NHS COVID Testing Automation at Southampton University

In October 2020 MONK Conveyors were approached by the University of Southampton to see if we were willing to work on an automation project for the NHS. This was part of a new COVID testing facility where non-invasive LAMP saliva testing was being setup in an automated environment. The task given to us was to design a conveyor-based feed system for COVID test samples being delivered to the site every day.

The challenge was the very short lead time, as it was a race against time to get this facility operating. At the time vaccinations had not yet been rolled out and a cancelled Christmas was looming. Because we hold conveyor parts in stock in the UK and have good engineering design capability, we were very keen to do what we could to help the test facility and the NHS.

Our existing customers generously agreed to delay some of their own projects, so we could focus on the COVID system. Designed to handle up to 100,000 samples per day if the need arrived. Our system was to receive bagged live test samples, and distribute them into a room of 28 staff who would unpack the bags and remove the test tube samples ready for testing. A network of outfeed conveyors and specially designed sorting equipment would feed them on to the next part of the process.

The system was design and built in our factory, before shipping and installing in the NHS test facility in Southampton. The whole project was put together in record time and was ready in go live within the tight deadline.

In January of 2021 design work began on a second room. Our task was to automate the feeding of test vials up through the floor and then distribute them to 40 Automata EVA Robots. We designed bespoke conveyors, pneumatic gates, pushers, sensors and indexing star wheels to sort and handle the test vials. Then a precise push and gate device to present test vials to each Robot position. The Robot system would then automatically remove the cap and take the samples dose from the tube.

It was challenging and rewarding to be part of this project and working alongside the other suppliers and NHS staff. It was satisfying to know that our work was helping in a small way to be a part of the fight against COVID and improving the automation of this new NHS testing facility.

Our engineers have built up over 25 years experience in conveying and handling equipment. Please contact us or call 01252 369800 and we will be happy to discuss your application.

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