University details process for using robotics, AI to produce polymers for advanced materials

Engineers have developed an automated process for creating polymers that make it easier to produce advanced materials used to treat humans thanks to robotics and AI.

By Robotic Industries Association (RIA) April 12, 2020

Wonder when scientists might release the next miracle drug or device? You might soon be thanking robotics and AI for those new medicines and treatments sooner than you think. Engineers have developed an automated process for creating polymers that make it easier to produce advanced materials used to treat humans.

Why polymers are important to medical science

Many researchers have longed for large libraries of polymers to test in specific life sciences applications. Plastics and fibers can be used to meet many different biological needs. Researchers have long used polymers to build a wide range of technologies including diagnostics, electronics, medical devices, sensors, lighting, and robots.

And polymers aren’t only used to make materials for medical devices. They can also be used for drugs too. They can aid with delivery by encapsulating medicines. But polymers themselves can also have a direct therapeutic effect on the body. Polymer drugs are often used as binding agents to remove or neutralize undesired materials in the body.

Knowing which polymers are the best for a particular application involves more than just theory. They must each be physically tested for practical use in each application. This involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of time. Understandably, researchers are always looking for ways to speed up the process.

Researchers find a new way to produce polymers

Until this new automated process, the bottleneck was typically the production of different polymers. But thanks to robotics and AI, a researcher can go from making a few polymers per day to hundreds at once. How do they do it?

With conventional means, researchers must synthesize polymers in highly controlled environments. Since most chemical reactions are extremely sensitive to oxygen, the gas has to be removed before production. That process is more time-consuming than you might think. The required precision limits the production of large polymer libraries.

The new automated method uses polymer reactions that can tolerate oxygen. This method allows the robotics and AI to rapidly create unique polymers while still maintaining the needed precision. Even non-experts can now make new polymers. A custom software package sends polymer designs to a liquid-handling robot that processes each step of the chemical reactions.

This article originally appeared on the Robotics Online Blog. Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner.