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International Journal of Institutional Pharmacy and Life Sciences 1(1): July-August 2011


Pharmaceutical Sciences Review Article……!!!

Received; accepted


Mahaveer Prasad Kabra*, Dileep Kabra, Gourav Somani

Department of Pharmacology, Rajgad Dnyanpeeth’s College of Pharmacy, Bhor, Dist. Pune,
Maharashtra, Pin – 412 206.


Robotics is the science and technology of robots, and their design,
Robotics, Pharmaceutical manufacture, and application. Roboticists also study electronics,

mechanics and software. The first ABB robot, for instance, was
Applications, Controller installed in 1974 in the automotive field. Since then, more than

Software 150000 have been installed globally including a large proportion in
the pharmaceutical field. In the world of pharmaceuticals, there is a

For Correspondence: vital role for robotics to play in the complicated processes of
research and development, production, and packaging. Justification

Mahaveer Prasad Kabra for robots ranges from improved worker safety to improved
quality. Speeding up the drug discovery process is another benefit

Rajgad Dnyanpeeth’s of robotics. A number of robot manufacturers have products
College of Pharmacy, Bhor, specifically designed for this industry. Industrial robotics for

pharmaceutical applications has a bright future. With a rapidly
Dist. Pune,

aging population that urgently requires sophisticated medical
Maharashtra,Pin412 206 devices and newer drugs, robotics systems are increasingly adopted

for improved productivity and efficiency to meet this growing
E-mail: demand. However, industrial robotics manufacturers face several

[email protected] challenges in their effort to establish themselves in pharmaceutical
applications. Key among these is the incompatibility of their
controller software with existing installed equipment.

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What is Robot

A robot is a mechanical or virtual artificial agent. In practice, it is usually an electro-

mechanical system which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent

or agency of its own. The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software

agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots. There is no consensus on which machines

qualify as robots, but there is general agreement among experts and the public that robots

tend to do some or all of the following: move around, operate a mechanical arm, sense and

manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior, especially behavior which

mimics humans or animals.

The International Organization for Standardization gives a definition of robot in ISO 8373:

“an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose, manipulator programmable in

three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial

automation applications.”

The Robotics Institute of America defines a robot as Re-programmable multi-functional

manipulator designed to move materials, parts, tools, or specialized devices through variable

programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks 1, 2.

Three Laws of Robotics

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to

come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders

would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict

with the First or Second Law.

How Robots Entered in Pharmaceutical Industry

Robots first became commercially viable in the early 1970, and were principally deployed in

rugged and repetitive duties such as welding and handling in automotive manufacturing lines.

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The first ABB robot, for instance, was installed in 1974 in the automotive field. Since then,

more than 150000 have been installed globally including a large proportion in the

pharmaceutical field. Many of these early clinical robots were little more than programmable

liquid handlers that provided a mechanical arm for high-throughput screening (HTS) systems,

where the arm moved samples from one instrument to another. The industry was slow to

adopt robots into manufacturing and packaging processes. One reason for this was,

undoubtedly, the industrial nature of robots. Large, apparently oily, machines associated with

metal manufacturing processes hardly seemed right for pharmaceuticals.

The Generations and Categorization of Pharmaceutical Robots

The typically squat, one -armed, occasionally mobile First-generation robot originate in the

1960s.Usually, it was single purpose and was used in such occupation as welding, painting,

and machining. Today such robots are in a wide use, having matriculated through the early

stages of laboratory development and technical, feasibility to economic feasibility in early

1980s.Second generations of adaptive, sensor based robots, at a laboratory stage in the 1970s

are just arriving at the stage of technical feasibility. These are diverse robots with some

intelligence, but still largely single function. Like first generation robots they are used

primarily in manufacturing.

A Third generation of robots is needed to work outside the factory. The industrial robots

employed in manufacturing operate in highly structured environments. Often the

manufacturing environment is altered to accommodate them. Altering to any great extent the

environments that service robots will be called upon to operate in (e.g. undersea and

construction environments, space mines, nuclear power plants, hospitals, offices, homes) is



1. How is the product oriented on the robot in feed device?

2. What external sensors enable the robot to perform?

3. What external signals must the robot receive, interpret, and act upon?

4. What external signals must the robot send to other portions of the plant and to computers?

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5. What are the line speeds, package sizes, weights, and stacking or placing patterns?

6. What safety barriers will be installed?

7. How many lines are feeding the robot?

8. What robot tooling is required?

9. Does the robot have the capacity for the application3?


In the world of pharmaceuticals, there is a vital role for robotics to play in the complicated

processes of research and development, production, and packaging. Justification for robots

ranges from improved worker safety to improved quality. Speeding up the drug discovery

process is another benefit of robotics. A number of robot manufacturers have products

specifically designed for this industry4.

Research and Development (R&D)

Robots now also play an essential role in the development of new drugs. In high throughput

screening (H.T.S.) for instance, millions of compounds are tested to determine which could

become new drugs. There is a need for the use of robotics to test these millions of compounds.

The use of robotics can speed this process up significantly, just as they can any other process

where a robot replaces a person completing any repetitive task.

Laboratory Robotics

This new technology allows human talents to be concentrated on sample selection and

submittal, and scrutiny of the resulting data, rather than monotous tasks that lead to boredom

and mistakes. The desired results of this automation are of course better data and reduced

costs. Using laboratory robotics, new experimental procedures are eliminating human tedium

and miscalculation in washing and transferring. This includes experiments in radioactive,

fluorescent, and luminescent analysis Laboratory robotics is being increasingly applied in

pharmaceutical development to help meet the needs of increasing productivity, decreasing

drug development time and reducing costs. Three of the most common geometries for

laboratory robots are: Cartesian (three mutually perpendicular axes); cylindrical (parallel

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action arm pivoted about a central point); and anthropomorphic (multijointed, human-like


Control Systems

Most robots have onboard controllers that communicate with other machines’

programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or with personal computers (PCs) networked to the

line. Robot controller is an industrial VME bus controller that connects to PCs for networking

and for graphical user interfaces.

Vision Systems

A vision system provides a valuable tool for determining the accuracy of text and graphics in

pharmaceutical and medical packaging. The chief benefit offered by adding a robot to the

vision system is speed. It inspect insert in less than two minutes. The same inspection

performed by one operator and checked by a second operator could take from 30 minutes to

an hour.

Sterilization and Clean Rooms

Robotics can be adapted to work in aseptic environments. Clean room robots have features

that protect the sterile environment from potential contamination. These features include low-

flake coatings on the robotic arm, stainless steel fasteners, special seal materials, and

enclosed cables. Clean room robots reduce costs by automating the inspection, picking and

placing, or loading and unloading of process tools. Benefits of robot use in the clean room


 Robots reduce scrap by minimizing mishandled or dropped parts.

 Robots minimize scrap caused by contamination.

 Robots reduce the use of clean room consumables such as bunny suits.

 Robots reduce the amount of costly clean room space by eliminating aisles and access

ways typically required for human clean room workers. Robots can also be enclosed

in mini environments. This permits relaxed cleanliness throughout the remainder of

the plant.

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 Training costs and clean room protocol enforcement are minimized 5, 6.

Flexible Feeding

Robots are also better than hard automation at flexible feeding, a task that involves handling

multiple types of products or packages whose orientation always varies. Traditionally,

packaging lines have used high-speed, automated bowl feeders that vibrate parts and feed

them to fillers, labelers, or product-transfer mechanisms. Bowl feeders, however, can’t always

handle a variety of products at once, and their vibration can damage fragile parts.

Packaging Operations:

Packaging processes, like other pharmaceutical operations, benefit from the speed and

repeatability that automation brings. Robotics in particular provides flexibility and accuracy.

In some packaging applications such as carton loading, robotics also performs more

efficiently than dedicated machines. Pharmaceutical packaging machines are often custom-

designed to handle specific product configurations such as vials.

Advantages over Traditional Automatic Packaging Machines

In contrast to packaging machines that automatically stop if too much product accumulates at

the discharge, robotic loaders and unloaders meet or exceed the in feed and discharge rates

that packaging machines require. This ability allows the robot to keep the packaging process

running at full production capacity.

Advantages of Robotic Automation of Packaging

Speed – Robots work efficiently, without wasting movement or time. Without breaks or

hesitation, robots are able to alter productivity by increasing throughput.

Flexibility – Packaging applications can vary. Robots are easily reprogrammed. Changes in

their end of arm tooling (EOAT) developments and vision technology have expanded the

application-specific abilities of packaging robots.

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Savings – Automated packaging minimizes costs across the board. Not only is output

increased, but robots are tireless. There are no labor expenses with robot packaging – no

vacation or insurance costs to pay14, 17.

Liquid Handling

Innovative liquid handling of flexible pipetting platforms brings improved efficiency, safety

and throughput to laboratories around the world. It includes scalable sample storage and

retrieval systems with unique sample tube technology, cutting-edge detection instruments,

micro plate washers and micro array products.

Robotic Automation of HPLC Laboratories

High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is a technique commonly employed in a

variety of laboratories. Because of its inherent flexibility, HPLC is suited to a wider range of

analytical separation problems than any other single analytical method HPLC has been a

major analytical technique in the pharmaceutical industry, in clinical laboratories and in

commercial environmental laboratories. Through the use of interchangeable hardware and an

endless variety of separation media, almost any type of chromatographic separation is

possible, Although HPLC is capable of rapidly separating many different substances with

resolution, its suffers from being a labor intensive technique.

Grinding Applications

Manual grinding is tough, dirty, and noisy work. The metal dust produced by grinding is

harmful to a worker’s eyes and lungs. Grinding robots save manufacturing employees from

having to endure hazardous work environments.

Sterile Syringe Filling

Stericlean, the result of a three-way collaboration between robotics specialist Staubli, factory

automation firm ATS and pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis, was introduced at

Interphex with the claim that it is the only robot arm on the market that can be used in barrier

isolation systems. Stericlean has replaced manual processes and given us a significant

increase in productivity.

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Biopharma and Diagnostic Applications

It provides standardized solutions that offer high throughput and ensure reproducible,

accurate results in areas such as genomics, cells and proton sciences and forensics. It covers

an extensive portfolio of biopharma applications, supplying pharmaceutical laboratories with

automated solutions for cell culture, nucleic acid extraction, normalization, genotyping,

protein purification and analysis, hit-picking, ADME screening, PCR applications and protein



Cylindrical Robot for High Throughput Screening:

ST Robotics presents a new 4-axis cylindrical robot for DNA screening in applications such

as forensic science, drug development, bacterial resistance, and toxicology. The R19 is a

totally new design that may be supplied as a precise 4-axis robot, or as a simple 2-axis plate

mover. It is usually mounted on a track, which can be up to five meters long, surrounded by

various laboratory instruments. The robot moves samples from instrument to instrument

according to a protocol decided by the user. Advanced drives create swift and smooth motion

while maintaining quiet operation in the lab environment. Like all Sands Technology robots,

the new R19 is a totally reliable workhorse, tested to ISO 9000 quality assurance 3, 18, 19.

The KUKA KR 1000 Titan:

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The KUKA KR 1000 Titan is the company’s latest product and with its heavy weight

capabilities has earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The KR 1000 Titan is the

world’s first industrial robot that can lift a payload of 1000 kilograms with a reach of 4000

mm and will be handling a Chrysler Jeep body. The Titan is ideally suited to handle heavy,

large or bulky work pieces. The heavyweight champion was developed for sectors such as the

building materials, automotive and foundry industries3, 20.

Food/Pharmaceutical Handling System with M-430iA Robot Arms and Visual

Tracking, FANUC Ltd.:


M-430i A robot arms and visual tracking, FANUC Ltd.

This robotic food and pharmaceutical handling system features a visual tracking system and a

pair of multi-axis robot arms that each can accurately pick up 120 items per minute as they

move along a conveyor belt. The arms can work non-stop 24 hours a day, are resistant to acid

and alkaline cleaners, and feature wrists with plastic parts that eliminate the need for grease.

The sanitary design provides the cleanliness required of machines tasked with handling food

and medicine. With a proven record of success in reducing manufacturing costs and

improving quality, about 150 systems have been sold to manufacturers worldwide since

October 20063,13, 21.

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Pharmaceutical Container Replacement Robot:



Tsumura & Co. Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd.

This autonomous robot is capable of navigating tight spaces at factories for the purpose of

transporting containers used in the pharmaceutical manufacturing process. The robot can

automatically connect itself to large containers (or cases packed with products) weighing up

to 200 kilograms (440 lbs) for transport. The robot only needs to be charged once per day, it

can be freely programmed and customized to suit the manufacturing process, and it is safe

and easy to use on existing production lines. Three robots are now working on production

lines at a pharmaceutical factory, where they have reportedly boosted productivity by 30%3,


A pair of robots to recognize and handle small containers, etc. on a conveyer using

visual tracking and arm control capabilities, FANUC Ltd’s:

FANUC Ltd’s technology that allows a pair of robots to recognize and handle small

containers, etc on a conveyer using visual tracking and arm control capabilities won the

METI Minister Award (Grand Prize), which is granted to a technology that wins the highest

appreciation from juries. This technology primarily targets applications at manufacturing

facilities of food and medical equipment3, 22.

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Metal Detector Targets Pharmaceutical Industry:

Incorporating Quadra Coila system, Goring Kerr DSP Rx screens pills and capsules at out

feed of tablet presses and capsule filling machines. It offers adjustable in feed heights from

760-960 mm and angular adjustments of 20-40°. System features open-frame design and

polished, stainless steel finish. For maximum hygiene, pneumatics and cables are contained

within unit stand. Mounting bars have round profiles to remove risk of debris and bacteria

traps 3, 12, 23.

QuadraCoila system, Goring Kerr DSP Rx

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Labeling System targets Pharmaceutical Industry:

Pharmaceutical Grade Labeling System

Featuring stainless steel construction, Pharmaceutical Grade Labeling System can label

variety of oval plastic and glass containers from 75-450 ml at speeds up to 450 ppm. It

includes sanitary style conveyor, bar code scanner, eject station with eject verification, and

Video Jet laser imprinter for date and lot number on each label. Options include Vision

System by Systec, Allen Bradley PLC control, color touch screen operator interface, and full

validation package3, 23.

Six-Axis Robots suit Class 1 Clean Room Applications:

Running on Smart Controller(TM) CX controls and software platform, Adept

Viper(TM) s650 and Adept Viper(TM) s850 bring precision motion and 6-axis dexterity to

clean room assembly, handling, testing, and packaging applications. With integrated vision

and embedded networking, robots target customers in solar, disk drive, LCD, semiconductor,

and life sciences markets3, 23.

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Smart Controller(TM)

Space Saving Ceiling Mounted Robot:

Adept Technology has introduced a ceiling-mounted version of its s800 series Cobra robot.

The inverted robot offers high-speed packaging and assembly with a wider reach, while

leaving a much clearer working area. The new robot offers several advantages over its

predecessor, which is floor-mounted and traditionally sits beside the conveyor belt or packing

line. While the Cobra s800 Inverted Robot has a reach of 800mm, the same as the previous

floor-mounted model, being mounted on the ceiling above the conveyor effectively doubles

this reach. The machinery can also be supplied with a vision system of up to four cameras,

which identify the position of products on the conveyor belt and link back to the robot so it

can accurately pick up and orientate the product for assembly or packaging 11, 19.


Advantages of Industrial Robots:

1. Tirelessness: A robot can perform a 96 man-hour project in 10 hours with more

consistency and higher quality results.

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2. Return on investment (ROI): There is quick turn-around with ROI. Plus, with the

increase in quality and application speed, there are the benefits of increased production


3. Accuracy: Robotic systems are more accurate and consistent than their human


4. Reliability: Robots can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week without stopping or


5. Affordability: With the advancements in technology and affordable robotics becoming

available at less cost, more pick and place robotic cells are being installed for

automation applications18.

6. Quality: Robots have the capacity to dramatically improve product quality.

Applications are performed with precision and high repeatability every time. This level

of consistency can be hard to achieve any other way.

7. Production: With robots, throughput speeds increase, which directly impacts

production. Because robots have the ability to work at a constant speed without pausing

for breaks, sleep, vacations, they have the potential to produce more than a human


8. Safety: Robots increase workplace safety. Workers are moved to supervisory roles, so

they no longer have to perform dangerous applications in hazardous settings.

9. Savings: Greater worker safety leads to financial savings. There are fewer healthcare

and insurance concerns for employers. Robots also offer untiring performance which

saves valuable time. Their movements are always exact, so less material is wasted16.

10. Speed: Robots work efficiently, without wasting movement or time. Without breaks or

hesitation, robots are able to alter productivity by increasing throughput.

11. Flexibility: Packaging applications can vary. Robots are easily reprogrammed. Changes

in their End of Arm Tooling (EOAT) developments and vision technology have

expanded the application-specific abilities of packaging robots.

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12. Redeployment: The flexibility of robots is usually measured by their ability to handle

multiple product changes over time, but they can also handle changes in product life


13. Smaller is Better: The expenses of biological assays are high and getting higher.

Robotics gives researchers the advantage of using tiny quantities of assays and to keep

samples safe when moving them within the laboratory.

14. Reduced chances of contamination: Removing people from the screening process

reduces the potential for contamination and the potential for dropped samples when

handling them in laboratories. Robotics performs these tasks much faster with more

precision and accuracy6, 24.

15. Cost: Paybacks for the purchase of robotic equipment in the pharmaceutical industry,

given the fairly high hourly labor rates paid to employees, number of production shifts,

and the low cost of capital. A typical robot installation, complete with accessories,

safety barriers, conveyors, and labor, could cost around $200,000. If that robot were to

replace four manual workers each earning approximately $30,000 per year, the robot

would be paid for through salary savings alone in a little more than a year and a half

16. Increase Efficiency: Robotics can increase efficiency, which means the price of the

drug itself will become more competitive. When it comes to pharmaceutical production,

people are not as efficient as robots, especially when they are wearing a protective suit.

People in protective suits also require more room to work in.

17. Can work continuously in any environment: Another advantage in the laboratory is

that robots are impervious to many environments that would not be safe for humans. A

robot can operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without a dip in accuracy.

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Disadvantages of Industrial Robots:

1. Dangers and fears:

Although current robots are not believed to have developed to the stage where they

pose any threat or danger to society, fears and concerns about robots have been repeatedly

expressed in a wide range of books and films. The principal theme is the robots’ intelligence

and ability to act could exceed that of humans, that they could develop a conscience and a

motivation to take over or destroy the human race.

2. Expense: The initial investment of robots is significant, especially when business owners

are limiting their purchases to new robotic equipment. The cost of automation should be

calculated in light of a business’ greater financial budget. Regular maintenance needs can

have a financial toll as well.

3. Return on investment (ROI): Incorporating industrial robots does not guarantee results.

Without planning, companies can have difficulty achieving their goals.

4. Expertise: Employees will require training in programming and interacting with the new

robotic equipment. This normally takes time and financial output.

5. Safety: Robots may protect workers from some hazards, but in the meantime, their very

presence can create other safety problems. These new dangers must be taken into



Industrial robotics for pharmaceutical applications has a bright future. With a rapidly aging

population that urgently requires sophisticated medical devices and newer drugs, robotics

systems are increasingly adopted for improved productivity and efficiency to meet this

growing demand. As technology improves, more features are likely to be added to robotics

systems, not only for delivery, but also for testing and analyzing the samples. This will

enhance the efficiency of the robots, and in turn, boost the throughput of the laboratories25.

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Robotics has been present in the pharmaceutical industry for more than two decades. Once

confined to clinical laboratories, the machines have found their way into the packaging

processes and will continue to find new applications throughout the manufacturing arena. The

future is always hard to predict, but it will be determined by technological developments,

commercial factors and by changes within the pharmaceutical industry. What is certain is that

robotic automation will continue to spread within the sector. Such are the commercial and

financial pressures globally that, within a relatively short time, those who have failed to

invest will struggle to compete5.

However, industrial robotics manufacturers face several challenges in their effort to establish

themselves in pharmaceutical applications. Key among these is the incompatibility of their

controller software with existing installed equipment. In most cases, this proprietary software

is not upgraded frequently to meet the changing application requirements.

Since it is hardly feasible for end users to replace existing equipment to interface with

robotics systems, manufacturers need to find a way to address this problem. The introduction

of open architecture controllers expects to go a long way in reducing the impact of this






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14. Lachman, L., Lieberman, H.A. and Kanig, J.L., In; The Theory and Practice of
Pharmacy, 3rd edition, Varghese Publishing House, Bombay, 1991,660.


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