Industrial robots have several important advantages over humans during a pandemic, including social distancing and sanitation efforts.

 

Robotic Companies Continue to Band Together to Fight COVID-19 

Many robotic companies have joined the fight against COVID-19. This article will feature several collaborative efforts. 

Epson has deployed new robots for manufacturing syringes, and NuTec has deployed these robots in their manufacturing facilities. The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute also announced a collaboration with Wilder Systems and has deployed a unit for robotically testing samples for COVID-19.

 

NuTec and Epson Push Efforts in Robotics and Vaccine Rollout 

NuTec Tooling Systems has been developing solutions for complex manufacturing solutions for over 35 years. They specialize in custom electromechanical tools for the medical, chemical, plastics, and energy industries. 

NuTec saw the need for a more cost-effective syringe to meet the needs of a rapid vaccination effort. Current syringes are glass. NuTec developed a method for placing a chemically resistant liner in plastic syringes, making them appropriate for vaccine delivery. 

To ramp up this new syringe’s manufacturing, NuTec contacted Epson, who has deployed over 100,000 robots in various industries. Epson supplied them with G6 SCARA robots, suitable for use in medical cleanrooms, to speed up the production of the syringes. 

 

Epson G6 SCARA robot. Image used courtesy of Epson 

 

The G6 SCARA robots meet stringent requirements for use in medical cleanrooms. In comparison to semiconductor cleanrooms, medical cleanrooms have additional measures that must be met. 

For example, a virus, fungus, or bacteria would not live very long in a semiconductor cleanroom due to UV exposure, harsh chemicals, and so on. 

In a medical cleanroom, everything that enters must be carefully screened, and culture samples are taken from them to ensure that nothing “grows” from their presence in the cleanroom. The G6 robots are no exception. This ensures that syringes show up clean and sterile, ready to be filled with the vaccine.

 

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute and Wilder Systems 

The ARM Institute’s mission is to accelerate the development of robotics and automation in the manufacturing industry. They are a member of Manufacturing USA and have fostered an environment of collaboration between government agencies, manufacturers, and academic institutions to serve this purpose.

One member of the ARM Institute, Wilder Systems, has developed a rapid-testing robot for processing samples. This robot aims to speed up the testing process so COVID-19 testing results can be reported much more quickly. 

 

A rapid-testing robot used to streamline COVID-19 testing. Image used courtesy of Wilder Systems

 

This may allow notification and quarantine times to be more streamlined, hopefully limiting the virus’s spread. The robot is currently in the testing phase, in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and is now being funded through the CARES Act. 

By automating the testing process, samples spend less time in human hands. Testing can be conducted more quickly, more accurately, and hopefully more safely. There is always a chance of cross-contamination with humans, which yields false positives, false negatives, and potential infection to the laboratory technicians who are conducting the tests. When this process is automated, these risks will be decreased significantly.

Even after COVID-19 ends, these robots, and future collaborative efforts for automation, may help medical professionals fight the next virus to impact society.
 


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