Although it has only been actively pursuing partnerships with medical device manufacturers for about four years, systems integrator and developer of automated assembly and test systems Evana Automation Specialists (Evansville, IN) already has its share of success stories. The most recent one involves the design and installation of a robotic material-handling system for a prominent medical device manufacturer. The system transports a wire-shaping fixture to heat furnaces, a cooling quench and the final assembly line. The automated assembly of a three-piece plastic part also is part of that project.
Safety was an obvious consideration in automating the material-handling process, says Evana. It begins with wire-tying operators loading the wire-shaping fixtures into nests that hold multiple fixtures. The robot grips the nest and loads it into one of several furnaces. Following heat treatment, the part is transported by the robot from the furnace to a cooling quench. Part sensors ensure that all fixtures are present before and after heat treatment. Following quenching, the part is moved to a conveyor that feeds the fixtures to an operator. From there, the nest and fixtures are returned to the wrapping operators on a flat belt conveyor for final assembly.
The other element of the project involves the assembly of a three-piece plastic component: a base, rubber O ring and screw-on part, explains General Manager Randy Wire. Efficiency, rather than safety, was the driver in this application.
Evana has been designing, building and integrating automated assembly and test systems for more than 50 years. During that time, it has served a number of sectors, but its deep experience with the automotive industry has been advantageous in positioning it as an effective partner in medical device manufacturing, where customer demands in terms of quality systems and compliance can be challenging.
"Over the years, we have seen qualifications get more stringent in the automotive sector, and that has prepared us well for the healthcare market," Wire told PlasticsToday. "Most of the qualification requirements fall on our customers," adds Wire, "but we have to demonstrate that we understand the need and can help them to achieve compliance," says Wire.
In addition, the company's experience with lean manufacturing concepts in the automotive industry has transferred well to developing automation design concepts for medical manufacturers. As the medtech industry focuses on accelerating time to market and increasing cost effectiveness, assembly automation and systems integration are becoming increasingly attractive tools.
Like many advanced manufacturing companies, Evana saw an opportunity to diversify its customer base by offering its services to the $380-billion global medtech market. "In fact, we hired a business development director specifically to help us penetrate the medical market," says Wire.
The strategy seems to be working. The aforementioned material handling and part assembly applications are among several projects that Evana has in the pipeline for that medical device manufacturer.
Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.