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High quality ophthalmic consumables at affordable prices to developing countries: An Aurolabs Case Study

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Aurolab, the manufacturing division of Aravind Eye Hospital, at Madurai, Tamil Nadu that supplies high quality ophthalmic consumables at affordable prices to developing countries.

Though its primary focus is on ophthalmic industry, Aurolab is also diversifying into related health care areas where its existing capabilities can be leveraged, such as cardiovascular sutures, microsurgical hand sutures, antiseptics and disinfectant solutions etc.

In the early 1990s, there was a debate about the relevance of Intra Ocular Lens (IOL) to developing countries. Though widely accepted as a better procedure, it was argued that developing countries should not go in for it as the IOLs were expensive. Taking on this challenge, in 1992, Aurolab was established as a non-profit charitable trust for manufacturing ophthalmic consumables.

For over two decades, among the popular solutions that Aurolab provides to NGOs and hospitals globally, is their cataract kit, which comprises of products used in cataract surgery, as well as intraocular lenses that assist people in regaining vision after the operation.

Precision and accuracy were extremely pivotal for the entire manufacturing process of the intraocular lenses, for tasks such as material handling and pick and place of the components. Thus in 2012, Aurolab collaborated with one of Universal Robots distributors in India, GI India Automation and Systems Pvt. Ltd. to optimize their manufacturing processes.Besides fitting in seamlessly with the workforce, the cobots from Universal Robots were picked for their affordability, reduced power consumption and safety, which ensured that the protective stop measure turns the power off when a load is applied to it.  

As the cobots increase accuracy, precision and mass-produce, they also provide a helping hand in manufacturing which increased the labour force at Aurolab has increased from 15 to 700 and production improved from 150 to 10,000 Intraocular Lenses (IOL) per day. Aurolab have seen a 15% increase in the annual product output. 90% of the workforce consists of 18 years old girls or women with no training who have been easily operating & programming 8 cobots. The company’s dream of making IOLs available at a price affordable for the rural patients has been made possible by UR cobots.

Before 1980, cataract surgery involved removing the natural lens and giving patients thick spectacles. By the mid­1980s, the intraocular lens ­ where an artificial lens replaced the original eye lens ­ became popular as it restored near normal vision. But it was expensive: multinational companies charged more than Rs 3,000 per piece.

The unaffordable prices bothered Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Hospital as it was against the core philosophy of the group ­ same quality eye care irrespective of the patient's social standing.

Thus, in 1990 hebegan exploring the possibility of buying the know­how for manufacturing the intraocular lens. Many warned him it was an adventurous move as health care providers typically do not enter manufacturing. The technology was not readily available but he was determined. What they achieved then was just a pricing innovation as Aurolab managed to bring down the price of every lens to Rs. 270/- when they began production in 1992. They used the same material, same machine, same process and same quality parameters.

Today, Aurolab delivers high quality IOLs whose prices have further reduced from Rs.270/- per lens to Rs. 80/- in the past five years. The cobots that have increased affordability helping people regain vision at lower cost, and have considerably reduced the power consumption and quality problems.

Now, Aurolab has 5 divisions and 30 Domestic Dealers 50 International Dealers to sell their lenses, whereas 5 years back they were operating in a single division and selling their products directly. Hence the kind of benefit which Aurolab has received by deploying UR cobots is incredible. The quality of their products is unparalleled with minimal wastage.

Today, Aurolab manufactures a wide range of ophthalmic consumables like intraocular lenses, pharmaceutical products like eye drops, surgical adjuncts like sutures and blades and ophthalmic instruments and specialty products.

The reliability of Universal Robots’ products was verified after the proof of concept of the very first cobot at Aurolab was established, after which, they went ahead to add seven more to their factory. After the addition of collaborative robots to their process, Aurolab found that there was a massive 15% increase in the product output, with over 2,000,000 lenses per year.Aurolab products are exported to over 120 countries around the world and accounts for a total of 7.8% of global share of intraocular lenses.

Aurolab's tryst with innovation has continued. The drop-in prices have led to a big leap in cataract surgeries in India. Until the affordable intraocular lens hit the market, doctors performed only one million cataract surgeries a year. Today, the number is seven million.

With Aurolab’s vision in understanding the benefits of collaborative robots, people are now benefitting and regaining their vision more rapidly.

About Universal Robots
Universal Robots (A Danish company, headquartered in Odense, Denmark) who are the pioneers in the manufacturing of advanced, user-friendly and light industrial, Collaborative Robotic arms (Cobot). These Collaborative Robots safely work alongside humans, and more as a “worker’s assistant” or “third arm” or “helping hand” or “portable tool” which traditional industrial robots cannot be used as.

The company has a network of 200 distributors in 50 countries. The company is dedicated to bring in safe, flexible and easy to use 6 axis industrial robotic arms to business of every size, all over the world. Universal Robots develop industrial collaborative robot arms that automate and streamline repetitive industrial processes. This approach enables production departments to assign their staff members more enjoyable tasks – creating jobs that provide them with new challenges that add value to the company.

Collaborative robots / cobots help in creating, not losing jobs. Instead of replacing human and causing job loss, collaborative robots helps companies in expanding operations, thereby creating job opportunities. Cobots help companies to expand multi-fold, thus creating jobs and many more opportunities at supervision roles.

Their major markets are Automotive industry followed by FMCG, Electronics, Education and R&D Centres. Since the first robot was launched in 2008, the company has experienced considerable growth with the user-friendly robots now sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. For more information about the company, please visit the following links  www.universal-robots.com


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