Mobile robots contributing towards safe sterilization of medical instruments

Hospitals are a vital part of any health care system and are considered reservoirs of critical resources and knowledge that keep societies safe and thriving. Adequate and reliable infrastructure, technologies and supplies are the backbone of hospitals.

Whenever we think of a hospital, the prominent picture that forms in our minds is of doctors performing critical procedures or intense surgeries. However, no matter how minimal or intensive any procedure is, one of the key factors that determines its success is 'Sterilized Instruments'. Hospitals are prone to pathogens, hence sterilizing each piece of equipment is critical to keep patients safe and healthy.

Sterilizing medical instruments is quite a tedious task. Although the process of sterilization is performed by machines, it involves a lot of moving around of instruments to the autoclave machines. The Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) situated in Australia's state of Tasmania, a state-of-the-art hospital, was also dependent on manual handling of instrument trolleys which was proving to be risky for its staff members. On a typical day, a trolley could weigh more than 120 KG and the metal frame would get really hot to around 130 degree Celsius. As part of a redevelopment project of the RHH, Tasmanian government was looking to modernize the facilities to deliver better healthcare to its citizens.

Pitching an unproven idea

OMRON was aware of RHH's redevelopment project and empathized with the staff members who were moving around heavy instrument trolleys for sterilization. OMRON Automation team in Australia thought of pitching to automate instrument transportation for sterilization with OMRON mobile robots. Although mobile robots continue to be used in different industries for material handling and transportation, integrating them with sterilization machines was never done before.

The team reached out to its partner, Atherton, a leading sterilization machine manufacturer to discuss it further. Over the next few months, the idea was showcased to the hospital board. OMRON experts demonstrated its mobile robots' capabilities in autonomous navigation, moving through narrow pathways, detecting obstacles, interacting with lifts & machines, and working safely around humans. The board was highly impressed with the robots and gave green light to the project.


Overcoming the apprehensions

As the project entered the design & testing phase, OMRON's partner in the project, Atherton raised concerns regarding a programming error that could impact robots' harmony with people working around it. The partner was willing to go back to manual handling of trolleys to meet the deadline. However, OMRON as an organization draws a lot of confidence from our passion to solve social issues and when it comes to safety of people and society, OMRON will go to any length to deliver on all the expectations. With a strong determination, the team took the challenge by its horns and roped in experts from OMRON Automation Centre (ATC) to fix all the issues and the project was back on track.


Commissioning & reviews

Finally, the solution was integrated and the robot was successfully commissioned at the hospital with a great success. While talking about his experience of working with OMRON, Mr. William Norcott, Electrical Engineer at Atherton says, "From the initial prototype to the delivered product the team at OMRON have provided us with both the technical support and training to realise our design ambitions." The team continues to work alongside Hobart Hospital to make the system even better while exploring the possibility of deploying OMRON LD-250 mobile robots capable of lifting and moving payloads up to 250 KG.
People are not made for heavy, dangerous, or repetitive work. If we can leave those tasks to smart robots that are able to work side by side with humans at the workplace, they can concentrate on more meaningful tasks that are far more rewarding, safe and satisfying. With OMRON's advanced technology on its side, the team will continue to undertake such challenges to contribute a greater value to society.

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