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Vernacare invests £1.5 million to automate production of infection control equipment

Vernacare : 28 January, 2008  (New Product)
Vernacare has invested 1.5 million in automating its Bolton factory to boost efficiency, improve quality and increase capacity for export growth.
Six new robotic production lines are being installed as part of a wider business improvement drive, which has seen the company increase productivity by 20 percent during the past 12 months.

The new machinery will support the company’s overseas sales drive, with export business targeted to grow by more than 50 per cent year-on-year.

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 percent 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 said: “Vernacare’s quality record has always been excellent, with only six complaints out of 140 million pulp mouldings produced last year, but that track record has been achieved in a labour intensive way. 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”.

Through its production efficiencies, the company has passed on cost savings to customers including price reductions and a commitment rebate scheme.

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

The automated system has the potential to run up to 20 percent 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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