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Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited is a pioneering pharmaceutical company from Japan and is active worldwide. Different drugs are manufactured and packaged in the town of Oranienburg in Brandenburg, Germany. The boxes with the drugs are then stacked on pallets. A shipping box can weigh upto 9 kilograms. Per shift, the workers move about 5.8 tons from the packing table to the shipping pallet. This is a heavy and physical strain for the workers. 


The automation specialist SKDK developed a solution to relieve the workers with the FANUC CR-15iA. The collaborative robot and the workers work hand-in-hand without limits for simple accessibility. The robot takes the boxes from the conveyor belt and packs them on the shipping pallet. With the cross-shift production, FANUC also ensures the workers operate safely and provide support and remedies to faults. 


The solution developed by SKDK enables workers on the packaging line a simpler process. Since a worker moves a total of about 5.8 tons per shift, the collaborative robot streamlines the process while observing all safety and regulatory requirements.
As part of a global production network, Takeda operates production facilities in Singen and Oranienburg in Germany. According to its own statements, Takeda is among the world’s leading bio-pharmaceutical companies and has a presence in more than 80 countries and regions. While the Singen site is specialised in the production of liquid and freeze-dried drugs, in Oranienburg solid dosage forms are produced. Here more than six billion tablets and capsules are produced each year.
This volume of drugs must be order picked at the end of each production line and placed on pallets ready for shipment. This can be back-breaking work. The discussion is therefore not whether to automate to relieve workers, but principally only where to begin. One look at the number of days lost to sickness makes the decision much easier. For example, boxes up to ten kilograms are to be handled at the end of a line. Over the course of a shift, this adds up to about five tons. Takeda Project Manager Robert Gundlach: “Collaborative robots were never discussed at first, though”. At the end of the project discussion with FANUC, the argument prevailed that a cobot will not only relieve the workers, but will have significantly greater acceptance than a yellow robot behind a protective fence. 
Sebastian Steinbach, who supported the project on site for FANUC, summarises the fundamental idea: “The workers can go within touching distance of collaborative robots. This has made the introduction of new technology acceptable.

The direction was clear from the first time contact was made with FANUC. “We already knew fairly well what we wanted.” FANUC was not the only manufacturer available who had been contacted. But, according to Gundlach, no other manufacturer was in the position to be able to offer Takeda a collaborative system with the load capacity class required and appropriate reach. Sights were already set further ahead from before the first robot was installed: The handling of containers or drums over 20 kg, which is still done manually, will become the focus of automation in the foreseeable future.

Because Takeda wanted a system integrator in the neighbourhood, the choice fell to SKDK, a Berlin company, which is at home in robot and SPS programming, has programmed FANUC robot systems since 2012, and since then has also started with smaller systems in the project business. Arnardo Schulze, Managing Director of SKDK: “Through the positive experiences, as a system integrator we want to realise more projects in plant engineering in combination with programming from one source”. The particularity of the Takeda system existed in the fact that, on the one hand, robots are not yet so popular in the pharma industry as they are in other sectors, and on the other hand high standards for cleaning robot systems must be met.

From experience in numerous other projects, Robert Gundlach knows how much it depends on acceptance by workers: “We therefore involve the workers in a new project as early and as intensively as possible.” For the people in assembly, this meant more informational events across shifts, in which the technology and planned implementation were explained in detail. Gundlach continued: “There it is made clear to people that a robot is nothing more than a stepping stool to make work easier. We sold the robots as new colleagues not as new technology.

A big plus for the CR-15iA was that the robot does not need to be “hidden” behind a fence. Without a cage, reservations are evidently less. 

Where the CR-15iA works

The packing table at the end of a tablet production facility is made up of a double workplace. The small glass bottles filled with tablets are packaged in multiple cartons. These cartons are shifted to the packing table without a break held by two workers five packs at a time and set in a box. If the box is full, it will be set on a flexible slightly sloped roller conveyor. At its end, the CR-15iA first scans the label to then grab the box in such a way that it can stack it on the pallet with the label on the outside. While there are shift changes among the workers, the robot works 24/7.
The system has been running flawlessly since mid-December”, reports Gundlach. “The relative flexibility of the construction lies in the roller conveyor.” This is a shear roller conveyor which has a range of adjustment options and which can be pushed aside easily if needed. It is therefore very easy to create space for maintenance or servicing work on the robot. In this case, palletising could be done manually as before. Gundlach: “With the selected solution, we have moved forwards, but we have not burned our bridges”. He sees a large benefit with a manageable risk for a first application.
At the same time, the station with the FANUC collaborative robot is only one of a total of 14 order picking installations at Takeda. It wants to transfer the good experiences with technology from FANUC and system performance together with programming from SKDK to other projects.
Now it would be possible to also automate the work on the packing table. In the current form , the robot is seen as support. 

The consideration of  reducing two packing spaces to one was given up in favour of the availability of the facility: Rather the robot stays because,  if it tilted a packet, it is still possible to continue working on the packing table while the second worker fixes the malfunction. 
About 8,000 packages have already gone through the facility since the start. “We have had no technical breakdown to date” says Gundlach as an interim evaluation. In doing so he was “only” carefully optimistic and he had accounted for a flatter start-up curve. He credits SKDK in large part. If it snagged somewhere in the process or if workers had detailed suggestions for improvement, it was always possible to contact SKDK and it immediately improved the “little things”. “There was nothing, nor is there anything, that has led to any instabilities.”

The example of updates which one can always bring in directly demonstrates how securely the system integrators from Berlin have carried out the work. This provides certain security for adjustments that have to be made. Gundlach is certain: “Here we have a reliable partner.”
The task of the robots at Takeda is actually only to place the boxes correctly on the pallets always eight boxes per layer and four layers high - and with the label facing outward. With a reach of 1,441 mm and a maximum load capacity the FANUC robot fulfils this task effortlessly. The traverse speed permitted for collaborative operation is absolutely sufficient for the facility. The vacuum gripper is from Schmalz and of course meets all the requirements for the collaborative operation. 

A small gimmick: The digital display shows how much negative pressure the respective box is held with. The gripper is also a standard product. 

Arnardo Schulze, Managing Director of SKDK, places value in the statement. “that, in agreement with Takeda, we have only used standard products without customising.” Only the design of the user interface of the Teach Pendant was a customer-specific layout programmed.
Behind this is the idea to use Teach Pendant not only as a user and programming device for the robot but also as a cell control. Schulze: “We wanted to save costs on hardware and development. For us as software programmers it is easier to use the display of the FANUC iPendant for these tasks than to transfer a display to another device.”

The user interface is simple and manageable - with different access levels. In the simplest case, only the status of the cell and basic operations will be displayed or specified. For example, if a new pallet is ready, the robot starts at the touch of a button. 
Schulze explains the principle: “We haven’t reinvented the wheel with the presentation on the display, but rather the respective operation is visually processed in a self-explanatory way.”

The standardisation of the individual components has an additional advantage. For one thing, the collaborative cell can serve as a template for all other packing stations in the establishment. For another, according to Gundlach, other Takeda sites have since focussed on the use of robots. There is already a wish-list for other robot projects.