Pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensers encompass a range of models that can accommodate specific fluid application processes with a wide scope of functionality. The latest benchtop dispensers provide a high degree of process control, capable of dispensing adhesives, solder pastes, and all other assembly fluids with high consistency. Handling fluid dispensing of dots, beads, and fills under a broad range of conditions, these units are equipped with multiple capabilities to refine the dispensing process. Features such as 0–100 psi air pressure regulation, timed-shots, vacuum control to keep thin fluids from dripping, digital time/pressure displays, and electric foot pedals help operators maintain process control.

Fluid Dispensing for Assembly of Life-Critical Components

For more critical dispensing requirements where exceptional process control is needed, like for dispensing applications in the assembly of medical devices and critical electronics components, some benchtop fluid dispensers are designed to deliver a much higher level of precision dispensing. These systems’ features can include a) time adjustment as fine as 0.0001 seconds and b) full electronic air pressure regulation for full operator lock-out of dispensing parameters. In these demanding applications, small amounts of adhesives, silicone, and other fluids must be dispensed reliably and accurately in dosage, placement, and repeatability. The precise positioning and quantity of these fluids deposited is crucial to the products’ assembly, function, quality, appearance, and viability.

Despite the proliferation of robotics and machine/process interconnectivity via Ethernet and the cloud in virtually all aspects of manufacturing, fluid dispensing for the assembly of medical devices largely remains a semi-automated, pneumatic benchtop process. In most cases, the process requires a technician who holds a syringe barrel filled with fluid, which is connected to a dispenser. Using a foot pedal, the technician dispenses the amount of fluid required, which remains consistent from shot to shot. When the technician points the tip and pushes the foot pedal, the fluid is dispensed, and the dot or line is made.

It is the nature of these medical devices that warrants a more personalized, and manual, fluid dispensing approach in their assembly, compared to employing a more automated, robotic system. Often, the geometry of the parts is too complex to make automation a viable option. Or the production volume is too low to warrant the investment.

Quantum Leap for Benchtop Fluid Dispensing

Because benchtop fluid dispensing has proven to be a highly workable and reliable method for assembly of these products, fluid dispensing manufacturers have routinely improved and refined their systems. Now, pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensing is taking a quantum leap forward in both simplicity and ease of use, and improved process control, to further support the stringent requirements of medical device manufacturers.

These improvements are designed to facilitate easier and more efficient operation of the fluid dispensing process from the operator’s perspective and maintain better process control over dispensing parameters to effect more consistent dispensing outcomes.

But these latest changes also bring semi-automated desktop fluid dispensing into a compatibility with Ethernet, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the cloud, enabling the potential for more direct machine/process interconnectivity. Although this is particularly beneficial where benchtop fluid dispensing systems are used in combination with robotic dispensing applications, aspects of this enhanced connectivity can be beneficial, right now, to nonrobotic pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensing. In essence, these new improvements enable the benchtop dispense technician to begin to benefit from smart-factory digitization.

For example, fluid dispensing systems incorporating these developments have recently been released by Nordson EFD, under the new UltimusPlus™ line of pneumatic benchtop dispensers. The following provides an overview of unique capabilities integrated into this new fluid-dispense line.

Human Machine Interface (HMI) – Total Touchscreen Control. New to pneumatic benchtop dispensing, these dispensers incorporate HMI touchscreen control for input of dispensing parameters and management of all dispense process functions. This improvement brings with it a new level of usability for operators and production managers. Touchscreen control makes setup significantly faster than it was with analog knobs and push-button controls.

A barcode scanner allows users to switch between dispensing programs to boost productivity. (Credit: Nordson EFD)

With little need to reference a manual and rarely any software updates to upload, the intuitive large-format screen also prominently displays process information. It simplifies setup and programming, allowing operators to focus on their process. It also reduces setup time for any new fluid dispensing operation.

Automated Pressure Regulation with Full Operator Lock-Out. A key feature of this system is its unique approach to fully automated pressure regulation. Particularly in the assembly of medical devices, it is critical that the fluid dispensing be administered precisely and in the same repeatable pattern on each component with repetitive standardizations.

Typically, pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensers allow the operator to manually adjust the pressure regulation. On this new dispenser, the operator can now be fully locked out from manually adjusting the pressure regulation, as well as other dispense parameters like time and vacuum settings. Without access to an assigned password, the operator cannot change the dispense program parameters, which provides the next level of process control at a lower cost of ownership than was previously possible. This full electronic pressure regulation provides full operator lock-out. It alone enhances dispense quality control by eliminating any process inconsistencies caused by operator-to-operator variability.

Barcode Scanning for Enhanced Process Control. Also new to the world of pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensing is the unique capability to switch between stored dispensing programs using nothing more than a barcode scanner. This allows the operator to change the parameters for a new application without touching process parameters on the screen. The dispenser settings automatically switch when the new program barcode is scanned.

In addition, most medical device components have a unique barcode assigned to them as they move through the production/assembly process to facilitate keeping track of the components throughout production. This system is often utilized by industries other than medical device manufacturing for Six Sigma process controls.

An available option is to scan the lot barcode directly into the dispenser’s memory. This is ideal when the factory is processing multiple parts throughout the day. It adds complete part traceability to the long list of benefits of using the barcode scanner.

Memory Programs Store Project Parameters. This dispenser permits the selection of time, pressure, vacuum, and other parameters for fluid dispensing on a specific project, as determined by plant and project requirements. These settings are locked in and stored in the dispenser and can be called up at any time to be run with the associated project with a barcode scanner or via the intuitive touchscreen interface. Up to 16 memory programs can be set up and stored in the memory cells of the dispenser.

Ethernet compatibility supports Smart Factory integration. (Credit: Nordson EFD)

The days of maintaining dispensing parameters in handwritten spreadsheets and notepads, and manually entering coordinates into the dispenser on subsequent runs is now in the past, greatly reducing the possibility of human error in setting dispensing parameters.

Dispense Log Records Lot Dispensing Data. A digital dispense log automatically records data on dispense parameters — such as dispense time, pressure, vacuum, the number assigned to identify the component part, and the date, day, and time of each dispense cycle. The log can contain up to 10,000 lines of data. It is downloadable manually through the dispenser’s USB port.

The dispense log is beneficial to manufacturing processes that require stringent, documented process control, especially in life sciences applications to meet FDA requirements and/or of other global medical device regulatory bodies.

Multiple Shots — Single Dispense Cycle. This is an ergonomic benefit that reduces operator fatigue by minimizing repetitive movements, allowing multiple shots with a single dispense cycle.

When this function is engaged through the touchscreen, it allows the operator to make multiple deposits with only one cycle initiated, only one press of the foot pedal. This MultiShot™ functionality allows one single dispense cycle to make dozens or hundreds of shots with one single foot pedal press. A pause is programed to occur between each deposit to allow the operator time to position the tip on the next part. Essentially, the exact same shot is executed, based on the exact same settings of time, pressure, and vacuum.

Sleep Mode Reduces Power and Air Consumption. Pneumatic benchtop fluid dispensing consumes both compressed air and power. To reduce both the power and compressed air required by fluid dispensing, this new dispenser integrates a sleep mode functionality. Sleep mode can have significant impact on operating costs for plants using bottled compressed air, such as in clean-rooms in medical device manufacturing, or in facilities operating dozens to hundreds of dispensers.

Flash Drive Program Download. This new dispenser line is also equipped with a USB drive, which not only permits dispense reports to be output onto a flash drive, it also enables distribution of dispense programs into and out of the dispenser. This can considerably cut programming time when multiple dispensers are set up to dispense the exact same parameters on the same parts. One dispenser can be set up with multiple programs, those parameters then output to a flash drive and loaded into the other dispensers, minimizing human error and expediting loading of dispense programs across the factory floor.

Smart Factory Integration. For robotics applications, this dispenser smoothly integrates with Smart Factory Industry 4.0 initiatives, encompassing Ethernet, machine-to-machine technology, IIoT, edge computing, and the cloud. The dispense cycle can be initiated by a centralized, customer-site-specific programmable logic controller (PLC) as part of a large, in-line operation. When the production line needs to move from making one type of part to another, the PLC will remotely trigger the dispenser to change the program and dispense a different deposit pattern.

This dispenser was designed to not only meet the most stringent fluid dispensing needs of today’s highly precise medical device requirements, but also to embody the essential components to integrate with the ongoing evolution of the Smart Factory. But ultimately, this new fluid dispenser represents a quantum leap where it matters most — ease of use and greatly enhanced process control.

This article was written by Vlad Konopelko, Global Product Manager, Nordson EFD, East Providence, RI. For more information, visit here .


Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2020 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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