Bright Machines, a smart manufacturing company based in San Francisco, offers automation solutions for assembly and inspection of dozens of products, including for the medical device industry. Medgadget recently featured an interview with Jesse Lehga of Diagnostics for the Real World, who have partnered with Bright Machines to produce point-of-care HIV diagnostic devices.
Automating manufacturing processes is key to bringing down costs and increasing manufacturing capacity. During the rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and medical technology companies are rushing to develop new vaccines and treatments. Moreover, basic medical equipment, such as ventilators, and personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, are in short supply.
There is a clear need to make such products available as quickly as possible, and given the global nature of the issue, on a massive scale. The situation is unprecedented, and presents unique challenges to the companies tasked with developing and producing such technologies.
Disruptions to global supply chains, because of government lock downs and economic disruption, have made it more difficult for companies to source the raw materials they need to manufacture their products. Staff shortages, because of illness or quarantine, also pose a challenge.
In response, Bright Machines is offering no-cost automation for up to 12 months as part of their three-year microfactory-as-a-service agreement to manufacturers who wish to produce equipment specifically to aid the COVID-19 response.
Medgadget had the opportunity to talk to Amar Hanspal, Bright Machines CEO, about the challenges ahead, and the services his firm can provide to help with the COVID-19 response.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the challenges currently facing medical technology manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their significance in hampering the pandemic response.
Amar Hanspal, Bright Machines: It will take social distancing diligence and prompt responses from local and federal governments to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19. It will also take an immense increase in the kinds and quantities of medical devices to test and treat the disease. As the world works to stymie the impact of COVID-19, we’ve seen that access to testing and an adequate supply of treatment resources – especially ventilators and respirators – is critical, but as a company working with manufacturers every day, we know that scaling production to meet a sudden increase in demand is a challenge, even without a pandemic. Scaling production when faced with a reduced workforce is an even more daunting challenge. There are discussions of many initiatives – from private and public sectors alike – to help meet the demands of healthcare systems worldwide during this time. For example, last week the UK government announced they will provide design blueprints for ventilators. This is a good step towards standardizing on design, so multiple contract manufacturers can produce the much-needed ventilators in parallel rather than get bottlenecked by a single manufacturer.
Medgadget: How will automation in manufacturing help with the COVID-19 response?
Amar Hanspal: Manufacturing wasn’t prepared for this crisis. Production lines were already facing high demand, labor shortages and geo-political challenges like trade wars. Crucial aspects of production – especially assembly – often rely on humans who are now restricted or even forbidden from entering factories. And where automation is applied to assembly and inspection, manufacturers struggle with antiquated production lines that can’t be reconfigured easily. Modern automation, including Bright Machines Microfactories, help manufacturers quickly scale up production using modular automation, which is less reliant on human operators than traditional assembly and inspection processes.
Our goal is to remove the friction manufacturers encounter and help them quickly and cost effectively get COVID-19 response-related products to as many healthcare providers throughout the world as possible.
Medgadget: Why are manufacturers sometimes reluctant to pursue automation in their manufacturing processes?
Amar Hanspal: The biggest rock getting in the way of automation happens before a single product is even manufactured: purchasing automation equipment. Buying factory automation solutions today is too complicated and costly. At times it is even mysterious, as some providers hide component mark-ups and change orders into a purchase agreement. The procurement process can be so daunting that it convinces many manufacturers to stick with the status quo and continue to rely on outdated, manual production processes rather than deal with the headache of purchasing factory automation.
Medgadget: How does Bright Machines make automation easier? How does the system work?
Amar Hanspal: Bright Machines Microfactories completely change the economics of manufacturing by not requiring expensive hardware to achieve automation, which increases both the agility and flexibility of a manufacturing operation. Our microfactories connect individual machines to an intelligent software layer to configure, monitor and manage operations. Providing the next generation of automation, microfactories’ adaptive robotic systems take advantage of intelligent software, machine learning and computer vision to deliver significantly better assembly efficiency, while getting more intelligent and automated over time.
Medgadget: Please give us some examples of medical technology manufacturers Bright Machines has worked with to streamline medical technology production.
Amar Hanspal: We recently partnered with Diagnostics for the Real World (DRW), to automate the production of their highly complex HIV testing cartridges for use in their SAMBA diagnostic instruments. DRW will use a Bright Machines Microfactory to automate the California-based manufacturing of the complex test cartridges used in the company’s SAMBA II diagnostics device, enabling the company to free their team from repetitive, labor-intensive assembly and inspection tasks while increasing output of these care-critical cartridges by 10x, to more than 1 million units a year. This massive increase in production will allow them to not only hit a new important milestone for their company, but to also dramatically lower the end-user cost of the cartridges for the clinics around the world who rely on their products to serve their patients.
Medgadget: Please explain the deal Bright Machines are currently offering to manufacturers of equipment and supplies for the COVID-19 response.
Amar Hanspal: The most valuable and timely contribution Bright Machines can offer is removing barriers to quickly get these critical products into the hands of as many healthcare providers throughout the world as possible. And, as the part of the supply chain helping to manufacture products like these, we feel it is our responsibility to help do so.
For our part this means we are doing what we can to help quickly scale the manufacturing needed to ward off the virus’s impact. On March 18 we announced that for companies manufacturing a medical device solution to combat COVID-19, we will provide no-cost automation for up to 12 months. Our end goal is to help these companies who are contributing to the world’s stockpile of devices needed to respond to the novel coronavirus.
Link: Bright Machines…