ZURICH – ABB today announced it will introduce non-surgical collaborative robots to medical laboratories as part of a new healthcare hub at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) innovation campus in Houston, Texas. Set to open in October 2019, the facility will be ABB’s first dedicated research health center, the company said in a statement.
ABB’s research team will 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.
“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.”
The new 5,300-square-foot research facility will include an automation laboratory and robot training facilities, as well as meeting spaces for co-developing solutions with other partners, ABB said. It added that 20 people from ABB Robotics will work with others in the new facility.
Performing repetitive tasks
The company said 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, or loading centrifuges. ABB said having non-surgical robots that automate these tasks will allow medical professionals to focus on more productive and highly skilled tasks, “while ultimately helping more people to receive treatment through dramatically speeding the testing process.”
ABB estimates that 50% more tests could be carried out each year through automation, and training robots that undertake repetitive processes could reduce the incidents of repetitive strain injury for people who conduct these processes.
Non-surgical robots set to grow
Internal ABB research estimates that the market for non-surgical medical robots will reach nearly 60,000 units by 2025, with the market almost quadrupling compared to 2018. The company said the market will also be driven by the need to address an aging world population, as countries begin to spend an increasingly larger proportion of their GDP on health care.
The company said its collaborative robots don’t require safety fences to operate safely and efficiently alongside people, and will undertake tasks that include dosing, mixing, and pipetting, as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading.
“With this exciting partnership, Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovative collaboration with cutting-edge partners by establishing TMC as the epicenter for ABB Robotics’ entry into the healthcare space,” said Bill McKeon, president and CEO of TMC. “Operating a city within a city that sees 10 million patients on an annual basis, it is essential to prioritize 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 healthcare, TMC is emphasizing its commitment to doing just that.”
ABB’s Atiya said the collaboration will ensure continued innovation and transform how medical laboratories operate worldwide. “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 healthcare, and building on our automotive and electronics sectors business.”
ABB Robotics, an RBR50 2019 honoree, is active in more than 53 countries and more than 100 locations, having shipped more than 400,000 robot solutions across industries and applications. Its parent company, ABB, is one of the leaders in electrification, industrial automation, motion, and robotics and discrete automation.