US 20050060962 A1
In the case of nested containers to be filled by a filling station, a gripping device picks up a row of empty containers and transfers it to a weighing station. Following weighing, the row of containers is simultaneously filled and subsequently re-weighed. The row of containers is then reinserted into the nest and sealed, without being refilled, which allows checking the operation of the filling station without wasting any of the product involved.
1. A device for the controlled filling of nested containers (13) arranged in parallel rows in a nest (12), where the device has a filling station (6) for simultaneously filling a row of containers (13), a sealing station (10) for sealing the containers (13), a weighing station (11) for weighing at least one container (13), and a gripping device for picking up a row of containers (13) to be filled, transferring it to the weighing station (11), transferring the row of weighed containers (13) from the weighing station (11) to the filling station (6), transferring the row of filled containers (13) to the weighing station (11), and transferring the row of reweighed containers (13) to the nest before the latter enters the sealing station (10).
2. A device according to
3. A device according to
4. A device according to
5. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the gripping device is configured such that it reinserts the row of containers (13) between the filling station (6) and the sealing station (10).
6. A device according to any of claims 1-4, wherein the gripping device is configured such that it reinserts the row of containers (13) into the nest (12) before the latter enters the filling station (6).
7. A device according to
8. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the sealing station (10) is arranged immediately following the filling station (6) and simultaneously seals the row of containers (13) that has just been filled.
9. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the weighing station (11) has at least one weighing cell (14) and the containers (13) are weighed one after the other, if necessary.
10. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the weighing station (11) has a row of weighing cells (14) and rows of containers (13) are simultaneously weighed.
11. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the gripping device has a multi-axis robot arm.
12. A device according to any of the foregoing claims, wherein the gripping device is configured such that it is capable of picking up a row of containers (13) from any of several positions, in particular, from any position, on the nest (12) and reinserting it at that position.
13. A method for the controlling the filling of nested containers (13) arranged in parallel rows in nests (12) comprising the following stages:
simultaneously filling the containers (13) of a row of a nest,
subsequently sealing the filled containers (13),
periodically picking up a row of containers (13) from the nest (12) and weighing the empty containers (13),
simultaneously filling the weighed containers (13) of that row,
reweighing the weighed and filled containers (13) of that row, and
reinserting the row of reweighed containers (13) into the nest (12).
14. A method according to
15. A method according to
16. A method according to any of claims 13-15, wherein nests (12) having several rows of containers (13) are cyclically advanced transverse to the axes of the rows.
17. A method according to any of claims 13-16, wherein the row of weighed containers (13) is reinserted at the position situated at the entrance to a filling station (6).
18. A method according to any of claims 13-17, wherein the positions of the weighed containers (13) are recorded.
The invention relates to a device and a method for the controlled filling of nested containers, in particular, nested containers employed in the pharmaceutical field.
To be construed as “containers” are vessels that to be filled with, for example, liquids, in particular, pharmaceuticals. Included thereunder are syringes, vials, capsules, etc. To be construed as “nested containers” are containers that have been arranged in a nest or magazine for further processing. Preferably involved are disposable syringes that have been nested and sterily packed in a box for further processing.
Filling stations must be checked for proper operation at regular intervals by measuring, or weighing, the content of a container. This type of checking is also termed “in-process control.” Such checking may take place at regular or irregular intervals, since it may be assumed that any changes in filling accuracy will occur gradually. However, every container may also be individually checked.
When filling individual containers, a known procedure is weighing containers prior to filling and reweighing them subsequent to filling. The reweighing must take place before containers are sealed, since the tolerances imposed on the weights of the plugs with which containers are sealed may be relatively large. This sort of checking will be adequate when filling individual containers, since it allows drawing conclusions regarding the operation of the filling station.
A device for weighing pharmaceutical containers, in particular, ampoules, is already known (cf. DE-U 29923418). However, in this case, the containers involved are conveyed sequentially, one after the other, using a rack conveyor, rather than nested. A gripper grips several containers and withdraws them sideward, from beneath the filling station. That sort of processing is impossible in the case of nested containers.
In the case of nested containers, however, several containers are filled simultaneously, in which case, weighing individual containers will not allow drawing any conclusions regarding whether a filling station is operating properly. Furthermore, in the pharmaceutical field, sealing containers as soon as possible after filling is either desirable or demanded by regulations.
To date, the standard practice for continuously monitoring the filling of nested containers has been manually withdrawing one or more filled containers and removing and measuring their contents, which requires considerable manual effort and yields only inaccurate results. Moreover, the products involved are wasted. If the products involved are pharmaceutical products, they might well be very expensive ones.
The problem addressed by the invention is creating a means for automatic in-process control of the filling of nested containers that will allow drawing conclusions regarding whether filling stations are operating properly.
In order to solve that problem, the invention proposes a device having those features stated under claim 1. The invention also proposes a method having those features stated in the claims. Elaborations thereon are covered by the respective dependent claims.
The invention thus proposes picking up an entire row of containers to be filled, weighing them while empty, conveying them to a filling station, having the row of containers filled there, and then reweighing the row of containers prior to sealing, which will allow checking all of the filling station's filling needles. Any changes in fill quantity or malfunctioning of individual filling needles may be detected and recorded.
Within nests, containers are arranged in rows, several of which are arranged one behind the other. One approach to filling individual rows in sequence would be cycling advancing the filling station such that it may fill the rows, one after the other. However, in elaborating on the invention, an even better approach would be conveying the nests, complete with the containers, controlled by a controller that determines the incremental advance and the cycle times. In particular, the controller might also be utilized for recording the monitoring results obtained for each and every container that has been picked up and weighed, in addition to recording the results obtained for entire rows.
As mentioned above, in monitoring the filling of individual containers, although, in principle, the filling of every container may be individually monitored, it will normally be sufficient that monitoring thereof take place at more or less extended intervals. The choice of these intervals might also be handled by the controller. Weighing could also take place at random.
According to the invention, it may be provided that the gripping device be configured such that it reinserts the row of containers between the filling station and the sealing station. This represents one means for precluding that containers that have already been filled will be refilled, since another of the aims of the invention is that weighed containers be returned for further processing in order that no product will be wasted.
However, it will also be feasible, and is proposed by the invention, that the gripping device be configured such that it reinserts rows of containers into the nest before the latter enters the filling station. That means that the nest is not advanced during monitoring procedures, in which case, other measures may be instituted in order to provide that containers will not be refilled, which may be handled by a monitoring device on the filling station that checks each and every container in order to determine whether it is empty. However, since the position of the checked row is recorded by the controller, the controller may interrupt the operation of the filling station at this particular cycle as well.
This manner of returning the row of checked containers to the nest has the advantage that the sealing station may be arranged immediately following the filling station in order that the requirement that filled containers will be immediately sealed in all cases where no checking has taken place will be met.
Although the containers of a row thereof that have been filled in a single operation may be individually sealed, the invention proposes that, in elaborating thereon, the sealing station also seal an entire row of containers at a time.
During the weighing of containers, when there will be an interruption of operations anyhow, it may be provided that the weighing station weighs individual containers. The weighing station may have at least one weighing cell that is configured such that the gripping device is capable of setting a single container thereon for that purpose. The gripping device would then release the container during the actual weighing procedure. Several weighing cells could also be present in order that several containers could be weighed simultaneously. Of course, it would be best if the number of weighing cells were equal to the total number of containers in a row in order that they could all be simultaneously weighed.
According to the invention, it may be provided that the gripping device has a multi-axis robot arm capable of executing all of the motions required, which would also allow installing a monitoring device on an existing filling device in the manner described.
The controller could control the robot arm such that it would be able to pick up a row of containers to be checked from any position on the nest, or from a certain position on the nest only.
The method proposed by the invention proceeds such that a row of containers residing on a nest is simultaneously filled and subsequently sealed. A row of empty containers is picked up from the nest at certain regular, or irregular, time intervals and weighed prior to filling. The row of containers is then simultaneously filled and reweighed. Following reweighing, the row is reinserted into the nest and then sealed. The results of these weighings are recorded by a controller and analyzed.
According to the invention, in elaborating thereon, an entire row of containers may be simultaneously sealed and/or simultaneously weighed.
Nests having several rows of containers are preferably cyclically advanced, where, in particular, the row of weighed containers is reinserted at the position thereon that is situated at the entrance to a filling station.
Other features, details, and benefits of the invention will be evident from the claims and the abstract, whose wording is herewith made part of the contents of this description by way of reference thereto, the following description of a preferred embodiment of the invention, and the figures, where the figures depict:
In the case of nested containers, entire nests are fed in for processing, one at a time. The nests have a variable packing density, where their packing density depends upon the type of containers involved. Both the total number of rows and the total number of containers per row may be variable. Containers residing on a nest are usually processed row by row, where a row may be processed during a single cycle or during several cycles. The important thing in the pharmaceutical industry is that a row of containers that has just been filled be immediately sealed, i.e., sealed during the next cycle, whenever feasible.
The nests are fed in for processing on a special conveyor system. Individual containers residing on nests will have already been laid out in the arrangement in which they will subsequently be conveyed and will thus have very high packing densities in order to save space, where their high packing densities are retained throughout the entire course of processing. An attempt to illustrate this has been made in
A filling station 6 having a row of filling needles 7 arranged on a holder 8 is situated above the holder 1. Every filling needle 7, only two of which have, for simplicity, been shown in
A sealing station 10, represented by a single bar in
As shown in
We now turn to considering
The nest 12 is cradled on the plate 2 shown in
The holder 1 is then cyclically advanced by a drive, which has been mentioned above but has not been shown, where its advance will invariably be interrupted whenever a row of containers 13 is arranged immediately beneath the filling station 6. The filling needles 7 on the filling station 6 are then lowered and the containers 13 filled. The holder 1 is subsequently advanced one cycle, where the aforementioned excursion orthogonal to the plane of the paper simultaneously occurs. Shortly after filling, the containers are sealed by inserting a plug using the sealing station 10.
The free ends of the containers 13 are exposed and protrude from the underside of the holder plate 2. In order that a gripper may now grasp the containers 13, a bar 18 that may be raised and lowered and will be raised whenever a row of containers 13 is to be removed from the plate 2 is arranged beneath the holder plate 2. The containers 13 will then protrude from the upper ends of the cylindrical collars 16. A gripper, which has not been shown, may then grasp the walls of the containers using a suction device or a mechanical gripping device and subsequently lift the entire row of containers 13 out of the holder. This gripper then brings the containers 13 to the weighing cells 14 on the weighing station and releases them there. They are then weighed. The gripper then grasps the containers 13 once again and holds them beneath the filling needles 7 on the filling station 6. The containers 13 of this row are then simultaneously filled. The gripper subsequently returns the containers 13 of this row to the weighing cells 14, releases them, and picks them up again after they have been reweighed. It then returns them to exactly the same row of cylindrical collars 16 or holes 5 from which it picked them up. The holder 1 remains stationary during these procedures and is not advanced. If the row of containers 13 that has just been weighed and filled should come under the filling station, the latter will be controlled by the controller such that no liquid will flow during that cycle. As soon as this row has been advanced further, it will be treated in the same manner as a normal row of containers, i.e., will be sealed using plugs when it reaches the sealing station.