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Laboratory automation involves repetitive but exacting processes. XtalPi and ABB Robotics this week said they have entered a strategic partnership to produce a range of automated laboratory workstations in China.
The companies said that ABB’s GoFa collaborative robots and XtalPi’s software will boost research and development productivity in biopharmaceuticals, chemical engineering and chemistry, and new-energy materials.
“Through partnering with ABB, we can increase efficiency in laboratories by implementing a human-robot integration model,” said Chenxi Zhang, director of automation product management at XtalPi, in a release. “We hope to combine XtalPi’s intelligent software system and industry experience with ABB’s expertise in robotics to bring more innovative solutions to the pharmaceutical industry.”
He added that the new joint offering could help boost robotics and AI adoption in the sciences. The global market for laboratory robotics could expand from $185.8 million in 2020 to $274.49 million by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.72%, predicted Mordor Intelligence. It cited the need for accuracy and safety.
XtalPi uses more than 100 cobots
Founded in 2014 at MIT, XtalPi applies artificial intelligence and robotics to digital transformation in the life science and new-materials industries. The company has 989 employees, including more than 700 scientists and technologists, in Cambridge, Mass., as well as in Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, China.
In 2022, XtalPi bought over 100 GoFa cobots to automate lab workstations at its testing facility in Shanghai. This year, it officially launched the XtalPi Intelligent Automation brand to aid researchers.
XtalPi Intelligent Automation uses ABB’s cobots to automate the synthesis and crystallization processes involved in developing new drugs and materials. The workstations can be customized to meet specific requirements, using different modules to complete various experiment steps.
ABB said its GoFa can take on repetitive, manual tasks while also working nonstop to accelerate the pace of experimentation. By generating large volumes of high-quality data, the system can help boost the efficiency of the “design-make-test-analyze” research cycle, said the partners.
GoFa handles a variety of lab tasks
XtalPi Intelligent Automation uses GoFa to develop preparation, diluting and filtration, reaction, UPLC (ultra-performance liquid chromatography) testing, and so-called glovebox workstations. XtalPi said it also works with sample warehouses and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to make R&D faster and more efficient.
Each automated workstation can perform hundreds of different experiments, with ABB’s cobots operating in a range of challenging environments. These include glove boxes with no moisture or oxygen.
GoFa can perform complex tasks such as opening lids and placing lab equipment, handling liquids, adding samples, and doing magnetic stirring with minimal supervision, said ABB.
AMRs equipped with GoFa cobots transfer samples automatically between workstations, increasing efficiency while further reducing costs. ABB acquired AMR provider ASTI in 2021 and integrated and rebranded the robots under its Flexley line.
Equipped with a GoFa cobot and four rotating columns, automated sample warehouses can store and retrieve laboratory reagents. This improves quality control and makes the process more traceable, the companies claimed.
ABB continues healthcare expansion
“Our collaboration with XtalPi marks another milestone for ABB’s collaborative robots in the life sciences sector,” stated Jose-Manuel Collados, manager of the service robotics product Line at ABB Robotics. “ABB Robotics and XtalPi will radically advance lab research and development through automation that works side by side with people.”
“By enabling pharma and biotech companies to develop new drugs faster and with less cost, ABB is helping to further research into disease prevention, creating healthier societies,” he said. “Our new Open Innovation Lab for Life Science and Healthcare in Zhangjiang, Shanghai, complements our work at our Life Sciences and Healthcare Lab at the Texas Medical Center Campus in Houston.”
This is ABB Robotics’ latest project in the lab automation market, whose revenue was $5.1 billion in 2022 and could rise to $7.1 billion in 2028, according to Markets and Markets.
ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation claimed that it is the only company with an integrated portfolio including industrial automation, mobile robots, and systems designed and orchestrated by its software. Auburn Hills, Mich.-based ABB Robotics said it serves sectors ranging from automotive and electronics to logistics.