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Spring disentangling under cleanroom conditions

Spring disentangling under cleanroom conditions

Respimat is a soft mist inhaler, manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim and used to treat patients with respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Essential to the packaging of this medication is a small spring whose actuation releases the metered dose.

These inhalers are produced in their millions and the corresponding springs are naturally supplied in bulk. But thanks to the company’s recent investment in MAFU feeding devices, the springs are easily disentangled and separated for automated manufacture. The MAFU systems are extensively used throughout Europe and are now available in the UK from RARUK Automation. The main differentiators between MAFU technology and its competitors are the reliability of the disentangling process and the choice of feeding, separating and transfer elements that are available to enable the optimal combination to be specified. Indeed, the Boehringer systems provide a good example of how a bespoke solution can easily be created.

As well as high cycle times and a small footprint, Boehringer’s key criteria for its MAFU systems was ease of maintenance in cleanroom conditions and this was achieved through specific design features. At the heart of the MAFU disentangling system is its drum which, on the Boehringer machines, can be pulled back for cleaning and maintenance purposes. In the past, replacing worn stainless steel conveyors on other handling equipment introduced costly production delays for the company so to avoid excess downtime on its machines MAFU designed a special side cover and interface that allows conveyor belt disassembly and exchange within minutes. Additionally, the complete assembly, from hopper to conveyor, is covered with stainless steel panels for easy maintenance to clean room standards.

To start the disentangling process, bulk springs are manually inserted into the compartments on the conveyor belt for transportation. Before being loaded into the funnel of the disentangling device a blower is applied to separate the springs that are only loosely connected. A scraper roller then automatically steers the springs into the drum.  

A special hopper system has been designed specifically for clean room use and its high capacity allows autonomous and reliable feeding of springs into the drum.  To ensure a smooth infeed, double or hooked springs are recognised by a sensor and ejected from the belt into the drum. The drum itself is a sieve construction that allows debris to fall through the mesh into a collection drawer.  Boehringer can also apply a gentle blower at this stage to remove finer particles.

Four MAFU systems are now installed at the Boehringer production site, each achieving an output of 25 springs per minute. A significant advantage of MAFU technology is the ability for one disentangling system to work with multiple tracks so the customer can upscale output at any time.

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