Towards the new norms through robotics

Towards the new norms through robotics

Technology Domains: Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) Applications

Industry Sectors        : Hospitality and Healthcare

Synopsis of Product or Solution

Covid 19 has accelerated the progress of Industry 4.0, where cyber and physical coexist; many industries will want to ensure reliable productivity while reducing the number of touchpoints as much as possible. It is a fascinating time for people in the automation industry, specifically in robotics. Robotics technology has enabled us to do this very thing. During this period, we worked with several industries like hospitality, healthcare and logistics to arm them with solutions to ease the workforce crunch and keep people safe. Through robotics in these industries, we set the new precedence of technology and serve as the lighthouse showing how technology can help them.

Working through several government agencies and private sectors, we learn and apply the knowledge to serve them better. In the following segments, we will elaborate on what technology is used, where we have applied it, and how it transformed their business.

The promise of Innovation:

HoST works with partners and end-users/institutions to understand the most heartfelt needs of their industry. Reviewing these requirements, we looked at what HoST can offer and meet these requirements.

Hospitality Industry:

Hotels started to lose business during the lockdown for the hospitality industry as there were few or no overseas visitors in Singapore. Business is declining, but some hotels opted to be Stay Home Notice (SHN) hotels that visitors or locals use for quarantine. Additionally, other hotels started to have many staycation promotions to attract locals to spend in their hotels. This at least helps the hotels to stay afloat during this period. With this, it comes with its set of problems; they will require to adhere to the strict rules from the government to reduce touch points, social distancing, limitation of numbers and proper disinfection procedures.

On top of that, the hospitality industry was supported by many workers from neighbouring countries or workers of age. These workers are forced to return home, and the older workers choose to stop working. This created a workforce gap in this industry. They will require quick solutions which can resolve these issues. One of the direct applications is porters, which help them move items from point to point throughout the day. At the back of the house in a hotel, porters or housekeepers pushcarts full of linens from the linen collection area to the linen room on every floor. These carts can be up to 200kg quickly and fully loaded. Usually, these carts will be placed early in the morning in the linen room every day. The housekeepers will look through a schedule of rooms to clean and pick the towels, bedsheets, and pillowcases as required. They will call the porters to bring up more linens if there are insufficient amounts. After cleaning the rooms, they will collect the soiled linens back in the linen room, and the porters will collect them back to the linen collection area at the end of the day. This operation requires a few porters daily to move these carts throughout the back of the house. Additionally, there is no accountability for the linen dispatched or collected. Laundry services usually will have disputes on lost linens and how many have been provided.

As such, we worked with RP (School of Hospitality), Drop positioning systems, and experience hoteliers and laundry service providers to have an end-to-end solution; complete the entire cycle of processes for the linens. The linens are RFID tagged and will be tracked at every process stage. At the laundry providers, the system will let them know how to pack the carts according to a different hotel and different floor requirements the day before they are delivered. These carts will go through an RFID gantry and be scanned to ensure the correct number of linens to the right hotel and floor. Once at the hotel, it will go through another RFID gantry to ensure it is received. These carts will be put in parking lots, ready to be brought to different floors. Each of the carts is also Bluetooth tagged. The Bluetooth tag lets the system know whether a cart is present at the lot and which floor it will be dispatched to. Every night when the clock strikes 12, the Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) will look for those cart parking lots which has the order to be dispatched. It will latch itself to the cart and bring these carts to the designated floor and location via the back of the house lift.

After the housekeepers complete the cleaning process of all the rooms and collect all the soiled linens, they will put the cart in the designed lot on each floor. The AMRs will collect the cart after they deliver clean linens. These carts will go through the RFID gantry before returning to the laundry provider. This will complete a single cycle of the entire process. With this system, there is no dispute on missing linens and ensuring the correct amount of linens is delivered to the hotels.

MIR - Autonomous RobotThese AMRs have different jobs in the day to ensure a better ROI. They can deliver bottled water or other bulky items like the room service tables from location to location as long as they place the correct carts at the identified location. This is a fully automated process. HoST is the distributor and certified system integrator for MiR (Mobile Industrial Robots) AMRs, and we use these robot bases and work with partners to form a complete turnkey solution. Sure, there are competing brands of AMRs in the market that comes close to MiR in terms of technology and capability. The difference between MiR is the ease of integrating with other systems to form a usable application. Many AMR brands can move from point A to point B autonomously. Still, MiR brings it to the next level of integration with passenger/cargo lifts, different software and collaborative robot arms quickly. This application can be used in all hotels in Singapore to ease the workforce crunch and improve productivity in the back of the housing sector. Anything which requires to be moved can be replaced by robotics.

Healthcare Industry:

During this period, healthcare institutions are also swarmed due to the crisis. All frontline healthcare workers are also on a hands-on deck and putting their lives at risk to ensure a safe Singapore. The Centre of Healthcare Assistive & Robotics Technology (CHART) is at the forefront of robotics innovation, and they will test and deploy technology to all public hospitals.We have been working with them on different applications like delivery of Operating Theatre (OT) equipment, supplies from the Central Sterile Supplies Unit (CSSU) and medication from the pharmacy. This will, in turn, reduce the requirement for porters and ensure timely delivery to different parts of the hospital.

CHART developed a central platform system that controls and collects data from a building management system, a nurse calling station, an OT allocation system, and even door and lift control. We work with them to integrate the AMR fleet system, and authorised staffs have a central user interface to orchestrate the operation.

For example, the OT allocation system schedule OT 1 for surgery at 12 pm the next day. The day before, equipment, supplies and medication will be ready and put on an allocated cart. The AMR will pick up these cart in the middle of the night and deliver them outside OT 1. The AMR must go through doors and a lift to reach the OT level. OT nurses will always know what is packed and delivered to provide the correct equipment. After the surgery, the AMR will collect the soiled equipment back to the equipment room for cleaning and disinfection.

Other applications like delivering cancer medication to different patient suites. There will be drawers on the AMR, and these drawers will be packed with cancer medication. When the AMR reach its destination, the nurse will require to scan his/her ID tag and collect the correct medicine for the patient. This will ensure correct medication is given to the correct patient. Medical errors will be reduced and can be traced by the system every step. Although there are other competing robot brands, MiR stands out due to its payload and frame size. It can carry heavy loads in a smaller package as some hospital corridors are relatively narrow. Furthermore, unlike others, the robot is quiet and can enter OT  environments.

These are some examples of the applications, but there are many use cases we are working on together with the hospitals, but there are many more. As long as items are transported from point to point, robots can do the job; furthermore, they are integrated with different systems to ensure a chain of instructions is given. Data can improve a hospital’s operations and enhance productivity through technology.

Commercialisation Potential:

These solutions are not bounded just in Singapore; they can be deployed in hotels and hospitals. Institutions will need to weigh the return of investment (ROI) and the quantifiable benefits of using such solutions. Also, we always propose a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach to such a solution for institutions to test and give feedback before a full rollout. The operators and staff must be comfortable working with robotics to make full use rather than just a white elephant.

All considered, AMR solutions will continue to be embedded in many industries, drive better productivity, and keep people safe amid the pandemic.

Stage of Innovation:

AMR solutions have been in the market for 4-5 years. It is neither a new concept nor groundbreaking, but the level of integration of such a solution is. The dream of having a blackout factory (a factory with lights or human intervention with a steady output stream) is within reach. The level of integration to form a complete orchestration of instructions, from input to output, has moved forward tremendously in these years.

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) have been in the market for more than ten years now, and AMR is taking over this market as it allows more flexibility on the route taken, no requirement of further infrastructure modification of magnetic tracks or markers and also artificial intelligence embedded in the robot to find the best route.

Autonomous RobotHoST has targeted industries with complex operations and requires a high level of AMR solutions integration. Healthcare and hospitality industries currently have such needs, and with the added pressure from Covid 19, they are spearheading such technology. We have done Proof of Concept (POC) and working to full deployment in several public hospitals and major hotel chains. One of the show-stoppers will be capital investment from these institutions. The government advocates for automation for public hospitals to help in the workforce crunch. They will be funding part of the project, and individual hospitals will support part of the project. Hotels are being hit badly by the pandemic, and business is terrible. Hoteliers identify this as the best time to do upgrades as they are less busy.

Additionally, they will need technology to help reduce touchpoints in the hotels. Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will help fund up to 50% of the project, and the hotels will need to fund the rest. As mentioned in the previous section, we always advocate an MVP approach to our customers before having a full rollout. The MVP will require at least a robot to go through the whole process of the application.

Example: We will first bring our demo AMR on-site to ensure that it can manoeuvre in narrow aisles and do a WiFi heatmap of the area. After which, we will do an MVP trial using a fleet server, a robot, and a top module suited for the application. We will need a few carts for the MVP phase if carts are involved. For the user interphase, we can use the standard dashboard from the fleet manager. MVP needs to have a period and targets to meet. For example, the MVP phase is two weeks; in these two weeks, we will need to achieve delivery of minimally 30 trips a day. Scrum sessions will be arranged with stakeholders for feedback on improvements. After two weeks, we enter phase 2 of MVP and will beautify the top module/cart design to properly implement the application. Clear targets and ratification according to the scrum sessions will be addressed. This period will take about two months. With this setup, we can ramp it up to the number of AMR they require to meet the complete application requirements.AMRs are just added to the fleet manager and will run as per MVP. Scaling up is easy and can add to other applications or locations required. With this strategy, it is easy for different industries or institutions to adopt such technology with peace of mind and ensure it meets their required outcome.

Go To Market:

HoST has worked with local institutions and done many POCs ( Proof of concept ) with different stakeholders to let them touch and feel the solution. Our strategy is to educate, generate an ecosystem, expand through government initiatives and deploy. We have done the first three and working on the last full deployment.

SWOT:

Strength:

  • Flexible and able to do integration with many different systems
  • The solution is tested and proven with multiple track records
  • Able to extend to many industries, not only healthcare and hospitality
  • Many partners in different industries

Weakness:

  • Full implementation requires Capex injection, which might be a show-stopper for some
  • institutions at this point
  • Some old infrastructure poses a limitation as it cannot accommodate robotics
  • Some applications do not have the required ROI to be replaced by robotics
  • Not all industries are ready for robotics

Opportunities:

  • Technology can be easily transferred to other industries like semiconductors,
  • pharmaceuticals and even urban farming
  • Any application which has specific standard actions which can be replaced by robotics
  • Need more data for tracking and tracing or even future analytics

Threats:

  • There are comparable products in the market that can achieve similar solutions
  • This is a new field in which disruptors can enter this market

We will continue to educate other industries on how this is done and showcase these use cases. This sharing will tinker with the minds of other industries on how they can incorporate this into their industry, as different industries have their own needs and requirements. We will work through government agencies, educational institutions and associations.

HoST has been in the automation industry for more than 30 years. Previously, we worked as just a distributor for Allen Bradley, selling contactors and relays. After being acquired by Sonepar Group (the world’s most significant B-to-B electrical distributor globally), we position ourselves as a technology provider in IIOT, Carbon Footprint Reduction and Cyber-Security. We give ourselves the responsibility to spearhead and be the lighthouse for innovation and technology in these aspects.

To know more, you may visit our website at www.host.sg / contact us here

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About HoST

HoST, founded back in 1990, operates in the industrial automation market across Singapore and parts of South East Asia. HoST’s vision is to be a company that delivers customer-centric values to address evolving business needs. HoST has been mainly recognised as the sole authorised distributor of Allen-Bradley Company in Singapore. Over the years, HoST has not only established strong ties with its various business partners but have continued to build new and successful business relationships to provide its customers with the best-in-class solutions that are available in this competitive market. HoST ever-expanding portfolio of solutions makes up the three core pillars of its business, specifically in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), Industrial Network and Security, as well as Carbon Footprint Reduction, which reflect HoST’s commitment to innovation and sustainable growth.

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