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Robots in Medicine: Applications and Possibilities

Top 3D Shop corporate blog Robotics 3D printers

Introduction

We continue to cover the world of robotics. In this article we will talk about how automated robotic systems that used to work only at the factories and plants, became utilized in medicine with further improvements. We will provide the real-world examples of such applications, as well as talk about equipment and the prospects of doctors and robots working together. 

How It Started

This field was pioneered by the surgical robot called “da Vinci” that was developed in the end of 1980’s. By 2012, this system helped to perform around 200,000 surgeries. In 2018, the assistant robot was a part of neurosurgery covering the hemia removal from the thoracic spine with the spinal cord compression. 

Robots in Modern Medicine

The image above shows that medical robots require human input to work. But today the researchers are working on making more autonomous robots that could operate with minimum human input. Looking at the developments that will be mentioned below, one can guess how soon the robots will fully replace medical workers.

New and Prospective Developments in Medical Robotics

So what kinds of medical robots are currently relevant? Here’s a small review.

Apart from helping in surgeries, the medical robots can do many other interactions with patients. Depending on the application, there are several categories of medical robots.

Assistant robots

The history of medical robots started with them. Today they keep becoming more accurate and versatile. For example, a lightweight KUKA LBR Med robot has a sensor recognition system that ensures safe operation while working with a human. There are also intuitive controls and a special coating that meets the strictest hygienic requirements. This robot is a worthwhile medical assistant that can be used for endoscopies and biopsies, as well as bone incisions done with lasers and pedicle screw insertion

Diagnostic Robots

The practice shows that the computers are much more superior to humans in regards to data processing. Another example would be a robot by KUKA that takes a part in the German Sport University Cologne’s project named HaiLeg (high articulated intelligent Leg). The robot acts as a very sensitive leg press that is used for orthopedic analyses.

A patient presses their feet against a special panel and applies pressure. The resulting data is immediately sent to a computer that would process it. The biomechanical knee model is constructed using the data about the rotation and muscle power.

Therapeutic Robots

Modern medical robots can perform vacuum, laser, radiation, electro- and thermal therapies, as well as many others.

A great example would be a laser therapy robot by KUKA. One of its major advantages is the ability to soften the movements of the tumor by adapting to the patient’s breathing motions. This means that the patient is less affected by radiation. 

Moreover, the robots can be more ‘caring’ than expected. For example, the UR10 solution by Universal Robots has found its use in massaging. An American startup named Massage Robotics integrates UR10 into their massaging robot called Alex. They are expecting interaction with patients with a voice in the future.

Recently, KUKA patented the technology covering a hippotherapy robot. The device includes a saddle with sensors, the ability to program motions and a device that automatically moves the saddle in the directions where it was programmed to move. Strictly speaking, this is a robot that mimics a horse's motions without all of the safety concerns of working with a real horse. 

Bioprinters

The image above shows a 3D printer that can work with live cells. It’s named Organ Aut and is manufactured by 3dbio

3D printers that work with living tissues are also a part of a big family of robotics. The bioprinters are now capable of producing the frames of tissues, organs and hyperelastic bones, as well as placenta models. The liquid nutritious substrate is used as the material. It consists of living cells of various kinds, as well as gals, fibers, polymers, ceramics and metals. EnvisionTec is one of the most famous manufacturers of bioprinters. 

Successful Examples of Medical Robots Application

The developments and experiments are already producing significant results. Today we can see a successful integration of robotics into medicine. Below are some examples that are impressive.

Radiation therapy with the KUKA and ACCURAY

The CyberKnife robot made by collaboration of KUKA and ACCURAY is used for tumor treatment with high accuracy in the leading radiation therapy centers around the globe. 

A surgeon uses a beam of X-rays instead of a knife. The beam source is placed around the patient using a robotic arm, so the dose of radiation is concentrated at the location of a tumor. The visualization system is used for tracking the location of the tumor and then neutralizing it with the help of the robot. This way, CyberKnife can treat tumors with high accuracy in any place of the body without damaging healthy tissue. During the treatment, the patient is placed on the moving table that is also controlled by the robot. Moreover, there is no need to hospitalize a patient after such a procedure.

Higher speed of drug packaging at the pharmaceutical plants with the help of FANUC robots

Not only does medical robotization make the life of the doctors easier but also simplifies the work of pharmaceutical manufacturers. The packaging of the products by TechLab is done by the robot by FANUC. The TechLab’s first experience in automation included a collaboration with ESS Technologies for integration of the FANUC LR Mate 430 robot into the conveyor line. It features a robotic arm that captures and moves the objects on the line. The robot is used to load the components inside the conveyor that would deliver them to the machine that packs it. This improved the speed of the line to 36 packages per minute and reduced the number of workers needed from 7-8 operators to just 2.

During the second automation stage, TechLab integrated the robotized system named ESS TaskMate that includes another FANUC robot: the LR Mate 200iC with 6 axis, as well the FANUC M-1iA high-speed delta robot. The first one picks the test kits and places them on a packaging line while the second one picks the parts and delivers them to the packaging machine. The combination of two robots boosted the speed to 90 packages per minute, which is more than twice than before. 

The automation of product lines can be done using various other robotic arm solutions. A good example would be the Jaka Zu 12

Transport robot by Hanwha and Yujin Robot

It’s simple: the robot just makes the job of medical staff in clinics and retirement homes easier. It delivers food and meds to the patients and the dirty plates to the kitchen. According to the manufacturer, the nurses should spend more time with the patients instead of cleaning dirty dishes.

Another robotic assistant by uFactory

The robotic arm uFactory xArm features a camera, lightweight carbon-plastic structure and multi-joint manipulator. The robot can recognize and sort the objects such as pills or other drugs, as well as move them. It can be used for taking care of the patients or for lab purposes. 

Medical Tools Production

The robot by Universal Robots provided impressive results for the Tegra Medical equipment manufacturer. The company had problems: it started losing profit due to increasing costs and lowered demand. The problem was solved by integrating three robotic arms by Universal Robots (one UR10 device and two UR5 ones) in the production lines. The result was a doubled efficiency and reducing the staff to just two full-time workers. The company managed to cut the production costs and meet the consumers expectations.

Faster Blood Analysis

Two UR5 robots left an impression on the workers of the Copenhagen University Hospital located in Gentofte, Denmark. One robot takes a blood sample and places it inside the barcode scanner. The camera captures the color of a screw cap of the tube. After that, a robot places the sample tubes into one of four racks according to the color. The second robot collects the tubes from the rack and places them into the centrifuge and analysis device. The robots process around 3000 tubes a day, 7-8 tubes per minute. They managed to help the laboratory to handle the load without hiring additional technicians despite the 20% increase of demand. More than 90% of results are ready in less than an hour after getting into a laboratory.

3D Printing in Medicine

Any 3D printer at its core is a programmable electro-mechanic device, so 3D printers can be mentioned in the article. It’s a relatively new technology that is rapidly becoming an essential part of the many medical discoveries.

The EnvisionTEC Bioplotter is one of the best 3D printers for medical solutions. It was used by the labs for more than 150 researchers only in the USA. It’s unique ability is to 3D print using any biocompatible material, as well as combine multiple materials for making one object.

EnvisionTEC Bioplotter was used for making the components of a custom prosthetic arm. The designers used polycaprolactone for printing the joint parts since this material is close to the cartilage tissue. There’s also a way to 3D print more flexible or more rigid prosthetic components by using various different materials. This way, the use of 3D printing in medicine provides a fast and inexpensive alternative way to manufacture prostheses and implants.

Using the techniques developed by Shah Lab, the doctors can now 3D print cells for making a liver-like structure in-vitro that would be implanted into the patient’s body and will grow into a functioning liver. This procedure will replace the need for donor organs since 3D printing involves the use of the cells native to the patient, this significantly reduces the chances of rejection

3D printing already helped to restore the functions of hearts. The EnvisionTEC was used for making an aortic heart valve.

Using the advantages of 3D technologies the doctors have an ability to scan the patients to find their individual issues and then use 3D software to design, develop and print a heart valve that is made to have the perfect size for a patient. 3D printing of a heart valve is done using the EnvisionTEC bioplotter. It puts the layers and frames, as well as supports and shapes them as needed. After printing, a valve is placed in warm water so the support materials can dissolve. The resulting valve is ready to be implanted or used for testing. This medical breakthrough is very important for people with heart diseases.

3D Printing Dental Guards

Dental guards and aligners provide a competition for traditional braces since they have several advantages such as aesthetics, comfort and dental health. Years ago, waiting for guards to be delivered (sometimes from another country) took quite a long time which affected the time and cost of treatment. Modern 3D printing equipment allows us to print the guards right on site.

We decided to try this method, and our CEO and founder Vasiliy Kiselev tested it. The bite correction procedure took 6 months, there were 16 aligners made by the Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer. The results are seen below.

The costs of manufacturing the guards on their own can be recouped just after 5-7 clients.

Conclusion

As we can see, medical robotics do wonders and that means that the industry will soon get to the next level. Robots already make changes in medicine and play a role in treatment and now we can just watch how the breakthroughs happen and keep up with the progress.

If you’re looking for robots for a clinic, lab or medical center, you can find the latest robotics tech at Top 3D Shop. It will help you simplify the work of the staff and increase efficiency and profitability of the business. 

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