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Reece Armstrong looks at how medical manufacturing has reacted to Industry 4.0 and where the sector sees robots and automation having the most impact.

The factory of the future is a term that has been thrown around for a number of years now but what does it mean? We entered the fourth age of the industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – some time ago and manufacturers have explored the range of digital technologies that Industry 4.0 encompasses.

One of the biggest technologies used in industrial manufacturing is robotics. Europe represents the second largest market for industrial robot sales and in 2016 there was a 12% increase in the number of sales made using the technology.

Whilst it’s difficult to gauge the uptake of robotics within the medical manufacturing industry, figures do show that robot sales to the electronics industry, which includes medical devices, have risen significantly since 2013.

The reason for this? Robotics offer manufacturers a way to streamline production lines, helping to increase productivity and optimise workflows. Within medical manufacturing, robots are being used across the entire production line – from assembly to inspection and packaging. Due to the strict regulations device manufacturers are under pressure to reproduce the same product, under the same stringent conditions, with little downtime. To keep up with the pace of innovation, medical manufacturers must be able to change manufacturing lines when new products are needing to be developed. Robotics and automation offer manufacturers modular systems that promote efficiency and workflow. Motion control systems help production lines assemble and move medical devices in a flexible workspace; meanwhile control sensing and vision-guided systems can help manufacturers not only pick-and-place devices but ensure product safety by scanning and verifying barcodes.

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