Automated Tube Loader

Medical Technology & Diagnostics


Using an @Epson SCARA Robot, @Aylesbury Automation Bowl Feeder, @Keyence Vision and @SMC Pneumatics all overseen by our @Rockwell Control Gear we are loading Tubes with a lyophilized reagent sphere and a retaining clip. These are then processed in our sealing machine where they can be nitrogen dosed and induction sealed. Then going via our customer to Rapid COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Kits.

The ATL has been developed to assist in the automation of our customers process, currently completed by hand, using a standardised 70-part pallet. This module picks a retaining clip, reagent sphere, inspects both and inserts them into the tube. Sounds simple enough…

The real innovation of the ATL is the feeding and handling of the reagent sphere, super hygroscopic and incredibly delicate (imagine compressed talcum powder), the product requires very gentle handling. The hygroscopic nature of the product is overcome by working in a <10% dry room. The delicacy of the product could only be overcome with bespoke handling.

Relco UK developed a bowl feeder, using an Archimedean Spiral to move individual spheres to a central location. Here they are sensed using a fibre-optic sensor and the robot picks them using vacuum. The sphere is then moved to an inspection position where tests are undertaken at multiple angles, allowing the sphere to be measured in several 2D planes allowing measurements of diameter and area with analysis of shape to ensure that the sphere and retaining clip are correct.

These measurements have never been available for our customer before, it allows them to ensure that every reagent tube contains a clip and a reagent sphere of the correct volume guaranteeing the efficacy of their test. It also permits them to reduce the material content of the reagent sphere no longer needing to enforce reliability of the process by overusing reagents they can create more spheres from one powder batch and therefore more Rapid COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Kits.

Here at Relco we are always striving to incorporate emerging technologies alongside traditional approaches to enhance and support customer processes and making a measurable difference.