Waste transportation and logistics planning require a lot of work in hospital environments. Waste shipment is also a physical task that places demands on both time and human resources.

However, Xamk University of Applied Sciences in South-East Finland, together with Kymenlaakso Central Hospital and Laurea University of Applied Sciences, has developed an automated solution. This uses an autonomous mobile robot to transport any small waste that is generated in hospitals.

A pilot study is currently under way at the hospital, which is based in Kotka, to test the system and all of its functions, using an OMRON LD mobile robot. By taking part in the trial, Kymenlaakso Central Hospital is becoming a pioneer in the field of product and waste logistics.

Evaluating the effectiveness of mobile robots

The pilot study evaluates the suitability of mobile robots for transport work, as well as the technical solutions developed in the project. Its aim is to find out the potential for using robotics in a hospital environment. It also seeks to increase staff knowledge of robotics and related digitalisation.

Jonne Holmén, the project manager at Xamk University, explains: “Despite the delays caused by the pandemic, we’ve managed to perform the test cycles safely and have gained excellent experience in the usability of robots in hospitals. The robot navigates the route using a programmed floor map and laser scanning. It calculates a suitable route, avoids obstacles and can tell where it is at any point in the journey.”

The solution involves sending commands remotely to the transport robot, asking it to retrieve a filled waste bin and to transport it to the hospital’s central waste point. A roller conveyor is mounted on top of the mobile robot, which loads and unloads itself autonomously. The transport system also includes roller conveyors for pick-ups and drop-offs. When the operator detects that a waste bin is full, the robot is called to the scene using a simple push button.

Making a difference

“Robots reduce the need for the manual transfer of waste,” says Jonne Holmén. “In the future, waste transportation can be optimised so that it takes place at times when there is less other traffic. According to research, 30% of nursing staff’s working time is spent on non-nursing work. The robot can be used to handle several transports within the hospital. Mobile robots are ideal for routine tasks that normally require physical labour.”

The new logistics system can also create various new business opportunities for companies such as robotics manufacturers and organisations such as hospitals that provide healthcare services.

The full project, ‘Small Waste Logistics in a Hospital Environment’ is managed by Xamk University, and Laurea University is involved in its implementation. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Xamk University’s partner in the pilot was technology company Dimalog Oy, which implemented the conveyor solution.

Teemu Kytömäki from Dimalog Oy concludes: “The new robot solution is a concrete and easy-to-understand example of how robotics and automation integrate into everyday life and work. The robot handles routine tasks smoothly and independently, leaving people with more time for other activities.”