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Robotic arms glide through the air with expert precision. With pinpoint accuracy, their strong metallic hands pick up glass bottles filled with varying volumes of ultra-pure chemicals, before carefully placing them into boxes. Fully labeled and safely stacked on pallets, millions of bottles per year journey on to research institutes, analytics companies, and industrial customers.
Using several globally unique filling machines and robot packaging units, thousands of Supelco® bottles are filled and handled daily at Merck.
To ensure the smooth filling and handling process of the Supelco® liquid chemical portfolio at the liquid handling center, both the plant management team and over 100 well-trained employees are on-hand. The liquid handling center is responsible for Supelco® solvents such as acetonitrile or methanol, bases, and specialties.
The team’s main concerns with respect to filling are quality and safety. All but a few of the liquids are either poisonous, corrosive, or combustible – sometimes all of the above! However, the team also values efficiency and maintaining flexibility, to ensure special client requests are quickly fulfilled.
Although the day-to-day operation of fully automated filling and packaging lines may appear simple, full automation is actually the result of years of human concept development, approval procedure, and implementation. To prevent collisions and to ensure quick but smooth, precise movement, the technical implementation of robotics demands patience and specific professional expertise. The precise movements of the robots require dimensionally stable packing materials like molded pulp fiber parts. They ensure that the high-tech Supelco® products can be delivered worldwide in quality and safety.
Human intervention is still necessary after automation, too: engineers and technicians have to service the robots regularly; the machines must be cleaned and line clearance carried out; specialized operators perform product and bottle form changes. These forms range from glass to plastic bottles, with volumes of half a liter up to five liters. Operators also ensure a steady supply of bottles, labels, boxes, and documentation. Only with human input can the filling machines and robots achieve peak performance.
Robots can’t self-correct unexpected problems such as error indicator signal issues, or breakages either, even with comprehensive surveillance and programming. In these cases, only the human hand of a specially trained operator can restore smooth operation. Quality control has top priority in operation, and new sampling or test plans are developed with a focus on reliability.
Despite an extremely low error rate, the plant management team is always looking for perfection driven by continual improvement: they consider sticking to routine an obstacle to progress. They aim for assured quality, flexibility, and increased availability every single day to meet the high Supelco® standard – humans and robots hand in hand.