Crucial automation for the healthcare industry

Departments - 1 Last Look

Medical device manufacturers must develop cost-effective, innovative automated systems to meet healthcare provider needs.

February 6, 2017

RIVA’s robotic arm moves syringes, vials, and other inventory during IV compounding.The automated system eliminates more than 30 process steps in the manual compounding process.

Population growth, increasing numbers of senior citizens, and tightening regulations have put pressure on healthcare providers to be more efficient, so medical device manufacturers are being asked to provide fully automated systems that improve safety, costs, and workflow.

A blueprint for success already exists. For more than 50 years, manufacturing innovation has centered on automation to create substantial gains in accuracy, productivity, and efficiency. The same principles underpinning those process improvements can be applied to medical system design.

Patient demand, industry pressures

Increased public awareness and regulatory scrutiny about safety, quality, and other issues are critical drivers for automated solutions. Highly publicized events such as the 2012 New England Compounding Center (NECC) meningitis outbreak – attributed to contaminated, manually-compounded medications – serving as a key factor. News reports of the incident show more than 800 people were sickened, 64 of whom died. NECC is one example where automation and process improvements may have helped avert a tragedy.

Safety and productivity have healthcare providers relying on medical device manufacturers to develop cost-effective, innovative automated systems to replace highly repetitive, manual procedures. Additionally, device makers are identifying and resolving enterprise-wide problems. So health systems are starting to have the same expectations of automation that the manufacturing industry has had for years. They are measuring equipment effectiveness and monitoring availability, productivity, and quality.

However, it is important that developers remember there is not a one-size-fits-all automation approach. For example, an increasing number of manufacturers are conducting in-depth studies and surveys, personalized work sessions, and system user group meetings to help guide automation design and implementation. Developers are spending more time in the field to obtain a holistic view of a customer’s enterprise philosophy before systems are designed. These factors are positioning developers as solution providers.

Maximizing the benefits of automation can take a lot of work, and if solution providers do not integrate providers’ requirements into the design process, the technology may not achieve goals. The industry must also develop and monitor evolving requirements and functionalities that may not currently be defined but could be implemented in the future. The operational platform must accommodate continuous improvement based on customer utilization, metrics, and feedback.

Healthcare providers need to meet ever-stricter regulatory requirements, provide greater quality care, and preserve the bottom line. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato coined the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Twenty-four centuries after his words were first published, they still ring true and are applicable to innovations in healthcare today. Population growth and patient necessity will continue to drive innovation for many years.


About the author: Thomas Doherty is executive vice president of technology at ARxIUM. He has nearly three decades of experience developing medical devices, aerospace applications, and control systems. He can be reached at