9 automation projects for COVID-19 recovery announced by ARM Institute

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COVID-19 ARM banner

ARM and the Defense Department have called for projects in response to the pandemic. Source: ARM

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, or ARM, Institute today said it has selected nine technical projects to help U.S. industry recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Defense, which is providing funding, identified areas of urgency including diagnostics, medical care and countermeasures, non-medical personal protective equipment, and other supplies.

The ARM Institute is a public-private partnership focused on industrial robotics and workforce innovation and is a 2020 RBR50 innovation award winner. More than 260 member organizations from industry, academia, and government collaborate to grow U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and military and civilian supply chain resilience.

ARM logoThe nine projects chosen are linked to COVID-19 mitigation and the ability of the U.S. and the Defense Department (DoD) to prevent, prepare for, and respond to this and future pandemics.

“The selection of these nine projects shows that the ARM member ecosystem is joining the fight against this pandemic by developing robotic–related capabilities to assist DoD and commercial Industries,” said Dr. Greg Hudas, the DoD program manager for the Pittsburgh-based ARM Institute.

ARM plans to award close to $5 million in funding, for a total contributed investment of approximately $8 million across the following projects:

1. Autonomous Robotic Spraying and Disinfection in Warehouses and Shipyards

Principal investigator: Siemens Corp. Corporate Technologies

Project team: FedEx Corp., Yaskawa Motoman

Description: Logistics and support operations have played a vital role in providing medical supplies and essential goods to millions of Americans. To control the spread of the novel coronavirus in these facilities, more frequent and reliable disinfection is required.

This project will develop an autonomous warehouse disinfection system that can automatically navigate, locate, and disinfect heavily touched surfaces and potentially contaminated areas. This process will minimize the human role in potentially harmful disinfecting procedures while reducing costs.

ARM covid projects

Siemens previously worked with Aucma on a disinfection robot. Source: Siemens

2. Automation of Characterization and Evaluation (ACE) in PPE Manufacturing

Principal investigator: Northeastern University

Project team: Merrow Manufacturing

Description: The quality assurance procedures for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, is labor-intensive and time-consuming. Sample testing of PPE has become a priority, not only in manufacturing plants but also at medical centers. The national labs providing validation testing for PPE are reporting lead times up to 75 days because of a lack of qualified technicians and overwhelming volume of new requests.

This project aims to develop a robotic system to automate the quality assurance tests for PPE inspection, thus improving the performance, productivity, and efficiency of PPE manufacturing in the U.S.

3. Built-By-Bot: Customized Mask Assembly using Robots

Principal investigator: Siemens Corp. Corporate Technologies

Project team: Henderson Sewing Machine Corp., Sewbo Inc, Bluewater Defense, Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC)

Description: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified cloth masks as playing a vital role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but the supply has not been able to keep up with the demand. Robotic sewing presents a technical challenge because it requires the manipulation of flexible materials, fine motor control, and precise part recognition.

This project will build upon the outputs from other ARM projects to automate the robotic production of cloth face masks for PPE.

4. Mobile Autonomous Industrial Disinfector (MAID)

Principal investigator: Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories

Project team: GrayMatter Robotics, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Lockheed Martin Rotary Mission Systems

Description: Due to the rapid transmutability of COVID-19, frequent surface disinfection is required for businesses and workspaces to operate safely. The current method of manual cleaning is not ideal because it puts another person into the space who could get sick or transmit the virus.

This project will develop an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) with a mounted collaborative multi-axis robotic arm capable of manipulating both a disinfection system and a sensor suite. The system will identify areas that need disinfecting, execute the disinfecting process, and keep records of the cleaning tasks completed.

5. Rapid PPE Production through Automation & Robotics (RAPPAR)

Principal investigator: Siemens Corp. Corporate Technologies

Project team: Henderson Sewing Machine Company, Yaskawa Motoman, HomTex Inc.

Description: The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed critical vulnerabilities in the global health care supply chain. At the beginning of the pandemic, U.S manufacturers were unable to meet the significant demand for PPE, resulting in shortfalls and long lead times.

This project will improve existing automated mask production in the U.S. by including robotic automatic visual inspection, picking and sorting, and end-of-line packing and palletizing.

6. Autonomous Mobile Capability for Room Disinfecting Robots

Principal investigator: QinetiQ North America

Project team: MassRobotics

Description: Schools, offices, military bases, and manufacturing floors need to be disinfected between shifts to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The Decon–X (DX1) disinfecting system has proven its effectiveness in Europe, but it currently lacks the mobility and autonomy to disinfect spaces without an operator. An automated solution is required to ensure workers return to a COVID-free environment each day.

This project is aimed at adding mobile autonomous capabilities to the DX1 room disinfection system to automate the consecutive treatment of multiple rooms and spaces within workplaces. The addition of mobility and autonomous navigation to the DX1 will enable the robot to move from room to room and perform a series of treatments with little to no human intervention.

7. Rapid Robotic Diagnostic Kit Discovery

Principal investigator: Siemens Corp. Corporate Technologies

Project team: Maxim BioMedical Inc., Siemens Healthineers

Description: While many tests for have been developed, the U.S. still has not reached the scale necessary for effective virus management and control. COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests have long turnaround times of two to three days for lab results. Rapid development of COVID-19 Lateral Flow Assay (LFA) tests would dramatically aid U.S. efforts towards large-scale testing for current and future pandemics. LFA test strip evaluation requires at least two technicians – one to run the assay and one to interpret results using analyzers that image and quantify individual strips.

This project will develop a solution using advanced vision systems and flexible robots to accelerate LFA test development by automating LFA test-strip evaluation.

8. Swarm Robotics for Large Structure Manufacturing

Principal investigator: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Project team: Air Structures American Technologies Inc. (ASATI)

Description: COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need to rapidly deploy negative pressure spaces. These air-supported structures are rapidly deployable with performance advantages over traditional tents, and are ideal for use as expeditionary hospitals, quarantine facilities, housing, and other disaster relief or military applications. Production of these structures is labor-intensive but can be expedited with the development of robots to aid personnel with moving and manipulating heavy, flexible materials.

This project aims to solve the problem of moving and manipulating a large, heavy, flexible material over a large area by developing a fleet of self-aware, human-directed robotic platforms to take on the hard work of moving the material around the production floor. This manufacturing technology will help team member ASATI produce a “hospital in a shipping container” that can be set up in a parking lot with a crew of eight to 10 people and a forklift in only 72 hours. ASATI will be able to reduce cost and manufacturing lead times of these critical structures through the implementation of this development.

9. Robotic Application of Anti-Microbial Copper Coatings

Principal investigator: Siemens Corp. Corporate Technologies

Project team: VRC Metals System

Description: Copper-coated surfaces can rapidly kill coronaviruses such as COVID-19, but these have not been widely manufactured due to low demand. However, the pandemic has highlighted the need for self-disinfecting surfaces. Robotic cold spraying of copper will enable rapid production to meet the new demand. Wide adoption of copper-coated surfaces will reduce the spread of COVID-19 without the need for frequent cleaning. The robotic application of copper coating will improve the manufacturability of these parts.

This project will develop a robotic anti-microbial copper application system (cold spray), integrating a scanner and developing an automated path generation and QA tools to apply the copper coating to components like a doorknob, hospital bench, cart, handrail, etc.

ARM Institute members to discuss the future of manufacturing in RoboBusiness Direct series

Register now for this week’s ARM Institute panel as part of the free RoboBusiness Direct series.

ARM sets goals for projects

ARM receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies to manage programs that develop, demonstrate, and accelerate the early adoption of novel robotic technology and workforce development solutions to do the following:

  • Assert U.S. leadership in advanced robotics for manufacturing
  • Empower American workers to be cost-competitive with low-wage workers abroad
  • Lower the technical, operational, and economic barriers to adopt robotics technologies
  • Aid in the creation of new jobs to secure U.S. national prosperity.

ARM works closely with the government and Institute members to identify areas of need in robotics and workforce development. ARM projects require at least one industry organization participant on each project to ensure that the outputs are relevant, applicable, and impactful. The projects are selected by a team of ARM members and partners spanning government, industry, and academia. Only ARM members can participate in these projects.

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