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Robot tech eyed by Japan firms to test medicines amid labor shortage

This diagram provided by Icomes Lab Co. shows the completed image of automated testing equipment currently under development.

MORIOKA -- Manufacturers and a pharmaceutical firm in Japan are set to collaborate in a project to develop robot arm equipment to test medication amid labor shortages.

    Icomes Lab Co., a manufacturer of precision components based in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, will jointly develop the equipment with its subsidiary i-Motion Technology Co. and Osaka-based pharmaceutical giant Shionogi Pharma Co. It is hoped that the robots will streamline operations and enhance quality, and make up for the labor shortage in the pharmaceutical industry.

    In recent years, while there has been a decline in the retail prices of medicines, standards for quality control and product tests have apparently become increasingly rigorous. However, there has been a shortage in human resources with specialized knowledge and skills, and reducing workloads has been a major issue in the industry.

    The automated testing equipment, consisting of a small robot arm undergoing research and development by i-Motion Technology, and a drug administration device developed by Icomes Lab and other components attached to the arm, will be able to perform four stages of a process necessary for pharmaceutical product tests, including pouring in solvents and mixing.

    Shionogi Pharma, which also has factories in the Iwate prefectural town of Kanegasaki, is in charge of supporting and assessing the equipment's design, as well as an expansion of business ahead of sales. About 300 million yen, or roughly $2.63 million, has been set aside as development funds, and the three companies will complete the equipment in the next 2 1/2 years. They aim to begin selling the product within fiscal 2024.

    Icomes Lab President Keiji Katano expressed hope for the endeavor, saying, "It will solve social issues, and also be linked with the act of manufacturing Iwate-made products."

    Shionogi Pharma President Ryuichi Kume also voiced his enthusiasm by commenting, "With technology at the base, we'd like to support the future of health care and solve social issues. For this reason, we'd like to make this joint development project a success."

    (Japanese original by Maika Hyuga, Morioka Bureau)

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