Inhaler Respimat® re-usable: Inhale easy and min­i­mize plastic

Since 2004, the Respimat® has been ensuring easy inhala­tion for patients with dis­eases such as asthma and COPD. In 2019, Boehringer Ingel­heim launched the new gen­er­a­tion of this inhaler: Now that mul­tiple filling is pos­sible with up to six active agent car­tridges, this Respimat® re-usable is dis­posed of less fre­quently. In an inter­view, Markus Kirchner (Head of Engi­neering Assembly, Boehringer Ingel­heim microParts GmbH) and Stefan Gais (Senior Sales Director, Harro Höfliger) report about the col­lab­o­ra­tion related to the envi­ron­men­tally friendly device.

Markus Kirchner explains how the envi­ron­ment and the patients ben­efit from the new Respimat®.

Mr. Kirchner, what is the link between you and the Respimat®?

When I joined Boehringer Ingel­heim microParts in 2007, the Respimat® with its high com­plexity, com­bined with the pro­pel­lant-free drive and the active long lasting soft mist, fas­ci­nated me right from the start. In addi­tion, the high demands placed on pro­duc­tion and ver­i­fi­ca­tion processes, make an engineer’s tasks chal­lenging and inter­esting. From 2007 to the present, I have been able to work in the three man­u­fac­turing tech­nology areas in var­ious posi­tions, actively con­tributing to and shaping the increase in capacity and the refine­ment of the man­u­fac­turing and testing processes.

Since 2019, there is a re-usable ver­sion. Can you give us more details?

The active agent car­tridge can be replaced up to six times per device –  patients need only two instead of twelve inhalers per year. Besides an improved envi­ron­mental foot­print, another advan­tage is sim­pli­fied usage, which we opti­mized based on patient feed­back. For example, the housing is now longer, facil­i­tating turning and thus loading of the Respimat®. The numeric dose indi­cator has large num­bers and is color coded, making it easy to see the left­over doses before locking.

The high­light, how­ever, is the auto­matic detach­ment of the trans­parent case bottom part the moment the car­tridge is locked and has to be replaced. Despite these opti­miza­tions, only the dose indi­cator and the case assembly are new. This enabled us to keep changes in pro­duc­tion rel­a­tively small.

For the pro­duc­tion of the re-usable Respimat® you rely, among other things, on machines from Harro Höfliger. Why?

We have already used tech­nology from Harro Höfliger for the pro­duc­tion of the estab­lished Respimat®. Because of the good part­ner­ship in the past, it was an obvious choice to coop­erate with Harro Höfliger again regarding the pro­duc­tion of the Respimat® re-usable. Our col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence has resulted in many syn­er­gies. For example, we jointly devel­oped spe­cial exchange sets to enable flex­ible production.

Max­imum output in a small space: It was not easy to meet the require­ments of Boehringer Ingel­heim for the lines. Stefan Gais explains how it succeeded.

Mr. Gais, what fea­tures make the assembly tech­nology in the machines for Boehringer Ingel­heim microParts stand out?

A spe­cial chal­lenge was to adapt the machine’s assembly tech­nology for the estab­lished Respimat® ver­sion in such a way that the re-usable inhaler ver­sion can be pro­duced with it too. It helped that the core com­po­nents of the Respimat® and the car­tridge itself are iden­tical in both versions.

As a result, changes in the assembly tech­nology were only nec­es­sary at a late stage in the process – when the inner sub­assem­blies are inserted into the new housing. In close coop­er­a­tion, we have suc­ceeded in making the nec­es­sary adjust­ments by devel­oping new exchange sets. Depending on the order sit­u­a­tion, Boehringer Ingel­heim microParts can now flex­ibly switch from one Respimat® ver­sion to the other.

Apart from the assembly tech­nology, Harro Höfliger has also designed two new lines for the re-usable Respimat®. What are their tasks?

In the Respimat® re-usable, car­tridge and dose indi­cator are con­nected with each other. Both machines have the core task to weld these com­po­nents with each other. It sounds easy, but the tech­nology behind it is sophis­ti­cated. First, var­ious camera con­trols verify the flaw­less quality of all dose indi­ca­tors and car­tridges. Then a robot gripper system joins the parts together and welds them at 16 ultra­sonic sta­tions working in par­allel. A test mech­a­nism makes sure that every dose-indi­cator-car­tridge-com­bi­na­tion works as intended.

The con­trol cab­i­nets are located on top of these lines. How did that come about?

Ultra­sonic welding is time con­suming. In order to still achieve max­imum output, we use the afore­men­tioned entire 16 welding sta­tions which need a lot of space. At the same time, there were clear spec­i­fi­ca­tions regarding the size of the lines: They should not exceed four meters, which is two and a half meters less than ini­tially planned.

For this reason, we arranged, for example, the welding sta­tions in oppo­site direc­tions on our assembly plat­form MOT, thus saving a lot of space. In addi­tion, we posi­tioned the con­trol cab­i­nets not next to but directly on top of the machines. They are easily acces­sible for oper­a­tors via a staircase.

Down­load this article as PDF file

Photos: Helmar Lünig