Automation: Critical Technology Helping People During Coronavirus Crisis

ANN ARBOR, MI - March 26, 2020 – Automation technology is playing a critical role helping safeguard people and processes during the global coronavirus crisis. The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) supports members in robotics, vision & imaging, motion control and motors, artificial intelligence, and related technologies who are part of the large ecosystem making a difference in our battle with COVID-19.

“These critical automation technologies are keeping people safe, helping develop new medicines and treatments, producing key products people need today, and filling other essential roles,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “We are proud to see our members in action helping people all over the world cope with this global pandemic.”

CloudMinds, a provider of cloud-based systems for robots, donated 12 sets of robots to a smart hospital in Wuhan, China. The robots performed a variety of essential tasks, including flagging patients at the entrance to the field hospital who displayed fever symptoms, monitoring heart rates and blood oxygen levels, and delivering medication. These robots also cleaned and disinfected hospital areas and led exercise routines for sick patients. Medical workers remotely directed and controlled the robot systems over a 5G network. The full story is reported by Cnet.

PIA Automation, an international group of companies offering automation solutions, purchased two abandoned production lines from a Chinese medical device manufacturer in order to develop them into fully automated lines for the production of surgical face masks. A team of 24 specialists are now working around the clock to complete the modification within the next 2 to 3 weeks. With a production volume of up to 200,000 masks per day, the two modernized facilities will help to massively improve the urgently needed medical care, especially in Zhejiang province.

Thermal cameras are being used in tandem with robots as part of this human body temperature scanning process. Not only are they being deployed at hospitals, but these systems are also being used at airports and other public places. Airports in particular are actively employing FLIR thermal cameras as part of their screening measures for passengers and flight crews, according to a story posted on their website. They work as a tool to identify elevated body temperature, which can indicate further screening is necessary.

In the United States, Roche Molecular Solutions is utilizing ABB robots to rapidly produce the newly-approved FDA tests. Now, instead of days, doctors and patients will receive results in three hours. The emergency authorization is allowing these tests to be manufactured at a rate of 400,000 a day, equivalent to about 1.5 million tests a month. Additional information can be seen on ABC News.

“As the coronavirus cases continue to spike, healthcare workers will need access to more and more tests, and we can all be thankful automation is helping to solve the shortage problem,” said Burnstein.

At the end of March, JR Automation partnered with General Motors to deploy a medical mask assembly line in just six days. GM needed the equipment running in less than a week, and JR Automation solved the complex task to build an entire assembly line capable of producing 50,000 masks a day.

3M, who produces the N95 respirator, is committed to maintaining operations and producing supplies needed in a quick and safe manner. They are activating more production lines to support public health across their global manufacturing facilities, and have donated personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

Just as the need for medical persona protection equipment is high, so is the need for protective equipment for civilians as the virus continues to spread.  In Spain, Somtech Technologies has switched production from automotive, rail, and packing to producing visors.  These visors are available to shield the general public when they must venture out of their homes.  To keep up with requirements, production technology was shifted from 3D-printing to injection molding to meet the ever increasing demand of the newly developed visors. This change to an injection molding process was only possible by installing an automated removal system with a suitable gripper to be attached to the robot. PIAB USA, Inc. was able to match the request with an immediate delivery and part switch, allowing the production of 56,000 visors a week.

As the need for more essential equipment arises, manufacturing lines are being re-tooled across the country. Many suppliers and integrators have responded by ensuring faster turnaround times, like Robotiq, who is offering to deploy collaborative robot cells and software in under two weeks. The goal is to increase capacity to businesses that have been identified as essential by the government.