There has recently been an upsurge in the adoption of automated processes within the healthcare industry, and whilst robotics certainly aren’t new to healthcare, the applications within which they are now being implemented are evolving as advances in medical sciences open doors to improved medical procedures.

We should also be aware that the healthcare market is a diverse one and we should consider the variety of areas into which automated procedures currently operate. From front line processes such as angiography, x-ray and MRI/CT scanning procedures, to complimentary processes such as 3D printed casts for broken bones and the automated manufacturing of surgical instruments.

Those processes referred to above are good examples of the use of industrial robotics within healthcare, though let’s consider the adoption of sensitive robots; collaborative cells that have been designed to work alongside humans, opening a new chapter of collaboration between robot and surgeon – cooperation between operator and robot.

Robots have a clear advantage when it comes to precision, reach and flexibility. Quality of movement also remains consistent and without tiring. Surgery is a demanding interdisciplinary field and the implementation of collaborative robotic cells provides a third hand to a surgeon. Consider the LBR iiwa medical variant which could relieve the surgeon, doctor or nurse of difficult, non-ergonomic tasks.

But as with many automated robotic tasks, the activities carried out by the collaborative cell iiwa would simply augment the surgeon’s (operator’s) skill. We are someway off total autonomy within the operating theatre, though we shouldn’t lose sight of the real benefits that automated robotics can present the healthcare sector.

Consider cost reductions and efficiencies within the healthcare system. As part of their strategy for improvement, many trusts are looking to increase throughput and efficiencies as a means to reduce long waiting times for operations. The automation of manual surgical tasks is just one way in which these targets can be reached, not to mention the reduced strain on healthcare professionals as automated robotics within the operating theatre become more prominent.

The LBR Med is KUKA’s new robot innovation for the medical sector. It is based on the sensitive LBR iiwa lightweight robot. With its sensory capabilities for safety, fast teaching and simple operator control, it acts as a helpful assistant in the operating room. The LBR Med satisfies all the requirements for safe human-robot collaboration – as well as its duties in the operating room.

There are now more people in the healthcare system than ever before, coupled with an aging population. Staffing levels could be complimented by the implementation of collaborative robotic cells. Innovation and sustainability have to feature as part of strategic development plans in the healthcare sector and attitudes have to change from ‘it would be nice to have’ to ‘we must have’ to ensure that health management of the future can be feasible, scalable and sustainable to meet rising demand.

But the benefits don’t just end at the savings or improvements applicable to the ‘market’. Consider the patient. Some surgical processes can be much improved when carried out by robotics. If we consider some trauma and orthopaedic procedures; patient safety, accuracy and the implantation of surgical components can be significantly improved, which can lead to a reduction in recovery times, freeing up hospital beds. Equipped with the right medical devices and special programs, the LBR Med can be also used to assist with endoscopy or biopsies, to use lasers to cut bones or to insert pedicle screws, to name but a few.

We have already mentioned how we are a long way off total autonomy within the operating theatre, and we don’t expect for one moment that robots will replace doctors and nurses any time soon, but we should be considerate of how automated robotics can support healthcare professionals in providing more efficient care delivery. Consider lifting patients or moving heavy or cumbersome machinery. The use of robotics can not only save time but also save costs, especially so when we consider RSI claims in the workplace, or loss of revenue due to sick pay. Automation provides a means to remove employees from manual tasks, such as those mentioned above, and move them into higher profile roles that then make use of their clinical expertise in areas that they have been trained for.

Innovation is the driving force of progress in the healthcare sector and demographic challenges are influencing the uptake in the adoption of automated robotics within the medical arena. Having entered the medical robotics industry more than 15 years ago, KUKA continues to develop technologies in the field of medical technology, supporting clients as they realise their ideas for medical robotics, from evaluation to implementation.

The KUKA Group is a global automation corporation with sales of around 3 billion euro and 13,188 employees. As leading global suppliers of intelligent automation solutions, KUKA Industries, KUKA Robotics, KUKA Systems and Swisslog – as part of the KUKA Group – offer their customers in the automotive, electronics, consumer goods, metalworking, logistics/e-commerce, healthcare and service robotics industries everything they need from a single source: from components and cells to fully automated systems. The KUKA Group is headquartered in Augsburg.