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20,000 motions a day and still fit as a fiddle

Preassembled energy supply systems are used in the automated handling of medicines.

Functionally reliable, durable, quiet, low abrasion, space-saving: These are the requirements for the energy chains used in the automatic medicine-picking systems of the company Mach4 Automatisierungstechnik GmbH. Whether at the chemist's, hospital or nursing home - the modular systems for rapid storage and retrieval can be adapted to virtually any space on site. Fully assembled energy supply systems of the igus® GmbH ensure the required operational reliability.

Currently, there are nearly 21,000 chemist's shops in Germany. Demographic change also makes itself felt here. Their number is expected to level off in the next few years at about 17,000 to 18,000. The individual chemist's shop has to accomplish more in the available space. In addition, the population is getting older. In this context the subject of automation plays an important role, as installation and storage spaces vary widely. The systems for medicine handling must be compact on one hand, and must have a modular design on the other in order to enable an easy extension and safe supply. "For over 15 years we have been the world's leading providers of automatic drug logistics and have more than 1,300 systems in operation, of which 400 are in Germany," explains Gregor Malajka, Managing Director of the Mach4 Automatisierungstechnik GmbH, Bochum. "With our customised picking systems, the chemist's shops can ensure a decisive competitive advantage. “
Established in 1997, there are 100 employees working today at the headquarters in Bochum. Specialist engineers, electronic engineers, programmers and technicians develop, design, manufacture and install the systems. Besides the German headquarters, there are ten branches operating worldwide. Its own dealer network and international sales partners complement the range of products. "We see ourselves as partners of our customers and cover the entire logistics process from the small-town chemist to the university clinic," says Malajka. Our hotline is staffed 365 days all the 24 hours. In this way, we ensure a smooth service and quick response time in case of faults any time anywhere in the world. " Almost every system is connected with the headquarters via the Internet, so that the majority of troubleshooting takes place via remote maintenance.

System solutions in focus

The efficient energy supply systems and cables from the standard range of igus® GmbH, Cologne, are used in the systems from the onset. The various energy chains of the E2/000 series are swivelable inside and outside and are distinguished by an easy and versatile mounting. "For economic and technical reasons, we have exclusively selected standard products from igus," clarifies the Managing Director. "In this way, the necessary changes can easily be done, for example, with plant expansions. " We usually use between two and five fully assembled igus® energy chain systems, the so called 'readychains®', which combine ruggedness and abrasion resistance and run with low noise and low vibration. Moreover, due to small bending radii they can be mounted in little space. It is very important to be able to use space ideally in medicine storage systems. Due to a very small pitch of the chain links and the reduced polygon effect resulting from it, there is almost no vibration and shocks. As a result, customers in chemist's shops notice almost nothing of the order picking, the medicine appearing as if by magic.

20,000 drug picking trips daily

Since igus® offers from a single source all elements of the energy chain and the 'chainflex®' cables (optimised for the chain) under the name 'readychain®', the Cologne-based company can guarantee the maximum service life. For some years the fully assembled energy supply systems have been proving their performance capability in the picking systems of Mach4. They contribute to the good technical specifications of the systems and at the same time minimise installation costs. "We rely here basically on our own installers," explains Malajka. "They know the product and the processes and thus ensure the necessary operational reliability. igus® can guarantee this. It has established a 2,750 m2 test lab at its factory in Cologne, Germany. Here, its products are tested from top to bottom, inside and out and around the clock. Based on the 10,000 tests with bending radii up to 3 x d, the service life of the cables and chains can be calculated reliably. In Mach4, the functionally reliable servo, bus, control and pneumatic cables from the chainflex® range guarantee the required performance data for the fast picking of the medicine packs. Depending on the length of the travel, which can be up to 17 m, the speed goes up to 4 m/s at an acceleration of 2.5 m/s2. In a classic chemist's shop, the daily storage and retrieval processes amount to around 300, which in hospitals can increase to 20,000 trips. The storage capacities of the individual systems amount to 9,000 to 60,000 packs. Depending on the assembly of the individual system, the storage can amount to between 150 and 1200 packages, and the retrieval to 300 to 8,700 packages per hour.

Mach4 and igus

From left: The Managing Director Gregor Malajka and Dirk Beils (Mach4), Michael Blass (igus®)

The gripper of Mach4 with a medicine package.

The gripper of Mach4 with a medicine package.

Ready assembled energy chain from igus  
Ready assembled energy chain from igus  
Picking system with fully assembled energy supply

In the picking systems, up to five ready assembled energy supply systems from igus® are installed.

Calculated online and delivered within 24 hours

The supplier of components and the medium-sized mechanical engineering company work closely together. A few years ago, for example, an order-picking system was constructed, which can drive around a 90° corner. "The solution was found quickly," recalls the CEO. "While in the standard automatic machines the chain lies on the floor, it is upright in the cam-controlled automatic machines and ensures a secure energy supply for the various control and drive units. " In addition, the delivery capacity must be right. "The delivery of a system has never been delayed because of bottlenecks," confirms Malajka. This aspect is very important for igus, and in this way the service life calculation for all products can be done and ordered online and shipped from 24 hours.
However, Mach4 also works closely with its customers. On the green meadow in Steinbach in Taunus, the Central Apotheke (chemist's) has emerged with a large storage area and an attached wholesale trade. There are around 100 employees here. From this location under the motto 'chemist's shop of tomorrow' medical supplies are delivered to not only their own four chemists in the area of Frankfurt, but also other pharmacies. "We have fully automated the storage area in recent years," says Gregor Malajka. "Meanwhile, six Medimat logistics systems of all magnitudes are in use. They guarantee a high process reliability and maximum storage speed and have paid off in no time " All systems are running so well that further investment will be made.

Final remark

"We rely basically on a collaborative partnership. Our systems are in motion sometimes day and night. The energy chains guarantee smooth workflows," concludes the Managing Director. The healthcare market continues to grow. Nevertheless, the automation specialist is expanding its logistics expertise gradually to other industries. "We see ourselves as problem solvers. In the field of small parts logistics, we see challenges that we can meet with our picking systems. " Feasible applications can be had, for example, in the automotive supplier industry. Against this background, the initial, much-promising exploratory talks are under way.

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