During March this year, France was unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, with an inadequate supply of gloves, masks, and vital equipment for people in respiratory distress. Industrialists in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region began working to urgently build up a State stock of filters required for the operation of artificial respirators. Their solution: an automated cell combining the SCARA TS2-60 and 6-axis TX2-90 Stäubli robots, designed and manufactured within a few weeks.
At the beginning of 2020, Hervé de Malliard, CEO of MGA Technologies (Civrieux d’Azergues, France) observed the first signs of the COVID-19 crisis. As chairman of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Committee of French Foreign Trade Advisors, he anticipated that there would be a shortage of medical equipment and contacted the health authorities.
“French hospitals only had 5,000 ventilators available. With global production capacities saturated, and all available stocks having already been snapped up, we didn’t have a moment to waste in order to save lives.MGA compiled a list of 62 respirator manufacturers located throughout the world, established what their capacities and stocks were, informed them of the upcoming shortage of consumable items, then proposed to the French government to build up a State stock of filters for respirators to cover needs for several months or even several years. The French government accepted this offer, provided that we were responsible for the industrial manufacture of these medical devices and maintained a 100% French owned subsidiary.”
Hervé de Malliard, also known as the Ambassador of “French Fab”, helped manufacturers and start-ups to assemble the 400 parts required for the construction of a respirator and thus reorganized the manufacture of a French supply chain for certain critical components. When borders close, proximity becomes crucial…
“Fortunately, he noted, the South-East area of France possessed the required industrial resources for the project. Adrien Mithalal, director of PhysioAssist (Aix-en-Provence, France), was introduced to us through the Institut Mérieux. He contributed his knowledge of the design and manufacture of these medical devices and opened up his network to us to source the required materials.”
Infiplast, a French plastics company for medical devices, was asked to design, prototype, test and manufacture a critical respirator part: the housing containing the HME filter (heat and moisture exchanger).
“The company began working with whatever materials it had to produce tools and approve products, with the collaboration of various hospitals.”
Alain Michaud, industrial manufacturing manager at Infiplast (Oyonnax, France)
To respond quickly to French Government’s needs, Infiplast had to set up a dedicated production line.
“We then approached Stäubli, the world leader in cleanroom robotics. The location of Faverges in nearby French Alps was ideal for this partnership. The company’s proactive response helped us to assemble an automated and insulated workstation, covering design to automation, in less than 10 weeks. A feat, since this type of project ordinarily takes at least 24 weeks to set up! A true example of team success, inspiring for all our technicians.”
Stéphane Buttin, Sales Director MGA Technologies
Stäubli’s response was immediate:
“We responded to MGA Technologies and Infiplast’s request within 48 hours: we made the robots available in record time. Our new SCARA range is especially customised for the requested use. Its closed structure is designed for aseptic and confined cleanroom environments.”
Jacques Dupenloup, Sales Manager France and Benelux Stäubli Robotics
March 18th: to assist hospitals, the three companies began reorganising the manufacturing of the most critically required medical device used for respiratory resuscitation: the HME filter. Infiplast made a 3D prototype in three days and ordered pre-series injection moulds.
May 4th: The design of the automated assembly and test cell began.
May 11th : the HME filter was granted its marketing licence (Article 59 of European regulation 2017/745/EC).
Beginning of June : production of the machine started.
Mid-July : delivery and launch of production of filters for respirators in Oyonnax.
Production advantages :
Advantage for humans :
The handling of repetitive and painful tasks by the robot notably avoids hearing problems caused by ultrasonic welding, which is very taxing for operators’ ears.
Integrated in mid-July into the Infiplast production line, the robotic cell made it possible to build up, as quickly as possible, the government’s stock of HME filters for respirators in French hospitals. The manufacture of filters is now sustainable and will soon be opened up internationally to other hospitals.
“It was important for us to be part of the national manufacturing effort by assisting with the securing of health supplies, to strengthen our country’s industrial production capacities. We are proud that we have contributed to the national response to COVID-19.”
Alain Michaud, industrialisation manager at Infiplast
Hervé de Malliard | Alain Michaud | Jacques Dupenloup