By May 18, 2010 Read More →

Robots take charge of applications in medical devices

100518_AutomaticaAUTOMATICA 2010 presents the performance range of automation, with a strong focus on robotics within the medical industry.

They polish artificial hip joints, fill syringes and are at the end of the operating table themselves in the end. Robots are taking charge in an increasing number of areas of pharmaceutical and medical technology. Automation solutions for assembly and handling technology, robotics and machine vision provide considerable advantages overall in the meantime for manufacturers, patients and personnel. The international trade fair AUTOMATICA 2010, which will take place on the grounds of the New Munich Trade Fair Centre from 8 until 11 June 2010, will provide an overview of the performance range of automation in this growth industry.

The extremely fast pace at which automation technology is taking holding in sensitive production areas of pharmaceutically and medical technology is surprising even for industry insiders. At the same time, the prerequisites for systems, components and robots to participate in this “Champions League” of automation are anything but easy to fulfil. For example, assembly systems for medical devices must fulfil demanding clean room classifications in most cases. Specialized manufacturers will show the work that this signifies in individual cases and how the system manufacturers implement the requirements in practice at the trade fair stands of AUTOMATICA 2010.

Mikron Automation will present a high performance assembly solution, which is designed for the requirements of the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, at AUTOMATICA with the latest development stage of the Mikron G05. The new G05 has improvements in the areas of ergonomy and cleaning. As a result, the systems fulfil current GPM norms and safety regulations.

Sortimat Technology demonstrates how you put flexibility into assembly automation with its new assembly platform “Jetwing 2010″, which makes assembly more flexible according to information from the manufacturer. Another advantage is that the new version has between eight and 48 assembly stations instead of the previous 12 stations. The dividing line between semi-automation and complete automation as well as between small and large number of pieces becomes fuzzy with that. At AUTOMATICA, Jetwing 2010 will be exhibited in a linked system with Clearliner and clean room transfer system.

A visit to robot manufacturers is sure to be interesting too. All renowned suppliers will be represented at AUTOMATICA 2010, and consequently trade fair visitors can obtain a comprehensive overview and make direct comparisons.

Demanding applications in the medical and pharmaceutical industries cannot be realized using standard robots “off-the-shelf”. Instead, factors such as clean room suitability, easy-to-clean special surfaces and optimum precision are important for these uses. Whoever examines the robot models of suppliers at AUTOMATICA closely will quickly discover one thing: The clean room suitability of robots from different manufacturers varies considerably. One reason for that is the different design of robots. Machines with fully encapsulated design, interior cabling and integrated drive technology emit fewer particles than open designs and consequently are especially well suited for clean room use.

A few robot manufacturers and research institutes have been concentrating on tasks in the medical and pharmaceutical industries for years and can look back on lots of experience and know-how. The same applies to constructing robots and to comprehensive automation solutions.

Pioneering applications in medical device

Stäubli Robotics demonstrates with two robots, which are often used in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, what is currently possibly technologically. The six-axis TX 60 and TX 90 fulfil the extremely high requirements of clean room class ISO 2 in the super clean room models. In addition, both machines are available in a Stericlean model, which enables their use under extreme laboratory conditions. “We are entering areas with the Stericlean versions, in which use of robots was considered impossible until now. For the first time, sterilisation and decontamination processes can be automated, in which the robots are continually exposed to a vaporous hydrogen peroxide environment. As a result, the decisive breakthrough has been achieved for automating such processes,” Engineer Manfred Hübschmann, Managing Director of Stäubli Robotics, stated.

Stäubli robots have been used successfully in other applications of medical technology for years, for example, in putting together toxic substances for chemotherapy, in which the six axis measures out the individual components of cytostatic agents very precisely and decants them flexibly, and in manufacturing medical products from plastic using injection-moulding machines. The range of parts covers a wide area and extends from drug administration systems such as syringes, infusion sets, transfusion and dialysis equipment to centrifuges, blood filters, inhalers, diabetes care products and all the way to implants.

That fact that the focus has not been standard industry applications at the robot smithy Kuka for a long time is proven by their pioneering robot technology for state-of-the-art radiotherapy treatment. Together with Siemens Health Care, they have succeeded in developing a high precision patient positioning system, which is used in the recently opened Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Centre HIT. In the treatment administered there, a particle beam composed of carbon-ions or protons hits the patient tumour precise to the millimetre without damaging adjacent tissue. Thanks to its six degrees of freedom, the Kuka robot, which forms the basis of the system, can move patients flexibly and precisely, which is not possible with a conventional patient table.

The challenge in patient positioning was above all to guarantee the required precision and optimum safety. “We had to adapt numerous components of the robot for that. But it paid off; the efficiency of the patient positioner has been fantastic,” Ralph Berke reported, head of the Medical Robotics Division at Kuka Roboter. “A machine weighing tons places a patient in position with a preciseness in the submillimetre range and can correct the position in 1/10 millimetre increments if required. Siemens and Kuka Robotics are setting a new standard with that.”

However, Kuka robots have also been used successfully in other areas of medical device for years. For example, two six-axis robots handle fully automated grinding and polishing of implants. Two robots work handling artificial hips hand in hand, so to say. The manufacturer Aesculap is very pleased about the increased productivity as well as about the reproducible and uniform high quality.

Spectacular research projects

Two technology projects from the area of medical engineering could become big attractions at AUTOMATICA. The Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics of the Centre for Air and Space Travel is exhibiting the “DLR Heart”, which provides a genuine alternative to heart transplantation to patients with severe cardiac insufficiency. It is designed to provide patients with the best possible quality of life and the mobility to return to their customary environment as soon as possible. With the development of a completely implantable cardiac support system DLR-VAD, previous limitations can be overcome and long-term treatment administered. The innovative drive technology DLR-VAD is based on long years of development of lightweight robots.

A second pioneering project is “MiroSurge”, a robotics system for minimal-invasive surgery. As in many other applications in robotics, machine vision plays a key role for MiroSurge. The doctor controls the robot arms using special entry devices, two of which are equipped with instruments such as forceps and scissors, and the third robot arm has a stereo endoscope camera.

“In the next three to four years, the development of the MIRO arms should be completed with all optimisation, controller setting and safety aspects and have approval for medical use; then they will be ready for market launch with integration into an overall OP system,” according to Prof. Gerhard Hirzinger, Director of the Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics at DLR.

The robot arms are MIRO lightweight construction robots developed by DLR weighing only 10 kilograms each. The minimal-invasive instruments also developed by DLR enable sensitive operations in the bodies of patients thanks to their integrated sensor technology. The surgeon sits comfortably in front of an control panel, which displays forces and moments at the instrument tips as force-feedback as well as a video image in 3D of the patient’s insides.

Visit the AUTOMATICA website for more information.

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