LABORATORY AUTOMATION

TEKMILL designed and built a robotics system to automate the capping, filling, and racking of sterile 50 mL centrifuge tubes for a Biotechnology client.

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50 ml centrifuge tube filling machine Project

TEKMILL designed and built a custom OEM device to automate the capping, filling, and handling of 50 mL centrifuge tubes for a Biotechnology client.

The client approached TEKMILL looking to implement Robotic Process Automation to their biotechnology manufacturing operation. They wanted a system with ease of use that could be operated by a single operator with minimal training. The goal of this project was to eliminate the need to pipette fluid into thousands of tubes each day. An automated method was needed to cap and decap the tubes, fill them with fluid, with high precision and accuracy, and place them in predefined tube racks. While other devices were available to cap and fill, none provided the ease-of-use and minimization of labor at this tube size and price point.

TEKMILL met with the client and visited their manufacturing operation to understand their needs in detail. Then, TEMILL Project Managers and Engineers developed concepts and a design direction that satisfied all their needs and requirements. Design reviews were regularly held to confirm that the detailed design deliverables such as CAD drawings, component selection, and capability were in line with those needs. After fabrication and assembly, TEKMILL performed in-depth verification trials to ensure the product met all design requirements. After verification was complete the machine was shipped to the client, installed by TEKMILL, and validated in the client’s manufacturing process.

The client received an automated system that could perform the task and exceed the throughput of multiple technicians who are highly skilled in pipetting. The system was compatible with all their current equipment and fit within the size constraints of an already constrained manufacturing space.

A specific requirement of the project was that an operator could pour tubes into the machine without any regard for their alignment. This meant devising a way to take a random bucket of tubes and serially deliver them to a specific point for the capping and de-capping operations. To rapidly deliver a prototype at low cost, TEKMILL engineers developed very early mock-ups to disprove many ideas until a reliable solution was found.

Capping and decapping the tubes was not a trivial task. Many factors and failure modes had to be accounted for and dealt with. This critical element to the client’s manufacturing process was iterated and improved upon over the course of the project. The final product was high throughput, reliable, and cost-effective system. This client went on to order 20+ additional machines for use throughout their global operation.

In conjunction with regular customer feedback throughout the project, TEKMILL met this complex challenge with a variety of tools:

  • Customer Requirement Definition
  • Engineering Specification Development
  • Electrical and Electronic Design
  • PLC coding
  • Mechanical Design and CAD Modeling
  • Machining, Welding, and Assembly
  • Verification and Validation
  • Maintained Constant Customer Feedback throughout the project
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