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Single-use laboratory equipment Automation enables us to optimize the process

Laboratories depend on many single-use products. spoke to Helmut Schmid, Director of Sales & Marketing at HEKUMA GmbH, about the role of automation in this setting and the corresponding processes.

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(Source: HEKUMA GmbH)

"Helmut Schmid, HEKUMA GmbH"
"Helmut Schmid, HEKUMA GmbH"
(Source: HEKUMA GmbH)

Mr. Schmid, can you briefly tell us about the role HEKUMA plays in medical technology and laboratories?

Helmut Schmid: HEKUMA specializes in automation systems for the production of plastic products for disposable labware. Laboratories use large quantities of plastic consumables (single-use plastics), making automated solutions very beneficial. One recent example are the billons of single-use items amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which are essential for safe testing and vaccinations.

What are the most used products in the laboratory?

Schmid: There is currently an increased demand for filtered and non-filtered pipette tips, centrifuge tubes, Petri dishes, syringes, and blood collection tubes. These are the common laboratory consumables for which automation solutions make sense.

HEKUMA is known for automation. Can you briefly describe its role in the process?

Schmid: You need an injection molding machine to manufacture the parts. Automation enables us to optimize the process. An automatic inspection check after removal from the injection molding machine ensures high-quality parts. Defective parts are ejected directly. Automated packaging at the end of the process means there is no need for manual human intervention, which reduces the risk of contamination to almost zero. As they make their way from the injection molding machine to subsequent packaging, the products are no longer touched by hand. All told, automated inspection, the precision and stability of the processes and the nearly complete elimination of manual interventions achieve parts of a much higher quality compared to manual production systems.

What are areas where automation can be used?

Schmid: There really are no limits. You can implement automation both in a specialized medical device cleanroom and a conventional cleanroom. Either way, thanks to so-called laminar flow boxes, our systems can realize cleanroom conditions. But it’s more important to determine where automation makes the most sense. From our perspective, automation is beneficial whenever you need to manufacture high-quality products in large volumes that may necessitate complex assembly or manufacturing processes.

What are the latest laboratory trends?

Schmid: We see increasingly automated testing in laboratories. You no longer have a person performing the tests. Instead, there are laboratory devices that automatically draw up the right liquids, perform the experiments, and then give out the results.

Are you referring to a production line automation lab?

Schmid: Yes, exactly. We often see videos or images of laboratory technicians holding pipettes to draw up liquids from a lab container to perform tests. However, this process has been fully automated at this point to improve quality and increase output. That’s because a human lab technician who works eight hours must take breaks at some point, while laboratory instruments do not. Still, the machine depends on the material being 100 percent accurate. For example, if a pipette tip is not perfectly straight, a laboratory technician may be able to adjust and make it work, but the laboratory equipment cannot do so. The product quality needs to be perfect to facilitate accurate results. It is another argument in favor of automation.

The next COMPAMED trade fair will once again be an in-person event. Have you already thought about the innovations you will be introducing to visitors?

Schmid: We are planning to showcase labware automation. Examples include an automated assembly unit or possibly even a complete automation system.