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ResMed was established 30 years ago, pioneering and developing a new treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea, with only a handful of staff in a small office in Sydney, Australia. Today ResMed is a US$23B (A$36B) medical device manufacturer and software company with 7,500 ResMedians in offices and manufacturing facilities around the globe helping millions of patients worldwide who suffer from a myriad of respiratory conditions sleep, breathe, and live healthier.
ResMed’s manufacturing facilities are based in traditionally high-labour-cost countries, with the majority of specialised manufacturing and final assembly done in our Australian, Singaporean and North American plants. This is a great advantage because these sites are located alongside our product design groups resulting in close collaboration and responsiveness throughout product development cycles.
As pioneers of and the global leader in continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) technology as well asa top-5 global producer of hospital-to-home ventilators and bilevel devices, we have successfully employed automation to increase our production capacity and maintain the highest levels of quality whilst reducing our operating costs.
Automation has also enabled ResMed to be agile in responding to the unprecedented global demand for ventilators, bilevel devices and accompanying masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since January, we have shifted manufacturing tools and teams from select products to help triple our yearly production of these lifesaving devices for patients worldwide.
As Lead Mechatronic Engineer and the Centre of Excellence Leader for Automation within our Sydney campus, I’m proud to share three key themes on how we determine what to automate, how we develop and implement solutions, and how we sustain our large fleet of smart equipment.
Determining what to automate
We design-in or utilise existing features within our products for the sole purpose of empowering automation, by providing as much guidance as we can throughout the product design lifecycle. By ‘future proofing’ our products, we don’t necessarily have to automate from day one and are ready to go when the time is right. This enables new products and processes to reach our markets as quickly as possible whilst also providing more time to get the automation right, especially on a new process. We employ a variety of techniques in automation, including hybrid approaches where complex products are prepared in fixtures suitable for automation. We recognize that automation is not always suitable; operators play a pivotal role in handling the often intricate and specialised components.
Develop & Implementation
A key principle in progressing automation technology is to start small and start early, utilising the following approaches:
- In the initial stages, pair up our less-experienced engineers with our more experienced ones.
- Research and invest in the latest technology from automation industry leaders.
- Look for answers outside the world of medical device manufacturing.
- Openly share across multiple teams and sites within ResMed.
- Collaborate outside the company walls, particularly in our local manufacturing communities and industries completely different to our own.
- Implement a staged approach where we start with manual operators giving us time to develop automation offline. Just in case something does go wrong with a new system we then have the option of manual operation providing time to fix if required.
When it is time to build our automation solution, we partner with suppliers that have the same goals in mind. As we learn, so do our suppliers. Conversely, as our suppliers bring in new technology, we benefit across our sites. ResMed takes ownership of our projects and works hand-in-hand with our suppliers along the integration journey. It’s not an ‘us vs them’ mentality; it is through the ‘us and them’ approach that we achieve our goals.
Wherever possible we place emphasis on standardisation throughout our extensive fleet of robots and smart equipment spread across the globe. Standardisation helps conserve engineering and maintenance resources, and helps balance the introduction of new technologies. The vast majority of our robots are the same brand, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) we use are often the same ‘flavour’, even the colour of electrical cables is selected for consistency.
We provide training and development for all levels of support, which empowers our staff to resolve any technology issues that may arise. The majority of robots are programmed directly by ResMed with cross-trained staff, which means we can maintain consistent programming structures whilst enabling us to modify and adapt equipment with speed. With new automation processes, we can focus solely on the new technology and worry less about equipment familiarity.
ResMed has successfully used these techniques to invest in a range of automated solutions resulting in reduced operating costs, increased production capacity, whilst maintaining the highest levels of quality. These benefits flow on to the millions of our patients and customers globally.