Mobile robot transports sterile goods in hospital

Five hospital departments at Zealand University Hospital in Denmark now receive daily autonomous deliveries from the hospital’s sterilization center. The implementation of a mobile robot from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) is helping realize the goal of flexible and automated logistics throughout the upcoming 190,000 square meters super hospital.

His name is Optimus. This is the way the staff at Zealand University Hospital in Denmark refer to the MiR100 robot that has automated the internal transport of sterile disposable equipment in the hospital since June 2018. Optimus travels more than 10 kilometers per week, improving service, minimizing storage space, saving steps, and preventing shortages, which has made him quickly become popular at the hospital.

“I am very surprised by how quickly both staff and patients have become accustomed to Optimus,” says Johnny Hansen, Operations Manager for Zealand University Hospital. “They refer to the robot as a colleague, and “he” has—in a few weeks—become part of the environment. It is indicative of the way we humans quickly perceive new technologies as a natural part of everyday life. With MiR’s technology, we free service assistants from logistics tasks to warmer tasks like patient care. We have already achieved enormous gains by introducing this autonomous technology.”
Hansen is also part of the management of the hospital’s construction project, which will in a few years expand the existing Danish hospital into a “super hospital” three times bigger than it is today.
The MiR robot was selected for the mobile robot pilot project because the MiR technology had already been tested and proven.
“MiR offers the most advanced solution for our sector,” explains Hansen. “Their robots are already deployed in other Danish hospitals, and they seem to meet our needs. One big advantage is that MiR robots are designed to run exactly in the same areas as humans so that we do not have to change our existing facility. MiR robots can take the elevator, drive in the hallways side-by-side with employees and patients, avoid obstacles and even open doors autonomously.”

More flexible, less stressful
The hospital’s management involved the staff early in the implementation process. All service assistants were invited to a presentation in the hospital’s auditorium, where the initiative was met with enthusiasm, especially from employees who had until that point been responsible for stressful transportation tasks. Before Optimus arrived, service assistants were providing weekly deliveries of disposable equipment to hospital departments. The manual procedure involved heavy lifting and an uncomfortable twist in the body. Now the robot delivers equipment daily, making sure that the departments do not run out of goods.
“Heavy, monotonous and repetitive tasks must be taken over by technology,” states Hansen. “I am happy that our cooperation with MiR and the distributor, Flextek, has shown that we can create great workplace health benefits by automating physical demanding transportation tasks.”
Hansen explains that robot technology changes the way tasks are carried out, requiring job descriptions to be reorganized and redefined in order to get the most value. “This changes the way we work,” he says. “We have all the reasons to believe that we started a positive automation wave. We have freed up both the human resources that were deployed for transportation and expensive square meters used as depots. At the same time, we can improve the entire flow and minimize waiting times thanks to more frequent and targeted deliveries.”

One robot and ten carts
Flextek, a Danish distributor of Mobile Industrial Robots, was responsible for the technical implementation of the hospital’s first mobile robot, which consists of four parts:
1. At the base is the MiR100robot, with a lift capacity of 100 kg.
2. A top module by the accessory manufacturer ROEQ is installed on the robot’s load surface.
3. A wheeled cart clicks onto the top module when the robot autonomously drives underneath the cart.
4. A cabinet is mounted on top of the cart, which is sealed by the sterilization center.

At the sterilization center, the staff packs disposable equipment and sterile tools into the cart-top cabinets. The mobile robot then runs between the sterilization center and ten different stops in the hospital. Service assistants in the different departments empty the carts.

Anne Rosenberg Petersen, social and health assistant at the sterilization center, is one of the employees tasked with preparing the robot transport to make sure that plasters, needles and infusion kits, and much more are delivered in time. She says, “As soon as I pack the goods in the cabinet I can, with a click on a tablet, send the robot out to the different departments with all the equipment they require. At the same time, I automatically receive the used equipment and the empty carts back from the departments. I think it is fascinating that we can use a robot for it.”
The hospital staff has seen the possibilities of the mobile robot and has continuously provided useful inputs for a smooth and safe implementation. For example, Optimus has been programmed to politely warn patients and staff that it is getting closer before it silently drives through automatic doors or out of the elevator. Signs have also been mounted on its front, which indicates the robot’s current destinations to the people around it.

Can automate much more
Lillian Hansen, the Project Manager at Zealand University Hospital, is leading the mobile robot pilot project. The purpose of the investment in the first mobile robot was to become more aware of the possibilities offered by technology.
“We are in a situation where we need to think differently because we have to optimize the current logistics at the hospital while designing a logistics solution for the future hospital,” she explains. “The fact that the technology comes from a Danish producer and is installed by a Danish distributor is reassuring. Flextek did a very good job of building and refining a flexible solution that allows us to easily load equipment on the robot. The experience with the first mobile robot from MiR has actually given us more ideas for automation of other transport tasks in the hospital.”
One of the scenarios envisioned by Zealand University Hospital is the transport of customized equipment packages for every planned operation. This will have a tremendous impact once the number of operating rooms is quadrupled. The pilot project has shown that the hospital can program operation plans into the MiR robot’s daily program and ensure deliveries of the right equipment at the right time. The automated delivery of medicines from hospital pharmacies and laboratories is another distinct task for mobile robots in a super hospital.

About Zealand University Hospital (Køge, Denmark):
The hospital is being expanded with 130,000 square meters to a super hospital and will become Region Zealand’s flagship with its 190,000 m2, which will gather the region’s medical expertise into efficient units. The hospital is expected to receive 400,000 outpatient visits and 90,000 hospitalizations per year.

About Mobile Industrial Robots
Mobile Industrial Robots was founded in 2013 by the experienced robot developer Niels Jul Jacobsen, one of the key figures in the construction of Denmark’s flourishing and internationally recognized robot cluster. MiR robots have already proved their value, and thousands of them drive in the global industrial and healthcare sectors, automating internal transport. Among the users of MiR’s robots, there is a long list of multinationals like Honeywell, Kamstrup, Airbus, Hitachi, and Flex. The Danish healthcare sector has integrated the technology in nursing homes and hospitals in Aabernaa, Sønderborg, Bispebjerg, Brande, Herlev and more.