 500-compartment tray, ready for dipping.

When the tray is full, a process that now takes just eight minutes compared with the 30 minutes or more needed for manual loading, the robot dips it into the liquid reagent and then transfers it to the drying shelves.

At the end of the drying period, the same robot retrieves the trays of swabs and unloads them one row at a time, each row being made up of ten swabs. Finally, the robot transfers the swabs to a vibratory feeder that conveys them to the test tubes.

Between processes, the robot automatically changes the end effector that it uses to pick up the swabs from a type that handles swabs individually to a type that handles ten swabs simultaneously.

This is an excellent example of the versatility and flexibility that can be achieved easily and economically with robot-based solutions.

A touch screen operator interface unit is utilised to display real time performance information, and also allows access to historical operational statistics. The screen is also used as the front end for a sophisticated engineering diagnostics and programming toolkit.

“While it would have been possible to develop a handling system that didn’t use robots for this application,” said Steve Badger, “it would have been bulkier, less flexible, more complicated and more expensive.