In 2019, our Health and Safety and Product teams saw an opportunity to collaborate to increase safety and productivity at our fulfillment pharmacies. The teams joined together, harnessing their respective knowledge and resources, to create a “bottle cutter,” or robotic fulfillment machine (internally known as Gen II and Gen III Robotic Bulk Up Stations), that is now used at two of our four fulfillment pharmacies, in St. Louis, MO and Florence, NJ. Our other two fulfillment pharmacies are in the process of implementing the robotic bulk-up station. This novel equipment not only virtually eliminates repetitive motion hazards, it also increases productivity and reduces costs.
The idea to create a robotic fulfillment machine that would both open and empty the pill bottles handled at our fulfillment pharmacies came during a company Safety Engagement Summit. The Health and Safety group, which receives employee injury data on a weekly basis, was seeing a trend: pill bottle opening was by far the greatest source of ergonomic illness outside of general office-related ergonomic illnesses. This was due almost entirely to the risk created by the repetitive nature of the motions required to open and empty a pill bottle and the number of pill bottles that employees were opening and emptying on a daily basis. The frequency of this process is due to the fact that tablets typically come to our fulfillment pharmacies in bottles of 90 or less and need to be emptied to fulfill work orders that typically call for between one and two thousand tablets of medication. To meet the needs of our customers, our employees were opening between 35,000 and 50,000 bottles daily at each of our four fulfillment pharmacies. Our Health and Safety and Product teams realized that it was unsustainable for our employees to continue opening and emptying bottles at that volume, and also saw an opportunity to advance other issues in finding a solution, such as productivity and cost. The teams also realized early on in their discussions that automation was going to be a key part of an eventual solution.
The bottle cutter machine that our Product team conceived has reduced the risk of repetitive motion-based ergonomic illnesses associated with pill bottle opening and emptying by 100% in the locations where it is utilized. It does this by automating the following four tasks associated with repetitive motion in the opening and emptying of pill bottles:
- Removal of cap
- Removal of seal
- Removal of cotton/packing materials
- Shaking of the bottle
We are committed to continuing to facilitate cross-functional collaborations like this, which have the potential to result in products like the bottle cutter. This product first and foremost increases the safety of our employees – enabling them to do their important work.