CPI future-proof LNP development with a mobile cobot

In collaboration with Labman, CPI have developed a mobile robotic platform for well-plate-based lab operations. The platform integrates with a mixture of process and analytical devices and is helping CPI to accelerate screening of lipid nanoparticles (LNPs).
Project spotlightMarket trendsIndustry insights 12 min read

Katie SimpsonPublished 7th Jul 2024

CPI were awarded a grant from Innovate UK to establish a Centre of Excellence in Intracellular Drug Delivery (IDDC). Other project partners include Medicines Discovery Catapult, Imperial College London and the Universities of Strathclyde and Liverpool. A key deliverable for CPI within the project is screening of libraries of lipids for encapsulation of RNA, for which automation is essential.

As part of the project, CPI worked together with Labman to develop an automated modular workflow. Key to the workflow’s success is its flexibility, modularity and expandability. Their challenge was to implement a solution which provided the required functionality and was also commercially viable. One of the key advantages to using a mobile robot was modularity, which allows a range of third-party hardware to be easily integrated into the workflow. The system is relatively low-cost vs industrial robots, and it is capable of being expanded or redeployed for future uses, de-risking the investment.

This innovative development aims to future proof the integration of mobile robots, paving the way for an end-to-end laboratory environment.

The final solution utilises an ER-Flex Mobile Cobot by Enabled Robotics and it is required to navigate a custom-built workbench and human workers autonomously and interact with different instruments, almost like a lab assistant. The collaboration presented new challenges for both CPI and Labman, allowing them better to understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology.

"The CPMR project marks an exciting step into the realm of collaborative robotics; At CPI we can't wait to see the impact these cutting-edge systems will have in our labs. Mobile robots will revolutionize our approach to lab automation, providing a link across our existing lab automation and support new, more flexible ways of working."
Lynn DonlonPrincipal Scientist in Automation, CPI

Lab automation is often sought for the purpose of increasing through-put, but not in this instance. Mobile robots are not designed for this kind of application. They are used in instances where the requirements include low cost, ease of integration/training and close working with human workers. The ER-Flex was ideal for this application owing to its functionality which includes;

• Advanced Navigation System: Utilising a combination of safety laser scanners, 3D cameras, and proximity sensors, the cobot can navigate complex lab environments, avoiding obstacles and mapping out efficient routes.
• Accurate Positioning: Each module is fitted with precision image tags, ensuring optimal mobile robot positioning and significantly boosting placing accuracy.
• Robust Safety Features: To ensure safe operation alongside human workers, the cobot is fitted with multiple safety features, including force sensors and emergency stop functions.
 Additionally, the arm must return to a ‘safe home’ position before the mobile unit can move.
• Sample Tracking: a barcode reader, fitted to the end of the cobot arm, tracks progress, detects plates and lids, and links data to each sample.

The system is due to be installed over the next few weeks and will undergo a Site Acceptance Test (SAT) late July.

Future Prospects

The deployment of the mobile cobot at CPI will be a pioneering step towards fully automated laboratories. The insights gained will be invaluable in refining the technology and expanding its applications for both CPI and Labman. Labman have recently been awarded as a supplier to a multi-million Framework tender with CPI, paving the way for future collaborations in both industrial and collaborative robotics.

"Always a pleasure working with pioneering technologies and the challenges they bring alongside our friends at CPI. We hope the platform paves the way for the future of fully automated laboratories. I'm excited to see this technology implemented at CPI, assisting with their vital science happening every day."
Joy Plowman Project Leader, Labman

The project represents a significant step towards enabling scalability of existing operations, enhancing the offering to customers, and the creation of wider collaborative networks of fully automated laboratory systems.