Major investment: Vernacare automates production

03 December 2007

Medical products manufacturer Vernacare has invested £1.5 million in automating its Bolton factory to improve efficiency, boost quality and increase capacity for major export growth.


Six new robotic production lines are being installed as part of a wider business improvement drive and the new machinery is hoped to support the company’s overseas sales drive.

Vernacare produced 140 million single-use pulp bedpans, urinal bottles, washbowls and other products in 2007, which are helping hospitals and care homes in 46 countries to combat the risk of infections, such as Clostridium difficile, MRSA and Norovirus.

The biodegradable pulp is used in conjunction with the Verna macerator waste disposal unit, a system used by 85% of UK hospitals. The macerator disintegrates the pulp and washes it down the drain as part of a cold water cycle.

The automated production system will be fully installed by March and comprises three bottle lines and three lines for open mouldings, such as dishes and bowls. It controls the dry end of the pulp production process – using robotic arms to pick product from the drying ovens, automated cameras and light sources for quality inspection and robotic stacking and packing functions.

The equipment, which has been custom designed and made in the UK, took one year to develop and incorporates a patented light inspection system, developed by Vernacare’s own engineers which will reveal the tiniest defects in bottles.

Derek McIntyre, operations director for Vernacare described the company’s quality records as ‘excellent’ but ‘labour intensive’.

He added: ‘The new system leaves nothing to chance and will ensure that every item of Vernacare pulp is produced to the same high quality standard, with fewer product rejects.

‘All of our production staff will be trained in Six Sigma methodologies to yellow belt level, with eight already qualified as black belts, and a further seven being trained to black belt standard. This gives them a range of advanced skills, including an ability to apply statistical process data – both in commissioning the new lines and continuously analysing machine performance. This will ensure that production is running at optimum output levels and quality standards, and is firmly aligned to our business targets”.

Two Vernacare production lines will remain manually operated to give the company flexibility to produce new products and small demand items.

Going forward, the automated system has the potential to run up to 20% faster to accommodate increasing capacity needs. There is also a plan to invest in increased automation within the company’s warehouse.

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