Gibotech Creates World’s First Sterile Automated Hospital Warehouse

World’s First Sterile Automated Hospital Warehouse

Challenge

  • Gibotech A/S needed a flexible, integrated solution that could liaise with other automation suppliers and the supervisory system, and that could be installed in sterile environments

Solutions

Results

  • Automation, safety and motion all on a single EtherNet/IP network
  • Integration with third-party automation components
  • Stainless steel Panel PC for use in sterile environment

Specialist Company deploys automation, safety and motion over EtherNet/IP... in limited space and with limited time

Background

Tracing its roots back to the timber industry, Gibotech A/S is now a specialist in the development, implementation and maintenance of industrial solutions. The company manufactures bespoke, high technology machines and systems, CNC-machinery, automation with and without robots and panel sizing machinery, which are often part of complicated production lines or in single cells.

Today Gibotech A/S addresses all professional sectors of industry and has been focusing on transforming itself from a traditional company, dealing with single machines into a company that makes complete plant and automation solutions.

In a recent project, the company was involved in the design and development of the world’s first fully automated sterile warehouse at a large hospital in Copenhagen in Denmark. Designed to save millions of dollars, the warehouse automates large aspects of the handling and storage of sterile components ready for operations in the hospital’s theatres.

The requirement for a flexible, integrated solution that could liaise with other automation suppliers and the supervisory system, and that could be installed in sterile environments, lead it to call upon the skills, products and services of Rockwell Automation.

Challenge

As this type of installation had never been attempted before, Gibotech was working from a clean slate and had to be confident that its choice of automation solution would be flexible enough to cope with regular and significant design changes. It also had to cope with limited space and the demanding requirements of a sterile environment.

In operation, the system has been designed to remove the significant burden placed on operators in their handling of heavy baskets full of operating theatre ‘tools’ as they are collected, cleaned, sterilised and then stored ready for subsequent use.

The warehouse provides 1,900 shelf spaces and 1,800 baskets, all of which are logged using RFID tags. The system was designed to handle over 100 transactions a day with each basket taking five to ten minutes to go through the system. The maximum capacity is based upon processing one cart or trolley (containing nine baskets) per minute.

After the components have been manually loaded into the wire mesh trays, they are then cleaned in special washers. The trays are then manually packed with groups of components before being wrapped in special crepe paper that is resistant to the conditions inside an autoclave. Once cleaned and sterilised the parts are manually inspected and segregated into operation-specific batches, according to the needs of the theatre staff and the surgical procedure that will be performed the next day.

The trays are then loaded into the storage system, which uses bar codes, RFID and datasheets to log type and location. A robot then traverses the storage bays and stores positions the trays on elevators for storage ready for retrieval the next day. When needed, the robot will retrieve the trays and load them into special elevators that take them to where they are needed.

Solution

At the heart of the automation solution is an Allen-Bradley Compact GuardLogix programmable automation controller (PAC) connected to a stainless steel Allen-Bradley VersaView Panel PC HMI within the warehouse. By using a GuardLogix-based PAC, Gibotech was able to integrate the automation, safety and motion solution onto a single controller; significantly reducing the wiring complexity of the solution, while also making best possible use of the limited ‘real estate’ within the confined warehouse.

The Allen-Bradley Compact GuardLogix PAC is connected to the Safe Off safety devices and ancillary automation equipment, including third-party robot and pneumatic systems, using Point I/O over EtherNet/IP. “We needed a solution that would communicate with devices from other suppliers,” explains Lars Vinge at Gibotech. “With EtherNet/ IP evolving into a robust but open automation standard, we knew we had these capabilities.”

The motion solutions comprises 13 Allen-Bradley Kinetix 300 servo drives coupled to Allen-Bradley servo motors, for which Rockwell Automation engineers gave Gibotech help with motor sizing and selection. An Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 40 drive is also used with a motor encoder as a simple servo solution for the cranes. Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 4M drives are also in operation on the motors used to transport the baskets around the warehouse, running over Ethernet and a CANBus adaptor.

Results

The whole reason for the development of the automation solution was to remove the burden placed on personnel when it came to repetitive heavy lifting and accurate tray location. It is fair to say that this solution does just that and will become a role model for similar installations across the world.

“We especially liked the EtherNet/IP-based solution that Rockwell Automation offered,” explains Vinge. “Having automation, safety and motion all on one network made integration and distribution of the control architecture a lot simpler.

“We also liked the technical help and information that Rockwell Automation offered both backwards and forwards during the design and development phase of the project. The delivery assurances were also vital as we were working to a tight lead time.

“Our goal and the defining parameter of the system is that it should be 97% available,” Vinge concludes, “and with the help of Rockwell Automation we are actively pursuing other contracts in Denmark as the health service looks to not only build new hospitals, but also upgrade the ones currently in place. As well as winning local industry awards, the hospital is delighted with the work we have done.”

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