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Lego system for production plants

Things that work on a small scale are not necessarily as successful on a large one. It takes a lot of patience and money to scale up analytical or therapeutic processes from the laboratory to industrial production. A new platform consisting of several building blocks minimises the costs.

Laboratory equipment for medical purposes – for example blood tests – and production equipment for medical accessories have one thing in common: They are difficult to plan because so many different components are involved. Where should which pumps and which dosing systems be located in order to produce and analyse a biochip in the best way possible, is one such example? So far, manufacturers of complex laboratory equipment have first drawn up various concepts and created construction plans before setting up the actual devices. Nevertheless, when it comes to the test, the machines do not function as expected. The planning starts all over again – a costly business. But this is not the only problem. The engineers tend to use components and technologies with which they already have experience. However, these components are not always the ones that would be best for a particular system.
A new platform consisting of individual components makes it easier to transfer analytical and therapeutic processes from the laboratory into industrial production. (Photo: Fraunhofer IPA)

A factor that saves money: high flexibility

The new “Modular Process Automation Laboratory m:Pal” platform makes it possible to plan complex laboratory equipment faster and more efficiently. The platform comes as a construction kit in which pumps, incubators, dosing devices and camera modules can be slotted together in any way required and tried out immediately – in much the same way as Lego bricks. The “m:Pal” system was developed by scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany. “We have developed a kind of playground in which we can easily and simply test all the techniques and choose those that are most suitable for the problem in hand. Each module is completely autonomous and can therefore be operated on its own,” said Andreas Traube, team leader at the IPA, adding that, “The crucial issue was the software architecture because the required modules have to work immediately at the push of a button when they are fitted together.”

In future, the platform is intended to give manufacturers of small batches a high degree of flexibility. “Producers of hearing aids or other medical products that come in different versions or are constantly launched as new models, can use “m:Pal” as a production tool. Up until now, the whole production line had to be replaced for every new model – but with “m:Pal”, it is sufficient to adapt one or two modules. This makes it possible to save up to 50 per cent of the costs,” said Traube. Manufacturers can also automate a smaller production line step by step and gradually acquire new modules as the throughput increases.

Source: Fraunhofer IPA - 04.03.2008
Further information:
Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA
Nobelstraße 12
70569 Stuttgart
Andreas Traube
Tel.: +49 711 970-1233

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/lego-system-for-production-plants