The logistical installation of robot-assisted surgical systems

A fine hand is essential in surgery; but teamwork is also crucial for the success of any operation. In order to meet these requirements for absolute precision, operating theatre robots have become established as assistants for surgeons for several years now. However, before they can make their way to the operating theatre, specialist logistics service providers have to transport these extremely expensive premium-quality devices.

The market for medical technology products is booming – for prevention and diagnosis as well as for treatment purposes. This is especially due to demographic developments in society. More and more elderly patients are developing chronic sicknesses with rising frequency. At the same time, the need for surgical procedures is growing. According to Precedence Research, the global market for medical equipment is expected to increase to approx. EUR 549.16 billion in 2027. This growth will continue to accelerate because of the progress being made in medical technology. Innovations from the high-tech health sector are playing a significant role in making everyday treatment procedures faster and more efficient. One example of this involves robot-assisted surgical systems, known as operating theatre robots.  

Robotic solutions in surgery

Robots have been increasingly making their way into operating theatres for several years. They were developed to overcome the restrictions on existing surgical procedures and improve the capabilities of surgeons during open surgery. For example, they can work at any time without becoming tired – in contrast to human beings – and the natural tremor in a surgeon’s hand is eliminated. They can also provide important relief. As extremely precise work is necessary for minimally invasive surgical procedures, some surgeons suffer from visual disorders or back and hand problems as they grow older. In line with this, robot-supported surgery is gaining ground in order to extend surgeons’ professional working lives.

Three main segments for operating theatre robots

In general terms, experts make a distinction between three main segments: robotics for general surgery, orthopaedic robotics and robotics for neurosurgery. The general surgery segment dominated the market with a figure of almost 89 per cent in 2020, according to the Medical Device Network. The market for orthopaedic robotics will probably double by 2030 and reach a market value of US $750 million; neurosurgical robotics, on the other hand, is expected to be the fastest growing segment with an annual growth rate of 10.1 per cent by 2030. 

Increasing demand causes the transport sector to grow

The logistics work behind this development will also increase as a result of the immense growth in the sector. As robotic solutions are extremely sophisticated and their acquisition is very expensive – an operating theatre robot on average costs about EUR 1.8 million – reliable transport operations and the task of installation at their final place should not be underestimated. Traditionally, manufacturers of operating theatre robots have handled this work themselves. However, more and more companies have recognised the need to outsource their logistics to a specialist service provider so that they can continue to cope with the work in an efficient manner as demand increases. There are advantages here: manufacturers can concentrate on their core business, use important resources in other ways and scale their business in the long term.

A logistics specialist provides specific services for the sector

In order to fully exploit these benefits, robot manufacturers should rely on a logistics specialist that has the relevant sector knowledge in the field of high-tech logistics. They are then guaranteed precise planning processes, ranging from storage to the final place of use in hospitals and surgical practices. An extensive network for technical transport and installation services ensures that trained personnel provide administrative support for managing orders and implementing processes in various destination countries. Trained employees provide the finishing touches at the site as part of the delivery and commissioning process and ensure that the equipment that is handed over is ready for use. And when it comes to training, following an initial workshop, the logistics specialist prepares videos and guidelines for potential new colleagues, so that the manufacturer does not need to provide any more training with regard to handling, delivering and setting up the equipment within the scope of the ongoing project.

Procedure: How the end-to-end process works

Operating theatre robots consist of a main console and about eight robot arms, each of which performs a different task. These individual elements are packed in flight cases. There are also boxes for accessories with all the necessary ancillary equipment, cables and assorted consumable materials. For example, each arm has to be covered by a plastic sheet for reasons of hygiene and to prevent any contamination. The individual flight cases and consoles must then be connected to each other after having been transported by air or sea freight. The logistics specialist unloads the complete apparatus, transports it to the customer by truck and installs the heavy equipment at the final place of use outside normal working hours using 2-person teams.

An additional benefit: Demo management supports sales

The logistics specialist also takes care of demo management, as it is commonly called, as part of direct sales activities. The manufacturer lends the devices to potential purchasers for demonstration purposes. The logistics specialist is trained in working with the customer booking tool in order to share order information. As a result, the sales team only has to issue a request for the loading orders and the logistics specialist receives a message after an order has been approved. The team prepares the goods for dispatch, delivers them to the customer  and picks them up again from the site after the expiry of the agreed demonstration period. When the system is put back into storage, the team performs checks to ensure that any patient data is removed, the devices are decontaminated and any possible damage is identified.

„Robot-assisted surgery allows doctors to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision. It is usually associated with minimally invasive surgery and sometimes used in certain traditional open surgical procedures. As these technologies will be more and more in demand, outsourcing operations to logistics companies is crucial if companies are going to cope with this growth. After all, it isn’t just a question of transporting the robots from A to B, but in a reliable and well-organised manner.“
Alec Woodger | General Manager Healthcare Division, Rhenus UK

Forecast: Scaling business thanks to outsourcing logistics

Outsourcing logistics is an extremely critical issue for manufacturers for maintaining their competitiveness. This is particularly the case in the light of the goal of not just keeping pace with the speed of ongoing technological developments in the medical engineering sector, but also helping to actively shape business in a forward-looking manner. ‘As far as the future is concerned, life cycle management is also conceivable, that is to say, providing services such as dismantling, returning and recycling the units,’ says Alec Woodger, making his forecast. ‘In general, the market offers a great deal of potential for logistics specialists. Transferring the robots between hospitals is another possible field, particularly when patients aren’t fit enough to be transported. As a result, we’re not only able to help the manufacturers, but also make the entire supply chain related to robot-supported surgery systems more efficient.’

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Rhenus High Tech supports CMR Surgical logistically

CMR Surgical is a medical technology company with global operations and has its headquarters in Cambridge, England. The manufacturer has developed the high-tech operating system known as Versius for use in key-hole surgical procedures. It aims to ease the physical pressure on surgeons and reduce levels of stress and exhaustion. CMR decided to outsource its logistics in 2021: Rhenus High Tech, a provider of logistics services in the United Kingdom, has taken over the storage and installation of robotic solutions using a pick and pack procedure. The company is able to handle this through its extensive network radiating from its main warehouse in Ashford (Middlesex) and its other warehouses in France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Belgium.

Would you like some more information?

Rhenus High Tech provides logistics services in the United Kingdom. The experienced sales team is geared to handle all the sector-specific logistics requirements thanks to its modern equipment and reliable delivery methods. The projects that it has handled in the past include different business segments such as the health sector, telecommunications, electronics, the retail business, high-tech goods and a great deal more.

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Logistics solutions for medical devices require specialist know-how. Professional handling is crucial for storage, transport, positioning and assembly at the place of use.

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