Blood processing is largely manual.
In a treatment center, whole blood donations must be separated into its cellular components by centrifugation. To do this, the blood bag must be folded in a particular way to ensure that there is no bacterial contamination during the process (which, in turn, increases shelf life).
The personnel are highly qualified to carry out this operation, but there are always risks and cases of human error. Damaged or torn packaging not only results in the loss of a valuable gift, but also disrupts production and exposes personnel to potentially hazardous biological materials. Even subtle nonconformities can arise and accumulate over time, leading to quality deviations. On the other hand, these repetitive movements (sometimes hundreds per day) can lead to ergonomic constraints and injuries to staff.
Can a robot do the job?
Swinburne researchers worked to automate the process of bending and loading centrifuge tubes using collaborative robotics, vision systems, jigs and actuators.
Bending is a very complex procedure that is difficult to automate using robots. Blood bags are soft and “deformable” objects, which can lead to significant variation in shape and geometry. This complicates the task of a robot or a computer which is not adapted to the myriad of geometries.
In fact, automating the manipulation of soft deformable objects is a hot topic in robotics research. This is why IMCRC was so keen to fund the project. In addition to the practical and impactful social good that success could have in the field of blood donation, it could be a step forward for automation and innovative manufacturing.
Swinburne’s team looked for any opportunities for automation in the process, breaking it down into smaller steps and incorporating design and engineering contingencies so that the final design could involve a combination of semi-automated processes, automated or assisted.
The workings of automation
Within three months, the team knew they could not only automate the process, but also expand the scope of the project.
They built a proof-of-concept robotic arm that shows automation can be used to fold whole blood collection packs. But they have also integrated image recognition for quality inspection, data logging for traceability, anomaly detection in manually placed stickers/tags and more.
Project Manager and Deputy Director of Swinburne’s Factory of the Future, Dr Shanti Krishnan, says: “I was very excited to find an innovative automated solution to the problem of a repetitive manual process in the medical industry, using collaborative robots and industrial vision systems.
“I am proud to say that the team effort dedicated to engineering excellence and applied research at the Swinburne Factory of the Future resulted in the successful proof of concept design.”
The project has also been extended with a new goal: to make the robot faster. As it is currently much slower than a human, speed will be a crucial step in integrating this safer and more accurate process.
For the Swinburne team, the success of this project has wider ramifications.
“The results could also be transposed to other similar processes involving soft deformable objects, impacting food, health, agriculture and other industries. Basically, anything related to packaging.”
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Provided by Swinburne University of Technology
Quote: Robots can improve blood donation flow (2022, May 30) Retrieved May 30, 2022 from https://techxplore.com/news/2022-05-robots-blood-donations.html
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