Robots have recently been recruited to work on surgical applications, but they are also more commonly used for automating operations in medical-device manufacturing, as well as pharmaceutical and hospital settings. Medical manufacturers need to have the flexibility to adapt to continuous change, and automation systems must help them respond to the rapid pace of new product development.
A modular, automated transport system to assemble and move medical device models is essential. Modular motion control promotes layout flexibility to maximize space and footprints while saving money. Because of the line changes and reconfiguration required to handle medical device products, the modular motion control promotes optimized workflows.
Force-control sensing and vision-guided systems represent advantages for medical automation. FANUC’s iRVision allows users to check the integrity of the process with verification and traceability. A robot equipped with iRVision can not only grab a part and put it in a box, but present it to a camera and read the bar code as well, which ensures product safety. Force-control sensing enables the robot to “feel” and to assemble with higher processing power.
Laboratory automation is another large part of robotic medical applications, like drug discovery. This requires robots to load components into microtiter plates to come up with a compound to kill bugs. ABB’s IRB 20 6-axis model is well-suited for these operations, as are Cartesian robots with SCARA.
Acme Manufacturing Co. specializes in manufacturing turnkey robotic finishing systems. For these applications, Acme uses FANUC robots. The systems designed and built by Acme are for centerless grinding, robotic finishing, flat-stock grinding, and custom turnkey solutions. They polish and finish medical implants such as knees, hip stems, cups, balls, and shells, tibia trays, bone plates, and nails. Finishing applications such as these can be very dangerous for a human, so a robot is an ideal solution. Acme developed an Ultra-Light Floating Head for medical part finishing. It uses automatic force control for the finishing heads for optimal compliance. This produces greater repeatability and improved product quality.
ABB Robotics uses many of their medical robots for high-speed pick-and-place applications. Their FlexPicker robots can kit products like blister packs and can also polish hip and knee replacements. The FlexPicker is also useful in large drug manufacturing companies since they are built for speed
Robotic automation also aids pharmaceutical companies with their work on assays. There is an abundance of testing occurring in order to shrink the field. These companies are discovering that robots can deliver better process consistency. Adept Technology Inc. recently signed an agreement to be the exclusive provider of robots to Swisslog Healthcare Solutions for use in hospitals, labs, and clinics. Their robots will transport specimens, lab samples, and pharmaceuticals.