Tuesday, May 14, 2019

An Extra Pair of (Robotic) Hands Increases Productivity, Cuts Cost


Meal distribution used to be a labour-intensive affair at The Salvation Army’s Peacehaven Nursing Home. The care staff was spending up to 80 minutes a day collecting meals from the kitchen and negotiating heavy meal trolleys on slopes to deliver food to its 380 residents.

The introduction of the Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) has changed that. The Home bought two AGVs a year ago to distribute meals safely and efficiently. It helped shave 20 minutes off the food delivery process — food is served earlier to residents and care staff can spend more time with them.

After a one-year trial, the AGVs were officially launched on 16 April 2019 by Guest-of-Honour, Mr Tan Kwang Cheak, Chief Executive Officer of Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). This initiative is part of the Nursing Home’s efforts to use technology and automation to improve productivity.

From Left: Ms Heidi Rafman, Chief, Quality and Productivity Division, AIC; Mdm Low Mui Lang, Executive Director, The Salvation Army, Peacehaven; Mr Tan Kwang Cheak, CEO of AIC; Lt-Colonel Patricia Niemand, Territorial Secretary for Women Ministry, The Salvation Army SMM territory; Major Florence Shein, Assistant Territorial Secretary for Programme, The Salvation Army SMM Territory; Mr Marcus Moo, Director, Social and Community Services, The Salvation Army Singapore.

The two AGVs cost around $220,000 and were mostly funded by the Healthcare Productivity Fund and Community Silver Trust administered by AIC. In addition to reducing manpower and time spent, the AGVs also saved the Home $12,000 a month on outsourced labour previously engaged for kitchen tasks.

The AGVs have a 300kg load capacity each and currently run up to 12 times a day distributing four meals.

Wirelessly operated via a tablet control panel, each AGV has built-in sensors and laser obstacle scanner to detect its programmed route that runs along magnetic strips installed throughout the three-storey Nursing Home.

At each destination, the AGV automatically stops and sends an alert to nearby staff who will then collect the food for distribution to residents.

Insulated bags help to keep food warm during delivery.

As a safety precaution, the AGV stops automatically when its front sensors detect an obstacle in its way, resuming movement only when the obstruction has been removed.

In the event of a Wi-Fi breakdown, the trolleys can be removed from the AGVs and food can still be delivered manually without disrupting meal schedules.

Peacehaven is currently the only Nursing Home in Singapore that employs robotic vehicles to deliver food. The Home hopes that the AGVs will help minimise workplace accidents and injuries. Beyond that, it will also benefit the Home’s efforts to recruit and re-train older staff who may find it challenging to handle labour-intensive food delivery.

Ultimately, time saved delivering food can be better spent on delivering personalised care to residents.

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