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New Member Spotlight: Festo

“At Festo our purpose is to help companies turn the power of intelligent automation into a competitive advantage in their processes and products,” said Ross Bilton, Festo Life Tech.

“To win in the future, manufacturers will need partners they can trust to help them build better products, streamline processes and to continuously improve productivity. It’s all about innovation in productivity,” said Bilton, adding, “The demands which will be placed on automation technology in the future include adaptively intelligent networking of components and smart and intuitive operation. This applies especially to the field of laboratory automation in the life sciences. These demands are being driven by the world-wide growing pressure on healthcare costs, which is also affecting production processes.” Festo is actively supporting Industry 4.0 initiatives, where the future in automation is enabled with intelligent self-regulating components, comprehensive system monitoring, and increased efficiency of human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interaction.

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Festo AG is a global player and an independent third generation, family-owned company with headquarters in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany. The company supplies pneumatic and electrical automation technology to 300,000 customers of factory and process automation in over 40 industries. Additionally, training services, which make up 50% of the company’s sales, are provided, for Festo's own staff –but more importantly for basic and advanced training in the field of automation technology, reaching customers, students and trainees through Festo’s Didactic SE division. Festo is a recognized partner for the World Mechatronics Skills and First Robotics competitions.

The Festo Bionic Learning Network is a research division within Festo that collaborates with academic and corporate partners to develop new technologies and apply them in unique platforms. The most recent release is the BionicSoftHand, however; other interesting applications include the e-motion Butterflies (shown on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), the Bionic Wheelbot presented at the TEC  grand opening in Billerica, Massachusetts  and the Bionic Opter featured with Jeff Bezos at Amazon’s MARS (Machine learning, home Automation, Robotics and Space exploration) Conference in 2019. Festo’s strategy of reinvestment into R&D for new product development is fulfilled through the Bionic Learning Network. R&D activities translate into real automation applications with focus on energy efficiency, materials for lighter design and functional integration, and machine level communication and learning. The projects are influenced by natural examples, where technical principles are evaluated and implemented into bionic adaptations, and eventually engineered into industrial applications.

Festo sees enormous potential for automation solutions in the healthcare arm of laboratories in which samples still need to be prepared and processed manually. To optimize throughput, the increasing miniaturization of sample volumes and the increasing demands on process quality, users of biotechnological and biomedical processes have virtually no choice but to introduce automated production processes.  

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“An OEM, or in ARMI’s case, a research scientist is not obligated to learn and implement all aspects of automation when making a decision to outsource. When we work with OEM’s our objective is to become an extension of their engineering team, and assist with the design and integration of the most optimum solution to their client’s needs contributing a complimentary solution to existing systems and processes,” he continued.

Recent examples of Festo’s work in medical devices include a new piezo valve for an Oxygen Concentrator. The new valve technology implemented into a portable medical device with benefits to the consumer with a quieter, more energy efficient system. The piezo valve technology is ISO 13485 prepared for medical applications, and provides dynamic and immediate proportional control offering advantages to a traditional solenoid valve. This technology is currently being tested in applications for gas control in incubators and bioreactors for TERM applications.

"New approaches are becoming increasingly important in the area of personalized diagnostics and personalized treatment for patients. We must consider the subject of laboratory automation from a holistic viewpoint. This concerns the complete process through which biological and medical samples pass - starting with sample stabilization and preparation through to the automated cultivation of cells and innovative methods for sample archiving,” he said, adding, "It is here that medical research will benefit in the future from automation technology. New approaches to laboratory automation are needed in order to meet specific standards requirements."

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Festo recently dedicated a new Technology Engineering Center (TEC) in Billerica MA, just south of Manchester, NH.  The TEC is the company’s first engineering center in the United States devoted to the life sciences. Locating the researchers and developers in greater Boston was due to the proximity of the area’s research institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and Brown, the confluence of laboratory equipment manufacturers, and the pool of qualified technologists. The goal of TEC Boston is two-fold; to pioneer the development of new high speed, high accuracy fluid handling products based on pneumatic principles; and to work with individual customers on automated motion and fluid handling solutions that help bring their laboratory equipment to market faster and at less cost.

 "In no other industry does customization or personalization play such an important role as in medical and laboratory technology," said Bilton, adding “We hope to assist ARMI Members with their needs to customize for success.”