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Automated testing improves precision and repeatability for medical device quality control
11. January 2019 / By Alessio Cocchi E / 1 Comment
Accuracy, repeatability, and safety are critical aspects in the manufacture of many devices, especially those that have stringent quality requirements such as medical, industrial or transportation systems. These are also key features that distinguish UR cobots—and make them ideal for testing these products for quality assurance.
The ability to automate routine testing operations with a high degree of efficiency provides multiple advantages. In the production phase, automation can significantly shorten cycle times and in the quality-control stage, the standardization of test batteries ensures uniform and reliable results.
This was the case for the BioRobotics Institute of the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy where a research team developed a robotics application that automates the functional tests on ultrasound probes. The probes are produced by ESAOTE, one of the world's leading manufacturers of biomedical equipment, in particular in the field of ultrasound, dedicated magnetic resonance and software for the management of the diagnostic process.
The UR5 model was chosen for the test automation. With a 5 kg load capacity and 850 mm reach in a robot arm that weighs less than 19 kg, the UR5 is flexible and versatile enough for many quality control and pick-and-place operations.
Commercial probe alignment in water tank with manual mechanics (left), and with the UR5 equipped with a gripper from UR+ partner Schunk (right).
Before the integration of the application developed by the Pisa team, test batteries on the probes were manually performed by specialized technicians. The tests verify the degree of precision expressed by the probe by analyzing the signal emitted in a container full of water. Water is typically used in this kind of measurement since its acoustic properties (such as ultrasound velocity) match those of body tissues. For these tests, the accurate alignment of the probe is crucial. Comparing the data from three tests with manual alignment against those of three tests with robotic alignment left no doubt: the collaborative robots guarantee more precise and repeatable data.
The developers are able to record the starting position of the robotic arm through three spatial coordinates (x, y, z) in space, which they can set during the programming phase. This speeds test setup and makes the process more reliable. In fact, this ability eliminates variables that inevitably came into play with manual positioning of the probe.
The robot was controlled through a PC based software allowing the user to set the following parameters/actions: select the probe type to test; open or close the Schunk gripper; positioning the robot in different test points; set amplitude and direction of translational and rotational movements. As show in the Graphical User Interface the software can perform three type of adjustment for linear offset and three for angular ones.
But the greatest advantage guaranteed by the collaborative robotic application is the human factor. The safety natively integrated into the cobots have allows the constant presence of ESAOTE specialized technicians near the robotic cell, in complete safety. The sharing of space and the possibility of applying the experience and professionalism of collaborators on higher value-added tasks is one of the most evident aspects of collaborative UR robotics. In the case of the BioRobotics Institute application, repetitive tasks, such as the positioning of the probe, are entrusted to the robotic arm, under the watchful eye of the specialized technician who oversees the entire experiment.
In true collaboration, significantly improved results come from the appropriate utilization of robot and human.
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Alessio Cocchi graduated in Management Engineering at the University of Bologna and obtained an Executive Master in Marketing & Sales at SDA Bocconi and at the ESADE Business School. In June 2016 he joined Universal Robots as Sales Development Manager Italy, with the task of developing the Italian market entirely. During his previous experience he managed and coordinated international work teams and was responsible for the marketing and global communication strategies of the Business Unit for which he worked