Engel, Hack Formenbau Develop High-Volume System to Mold COVID-19 Test Swabs

COVID-19 will be with us for some time, and so will the need for test swabs. Injection molding equipment manufacturer Engel and its longtime collaborator, mold maker Hack Formenbau, have developed an integrated system that allows plastics processors to produce two-component test swabs in high volumes and with short lead times.

COVID-19 test swabs with Engel injection molding machine in background
The integrated test swab production cell includes an Engel victory injection molding machine and Engel viper linear robot.

The nasal and throat test swabs are composed of a rigid thermoplastic handle and thermoplastic elastomer tip to reduce patient discomfort. Hack Formenbau developed the two-component design, initially with three different tip designs.

"We adapt the handle length and shape, the design of the swab head, and the materials individually to suit customer requirements," said Gunnar Hack, CEO and owner of Hack Formenbau. The development objective is to combine high product quality with cost-efficient high-volume output. With a 32-cavity mold and six- to eight-second cycle times, processors can produce up to 320 test swabs per minute — 460,000 test swabs per day — with a single production unit, said Engel.

The production process is based on a tie-bar-less, hydraulic, two-component Engel victory injection molding machine and an integrated Engel viper linear robot that removes and deposits the swabs. The victory machine is equipped with iQ weight control for process consistency. The smart assistance system, part of Engel’s inject 4.0 program, detects fluctuations in the raw material and ambient conditions and automatically compensates for them shot by shot.

Engel and Hack Formenbau have collaborated on many projects through the years, with a focus on high-precision applications for medical technology. “Our customers benefit from this,” noted Christoph Lhota, Vice President, Engel Medical, in a prepared statement. "Our customers receive a complete system that is precisely tailored to their individual requirements and can get started with series production in the shortest possible time.”

The technology developed for the production of COVID-19 test swabs ultimately will lend itself to the development of efficient systems for the production of swabs for influenza tests or gynecological examinations, added Engel in the news release.

Earlier this year, Engel engineered injection molding machines that are compatible with a technology developed by another mold maker and partner, Haidlmair, for the production of re-usable face masks. Plastics processing companies around the world are using Haidlmair’s solution to mold the thermoplastic elastomer–based two-piece masks, according to Engel.

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