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Stäubli / Novo Nordisk

Sterimove Introduction

Introducing Sterimove

The world’s first Grade A/B-compatible mobile pharma robot

When Stäubli Robotics and pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk set out to do something that had never been done before – develop a mobile robot for use in Grade A/B cleanrooms – they knew it would require a different approach to product development. A cross-functional team comprised of experts from Stäubli and Novo Nordisk embarked on a weeklong “design sprint” to co-create a new way to automate production in sensitive environments.

Stäubli Robotics has been active in the pharmaceutical industry for nearly two decades. It launched the world’s first six-axis robot capable of operating in aseptic production areas, the Stericlean, in 2008 and now has a comprehensive portfolio of pharma robots covering every production area including isolators, RABs, and freeze dryers as well as Grade C/D areas.

Eliminating contamination risks is the top priority in pharmaceutical production, and the revised GMP Annex 1 advocates the use of robotics and other proactive measures to minimize the human factor. Robots have had a major impact. However, some processes are still carried out by humans or conveyors e.g., the transportation of filled containers between stations such as fill-finish and freeze dryer. The greater the distance, the greater the risk.

In many other sectors, mobile robots have been instrumental in optimizing material flows, bringing significant gains in efficiency and productivity. The pharmaceutical industry, however, has benefitted little from mobile robots due to the challenge of meeting strict hygienic requirements. The market offers only a few options for use in Grade C/D environments – and mobile robots that can operate safely in Grade A/B areas are nonexistent.

The innovative co-creation of a game-changing mobile robotic solution

Novo Nordisk wanted to find a sustainable way to utilize advanced technology to mitigate contamination risks and meet the higher expectations of authorities. The company’s robotics engineers communicated the need for a viable automation solution to various robot manufacturers.

Stäubli Robotics was one of those manufacturers. Stäubli was invited to visit Novo Nordisk’s robotics lab, where the team presented its challenge. This marked the first step in building trust. The real turning point came when Novo Nordisk decided to take a very different approach to product development: a one-week design sprint. In the company’s own words, “It was a completely new product. We needed to take a new approach, an innovative approach based on design thinking, experimentation, and iteration.”

A team of engineers and process experts from Novo Nordisk joined a development team from Stäubli, and the co-creation of a modular, collaborative, easy-to-clean hygienic mobile robot began. The sprint produced a design concept and framework, which the joint team then built on incrementally. Trust and transparency were paramount. Novo Nordisk was given access to Stäubli’s R&D throughout the design phase, facilitating feedback and accelerating the process.

Sterimove: a brand-new way to automate in sensitive environments

The result of this unique, application-led approach to product development is Sterimove, the first mobile robot suitable for applications in Grade A, B, C, and D production areas. The robot boasts all of the features the team set out to create, including:

  • Easy-to-clean hygienic design with no retention areas
  • Easy access for cleaning and maintenance, including wheels
  • All materials compatible with decontamination processes including H2O2
  • Modular design with flexible options for a variety of applications
  • Aerodynamic design with no disturbance to laminar flow
  • Compact footprint and multiple motion configurations for seamless integration

A culture of innovation

The mindset of openness that the group cultivated in the creation of Sterimove transcended the immediate objectives of Novo Nordisk and Stäubli Robotics. A bigger picture of the mobile robot’s potential impact on the global pharmaceutical industry emerged. The ongoing development process, following the technology product operating model, includes bringing other pharma companies into the conversation, with the understanding that different perspectives will result in an even better product, capable of addressing a broader array of use cases and challenges.