Collaborative robots coming to medical laboratories

Friday, 12 July, 2019 | Supplied by: ABB Australia Pty Ltd

Technology company ABB will introduce its collaborative robots to medical laboratories as it opens a new healthcare hub at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) innovation campus in Houston, Texas.

Set to be ABB’s first dedicated healthcare research centre when it opens in October, the facility will see ABB’s research team work on the TMC campus with medical staff, scientists and engineers to develop non-surgical medical robotics systems, including logistics and next-generation automated laboratory technologies. A 20-strong team from ABB Robotics will work in the 500 m2 research facility, which includes an automation laboratory and robot training facilities as well as meeting spaces for co-developing solutions with innovation partners.

Today, a limiting factor to the number of patients who can be treated is the need for highly skilled medical experts who spend a large part of their day doing repetitive and low-value tasks, such as preparing slides and loading centrifuges. Using robots to automate these tasks will enable medical professionals to focus on more highly skilled and productive work, while ultimately helping more people to receive treatment, by speeding the testing process.

ABB has analysed a wide range of current manual medical laboratory processes and estimates that 50% more tests could be carried out every year using automation, while training robots to undertake repetitive processes will reduce the need for people to do tasks which cause repetitive strain injury (RSI). In addition to improving the quality of patient care, increasing healthcare efficiency through automation could also ease some of the societal, political and financial challenges that an ageing population will cause.

“The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business. “This is especially applicable for new high-tech treatments, such as the cancer therapies pioneered at the Texas Medical Center, which today require manual and time-consuming test processes.”

ABB’s collaborative robots, which already operate in food and beverage laboratories worldwide, are suited to medical facilities as they don’t require safety fences to operate safely and efficiently alongside people. There, the robots will undertake a range of repetitive, delicate and time-consuming activities including dosing, mixing and pipetting tasks as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading.

“We are proud to co-develop collaborative robotics systems for the hospital of the future with one of the world’s most advanced partners and to test them in real-world laboratories to ensure they add value to healthcare professionals, driving innovation and transforming how medical laboratories operate worldwide,” Atiya said. “A key element of ABB’s long-term growth strategy is to continue to invest and innovate in service robotics, bringing our automation expertise to new areas such as health care and building on our automotive and electronics sectors business.”

“With this exciting partnership, Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovative collaboration with cutting-edge industry partners by establishing TMC as the epicentre for ABB Robotics’ entry into the healthcare space,” said TMC President and CEO Bill McKeon. “Operating a city within a city that sees 10 million patients on an annual basis, it is essential to prioritise efficiency and precision, and to develop processes that are easily repeatable in nature. By bringing ABB into the fold at TMC Innovation with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in health care, TMC is emphasising its commitment to doing just that.”

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