ARUP’s automation system includes ten high speed robotic sorters, each entirely built, validated, and installed entirely by ARUP’s Automation Engineering department. The ten sorters were implemented in 2015 along with the rest of ARUP’s Automated Transport and Sorting System. Each of these sorters uses a SCARA robot to lift tubes from the magnetic pucks on the MagneMover® LITE system, read the barcodes on the tubes, and place the tubes in 30-hole racks. Each sorter robot can operate at a speed of 1000 tubes per hour. In order to know in which rack the tube is to be placed, the sorter queries ESP with the barcode number and ESP responds with the destination test code. Each sorter is programmed with a template of rack locations for each test code.
There are a total of forty racks on each sorter, and rack represents a unique sort group. Some examples of sort groups are an individual high volume test, a group of tests to be analyzed on the same analyzer, or a group of tests to be analyzed in the same laboratory section or workbench. Indeed, within a 30-hole rack, which has 5 rows of 6 tubes each, each of the 5 rows can be designated as a unique sub-sort group, potentially enabling one 40-rack sorter to have as many as 200 different sub-sort groups. In most cases where sub-sorting has been implemented, the racks have been divided into only two sort groups.
The forty racks are held on a total of seven drawers. When a rack is full, or when specimens have been in the rack for a longer period of time than a parameter determined by the lab section for that particular analyte, a warning light is illuminated. This signals an operator to pull out the drawer, remove the particular rack and replace it with an empty rack, and return the drawer to its normal position. These activities do not cause any interruption to the operation of the sorter.
ARUP only operates eight of the ten sorters routinely and two sorters are held in reserve in case of a mechanical issue that causes downtime for any sorter. The eight 40-rack sorters active at any time thus have a total of 320 sort groups, not counting sub-sort groups. Click here to see a video of one of ARUP’s sorters in operation and racks being removed and replaced by a technician.