A team representing OMRON Europe has been honoured for its ground-breaking automated UV disinfection robot at the company’s annual competition to address the most pressing social issues of today. Held annually, TOGA (The OMRON Global Awards) aims to inspire OMRON’s global workforce to look at their daily work from a social perspective and use their technical knowledge and the company’s best-in-class facilities to develop real-world purposeful and sustainable innovations for the benefit of society at large.

Combating Covid

With the global pandemic having a devastating impact on people, businesses and governments alike, the focus of this year’s contest was on developing solutions to combat the effects of Covid-19. From a total of 6,461 project entries, a disinfection robot project led by a team from OMRON’s German and Polish divisions emerged as the overall winner for the EMEA region. The judges praised the project’s innovative and rapid development of an autonomous ultraviolet C (UV-C) robot to effectively sanitise and disinfect high-risk settings such as hospitals, schools and offices without human involvement, protecting the public and sanitation workers against Covid and other viruses such as SARS, MERS and Ebola.

“Among the thousands of TOGA entries this year, the judges felt that the disinfection robot project stood out as an exemplary demonstration of embodying the OMRON Principles,” says Gary Banks, General Affairs Manager for OMRON Industrial Automation Europe. “Helping to reduce the spread of Covid-19, it addresses the most serious social challenge of our times. Congratulations to the team for their deserved Gold Award!”

Breaking down borders

Since TOGA was established in 2012, OMRON employees have submitted over 40,000 entries and the contest is heralded as a major driving force behind the company’s growth. Incorporating a year-round programme of global collaborative activities, it facilitates staff at all levels and across all regional subsidiaries – including Japan, China, Asia Pacific, Korea, America and Europe – to think beyond their day-to-day role and consider how their skills could benefit the wider society. In doing so, the initiative inspires real-world solutions that unite the international OMRON community for a greater good, fostering a powerful corporate culture and increasing staff retention rates.

In global organisations with numerous subsidiaries, it is especially important to remove cultural, political and economic barriers in order to encourage collaboration among a dispersed workforce and shape a coherent corporate identity. TOGA assists OMRON by enabling staff to respect, value and share their own knowledge and passions with colleagues across different territories. With the emphasis on participation rather than competition, the awards encourage employees to reflect and critique their own and others’ work, learn from their global counterparts and ultimately celebrate company-wide achievements to address key social issues. Entries are judged not just on their tangible results, but also the degree of social challenge they seek to address. Emphasis is also placed on entries that reflect collaboration and synergy among team members.

Best in class

This year’s initiative began with preliminary rounds in which over 6,000 individual projects were shared and assessed on a regional basis, before 16 finalists were eventually selected to present their entries at the virtual Global Award event day, held in September 2021. The German-Polish entry, representing OMRON Europe, was announced as the overall EMEA winner for its development of an autonomous UV-C disinfection robot. The winning team’s original ambition was two-fold: keep public spaces free from multi-resistant germs by unlocking the superior disinfectant properties of UV-C light, which eliminates 99% of lingering Covid and other virus cells; and avoid exposing sanitation workers to either UV-C light (which is harmful to the skin and eyes of those administering it) or dangerous viruses.

Ensuring worker safety

By equipping OMRON LD Series autonomous mobile robots with UV-C lamps, the team worked together with local partners to successfully automate the disinfection process, removing the need for human workers to carry out this task. The solution ensures the safety of high-risk areas such as workplaces, schools and healthcare settings without damaging surrounding goods or putting sanitation workers at risk. This last point is particularly important as, even when wearing full-body protective suits, sanitation workers are especially vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 in the course of their work.

Emitting ultraviolet rays that sterilise objects exposed to them, the fully traceable robots can be programmed to meet the requirements of specific locations, routes and operating times, curbing the spread of Covid and other viruses and helping to increase public safety and confidence as people begin returning to work, schools and social settings. An instant success, they are already in use across more than 10 countries, including Poland, France, Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

“The development of the disinfection robot was inspired by the worldwide problem of the spread of multi-resistant germs, especially in hospitals and nursing homes,” says Siegbert Knaup of the disinfection robot team. “About 700,000 people worldwide die every year from multi-resistant germs. Successfully combating these was and is the primary goal. Covid-19 accelerated our project.”

Easing pandemic pressure points

For Dr Klaus Kluger, General Manager – Central & Eastern Europe, OMRON Industrial Automation, the disinfection robot project is a perfect demonstration of the value that TOGA brings, not just to the company but also to the wider society: “TOGA acts as a vehicle to empower our staff across the globe to use their skills, knowledge and experience for the greater good, accelerating innovation and product development. This year’s initiative attracted a variety of entries showcasing employees’ innovative solutions to help society better cope with the unprecedented effects of the pandemic; to stand out in such an exceptional field is a real achievement.”

Another impressive entry by a team from OMRON Spain saw the company’s factory automation technology used to create a smart ventilator that measures patients’ respiration volume and pressure in real time; learns from these measurements; and subsequently supplies the optimal volume of oxygen. Developed in just two weeks, it became the first ventilator developed specifically for Covid-19 to receive the official approval of the Spanish Government. It has since been adopted in Spain, Ecuador, Brazil and other South American countries.

Other entries included a team from OMRON China that provided the electronic vehicle manufacturer BYD with the technical knowledge and equipment necessary for 1,800 face mask production lines and 200 bonded textile facilities. As a result of OMRON’s support, BYD became the world’s largest manufacturer of face masks, capable of producing 100 million each day. Japan’s entry, meanwhile, showcased how domestic production of body temperature thermometers was restarted by OMRON for the first time in 25 years. Completing the production line in half the time usually required – just five months – the team swiftly responded to the sudden rise in demand for thermometers at the start of the pandemic, ensuring continuity of supply for those most in need.

Yoshihito Yamada, President and CEO of OMRON, comments: “We all want to contribute to social progress and make the world a better place. In the course of our daily work, we each have thoughts and ideas about what to do and how to make things better. But it takes courage to look beyond our routine duties and turn these new thoughts and ideas into action. Through TOGA, we encourage our employees to take that first step, giving them the courage to break the mould and unleash their passion. As a result, we are able to solve social issues while enhancing our corporate value.”