It’s not difficult to see hospitals and pharmacies challenged by dispensing thousands of drugs with speed and accuracy. As the number of drugs rises, so do security issues. To address both, the Rowa Division of BD in Germany has introduced two machines.
The Rowa Vmax provides for the automatic storage and retrieval of boxed pharmaceuticals while the Smart System can collect and blister pack a daily dose of medications for individual patients.
The Vmax assists with the ever-rising number of medications. Ordinarily, a few hundred boxed medicines would manually be stored in alphabetical order, which could mean bumping things around to make space as new drugs came into the pharmacy. The newer storage system includes a secure enclosure and two robotic arms that will put things where there is space and can retrieve a single box in about eight to 12 seconds.
When a small shipment of medications comes into a pharmacy, the operator could simply scan the barcode on a box and place it on a belt by a window inches away. The machine then raises the window and pulls the box inside where a gripper on the robotic arm picks up the box and places it on a shelf.
Should many drugs arrive at one time, an optional device called ProLog, allows simply pouring the many cartons into a hopper where they are automatically recognized and stored.
“Service offerings such as the two described here can make pharmacies more competitive,” said Björn Schleheuser, head of sales for Central Europe at BD Rowa. “The focus should always be on offering the pharmacy customers and the best solutions for them.”
The rapid storage and retrieval are possible because of a lead screw and nut from Igus (Cologne, Germany), a manufacturer of many plastic and associated parts. Stefan Niermann, the Igus head of business unit dryline linear & drive technology, says BD engineers had looked for a lead screw with a long pitch and low friction and selected the Igus products in part because the nut operated with less than half the friction of competing products. (Igus hosted trade press on a visit this month to its Cologne, Germany headquarters and manufacturing facility – as well as side trips to highlight innovative uses of its products.)
In addition, BD engineers use an Igus e-chain – and specially designed, moveable plastic cable carrier – to hold cables in place while the robot arm is in action. The cables provide power and signals for a motor that drives the lead screw. Other drives move the arms up and down and along the length of the enclosure. In fact, the system’s two robot arms can swing past each other when necessary.
The second machine, the Smart System, collects a daily dose of medications for a particular patient and seals them in a blister pack. That sounds easy enough, but imagine collecting a month’s worth of medications and for 100 patients. This is a job for a machine.
The Smart System also relies on an Igus part, the Drylin W size 10, to support a device that collects the pills. Containers for the pills are arranged in a large stationary oval and on several levels. The controlling computer then directs a collector column to a pill container which could be on one of several levels. The collector rides on four plastic lubrication-free bearings. Other companies provide the blister packaging equipment.