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Robots automate testing for bacteria, including coliforms

July 8, 2014

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Taihei Environmental Science Center has developed a system that automatically performs water quality testing, and can detect bacteria such as E. coli. In the past, this work had to be done manually. The system uses three robots to completely automate all stages of the process, from collecting a predetermined amount of the sample, injecting agar, agitating, coagulating and inverting, to the placement and storage of the culture in incubators. This level of automation not only eliminates human error, substantially improving test accuracy, but it also increases processing capacity.

“Firstly, the system must be installed in an atmosphere completely free of bacteria. So, it is installed in a clean room. Only the air which passes through a 0.3-micron HEPA filter can enter the clean room, so the system is virtually free of bacteria. Due to this, the testing is done in an extremely clean environment.”

This system can perform the test 50% faster than conventional manual work, and can test 100 samples in two hours. All samples are managed using QR codes, eliminating human errors like mislabeling or taking the wrong sample. The current system is for detecting ordinary bacteria and E. coli in water, but it can be designed in a variety of configurations, so it could be used for other types of bacteria or various other testing applications.

“The system costs 25-35 million yen (US$250,000-350,000), but if users test a lot of samples, they can recover the cost in 5-10 years. In that case, this system could save users quite a lot of money. We do a lot of testing in the evening and at night, which has been a big burden on employees. This system has reduced that burden considerably, resulting in our staff being more cheerful and motivated. In other words, the best thing about this system is that it has made employees keen to become the driving force behind our company.”

Taihei is marketing this system to certified environmental surveyors and food manufacturers. They aim to sell 4-5 units during fiscal 2014. In the future, the company plans to extend sales to the global market.

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