Robot arm helps lighten load in Covid testing lab

A custom-built robot has quickly become the star of Canterbury DHB's Covid-19 testing lab, minimising the risk of repetitive strain injury and boosting output.

The district health board worked with local engineering firm Design Energy to build a robot arm that can remove and replace the test sample caps to minimise the strain on staff.

Canterbury Health Laboratories spokesperson Jill Westgarth says it became clear early on in the pandemic that de-capping and capping tens of thousands of samples would see more staff affected by repetitive strain injury, or RSI.

"We're doing about 2000 samples a day on average, that's a lot of unscrewing caps or re-screwing caps for people to be doing."

Westgarth says the DHB put in extra measures around staff safety, like boosting the number of staff and rotating people between tasks every 15 minutes, while the robot was being designed.

The robot was put to work at the end of November.

"Essentially one arm unscrews the cap and the other arm puts the fresh caps back on when the process is finished," Westgarth says.

"So, all the technician and scientist is doing is loading racks in and out of the robot cabinet."

Westgarth says the robot, which could de-cap 96 samples in less than nine minutes, had dramatically lightened the workload for staff.

"It's really reduced our risk of staff repetitive strain injury, and it's increased our capacity of the number of tubes that we can work through each day."

The Canterbury region remains in the orange Covid-19 setting, but the DHB says it has enough capacity to care for a potential surge of cases over the summer holidays.



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