Mächtige Maschinen; Nr. 130

The parallel processes of machine construction and product development give Roche a clear head start in efficient market launches.

Ralf Dagenbach
Engineer in the field of process development and mechanical engineering
Mächtige Maschinen; Nr. 131

We undertake special technical assignments. We don't build machines you could get from any other ordinary supplier.

Karl-Heinz Kleimeier
Manager, Production Technology
Mächtige Maschinen; Nr. 132

We are on standby throughout the development process, even in the early phase.

Ralf Dagenbach
Engineer in the field of process development and mechanical engineering

Meet the engineering team at Mannheim.

The Mannheim engineering teams is always on hand. When, for example, Diabetes Care required a rapid and completely reliable filling system for Accu-Chek strips, they were there.

At first glance, the construction of a machine that deposits strips in a specially designed container may seem mundane. However, the strips in question are not conventional strips: the rapid Accu-Chek system, with its gold-coated test strips, determines blood glucose levels - information which is of vital importance to people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In addition, the machine has to precisely (with a maximum deviation of 150 µm or 0.15 mm) cut, stack and then place the strips in the plastic container without damaging them. This all has to be done at lightning speed.

At full capacity, the machine handles 1800 strips per minute. The «eye» of the machine counts these in order to provide the right amount for the test application. In one year, the machine fills up to eight million containers.

In spite of the exacting specifications, the engineers succeeded in building and testing the prototype and developing the machine within 18 months. This project, called Gen III, underlines the value and potential of a creative, flexible in-house team which is focused on Roche's specific requirements. The team at the Mannheim site includes more than 50 engineers in the fields of construction, automation and data management. Expertise in widely varying specialist fields, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) is always at hand.

Parallel processes

One strength of the engineers is their ability to construct and build machines in parallel with the planning and development of products. This allows changes to be flexibly implemented. Thanks to the internal mechanical engineering function, information can be exchanged with the product development teams without compromising confidentiality.

The first discussions on Gen III took place in 2009 and were followed by several feasibility studies. The official start of the project was in April 2011. The construction and planning phase took up the next few months and entailed numerous telephone calls, video conferences and personal conversations between the technicians in Mannheim and the Diabetes Care Team in Indianapolis. The construction and electrical installation phases followed. The prototype became operational in May 2012. By August, the Factory Acceptance Tests (FATs), a series of stringent quality checks, had been concluded and in September, the prototype was dismantled, packed in wooden crates and send to Indianapolis. At the same time as the manufacture of the first prototype, the team constructed and built another machine for different types of container. In October 2012, this second machine was also sent to Indianapolis and installed. As both prototypes were functioning correctly and supplying the necessary feedback, Diabetes Care ordered two complete production installations. These were built in 2013. The FATs were scheduled to be concluded by December. The machines will be transported to Indianapolis in early 2014.

In Mannheim we always look forward to new challenges. Recently, the team has been working with Roche Tissue Diagnostics (Ventana) on dispensers for reagents, and is collaborating with the Rotkreuz site on an RFID project. The team has also expressed interest in cooperating with the pharma division.

Tinkering in the Black Forest

The practical work on each project begins in an unremarkable wooden building tucked away in a corner of the Mannheim site, affectionately known as the "Schwarzwaldhaus" or Black Forest House. Here, the team of engineers has access to all the complex tools and machine parts they need to build prototypes to meet Roche's specific requirements.