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robotics in hospital environment

Mobile robots enhance logistics also in old hospital buildings

Over the next few years, several Finnish hospitals are planning to deploy mobile robots: machines that transport goods independently. Mobile robots are able to go around people and obstacles and they can carry goods efficiently even in hospitals built in the 1970s.

Mobile robots offer great benefits through the automation of simple and regular transportation tasks. The same solutions can be applied in both health care and industry.

“Finland’s first hospital mobile robots were implemented in Seinäjoki Central Hospital,” explains Logistics Specialist Ville Ruuskanen from Sweco. These robots have fulfilled their responsibilities so well that their number is to be increased to ten. “These robots pick up medical supplies from the central storage, carry food to the wards and transport equipment maintenance instruments to the units. There is a separate cart for medicines with an electronic locking and user management.”

Robots go around people and obstacles

Many European hospitals have created automated transports with the help of automated guided vehicles used generally in heavy industrial applications. The mobile robot is significantly more advanced in terms of operation and usability.

“Unlike the automated guided vehicle, the robot goes around obstacles and finds a suitable route without any fixed installations to the building,” Ruuskanen says. Also, the robot does not need people to assist it, meaning that goods can be transported during the night when there is less traffic in the corridors.

The robot can be scheduled to perform 24/7 standard transports or one-off tasks. “The robot can safely carry loads of 50–500 kg on sloping surfaces, in confined spaces and also in the same space with people. If it has no scheduled tasks, the robot returns to its dock to recharge.”

Accessibility also important to machine intelligence

As long as wireless connections work properly, robots are able to use lifts and doors on their own. Furthermore, these robots have good manners. “The robot always lets people go first in passenger lifts, which is why there may sometimes be more than one robot waiting their turn by the lift door!”

The key factor supporting the efficient utilisation of robots is accessibility. If corridors are blocked with goods, the robot’s journey is slowed down. The goods to be transported also need to be available on time. “If a box or cart is not where it is supposed to be, the robot will continue its journey and complete the assigned route without a load.”

Robots can work in both new and old hospitals

Mobile robots can be utilised in both new and existing hospital buildings. “For example, in Seinäjoki Central Hospital, most of the infrastructure dates from the late 1970s,” Ruuskanen says. The acquisition and life cycle costs can be calculated exactly. “The system is typically repaid in 5–7 years.”

In new hospital buildings, the transports of goods and persons usually use different routes. “If the space requirements of robots are taken into account beforehand, efficiency can be maximised and the repayment period is shorter,” Ruuskanen emphasises. “For example, in Laakso Hospital in Helsinki, robots have received their own goods lifts that move between the logistics lobbies of different floors.”

Meaningful logistics tasks are left to people

Robots will not take jobs from people, although the logistics job description will change. “The simplest tasks can be assigned to machines, leaving people free to focus on more meaningful things,” Ruuskanen says. “No employee has lost their job because of robots in Seinäjoki, for instance.”

The possible benefits of robots are studied carefully already at the preliminary assessment phase. “We study how the facilities suit robots and what share of transports can be assigned to them,” Ruuskanen states. In the acquisition stage, Sweco’s specialists can help you choose the best overall economic solution. “The suppliers are familiar to us and we know what issues need to be considered.”

During the implementation stage, our specialists are responsible for project management or offer additional resources. Cooperation can continue also once implementation is complete. “For example, we can help you streamline the robot transport tasks and expand the system,” Ruuskanen says.