CMR Surgical (CMR), a global surgical robotics business, has announced plans to open a new large-scale manufacturing facility in Cambridgeshire, UK. The site will enable upscaled manufacturing processes to meet the increasing global demand for the Versius Surgical Robotic System, now established as a valuable surgical tool in a number of hospitals across Europe, India, Australia and the Middle East.
Biomimicking the human arm, Versius gives surgeons the choice of optimised port placement alongside the dexterity and accuracy of small fully-wristed instruments. With 3D HD vision, easy-to adopt instrument control and a choice of ergonomic working positions, the open surgeon console has the potential to reduce stress and fatigue and allows for clear communication with the surgical team.
The new facility will span 7,044.8 sq. m. (75,832 sq. ft.) floor space and will house up to 200 skilled employees initially from production, quality, manufacturing engineering, supply, operations, and logistics. The site will be located in Ely, close to the company’s headquarters in Cambridge.
Can you explain the strategy behind the new facility?
BD: Establishing a manufacturing facility to help meet demand was the next logical step for CMR, and based on the product, our gut instinct and due diligence, it made sense to set up this new facility near Cambridge.
When we looked at how many people it would take to build and create a factory to build, as well as to manufacture, Versius, it would take a long time to do so in another country, and we are moving fast. We did not have the time to lose. We will need fast design improvements, rapid changes and teams ready to iterate and focus on the next R&D development. Therefore, we need the team together in the same place.
While setting up in other countries was considered, there are issues with relocating workforce, which is also impacted by the changing health tech landscape. Therefore, a UK-based site made more sense.
The Ely site also allows for future expansion. It’s only 20 minutes from our HQ so it’s very helpful for staff moving between the two. Plus, Cambridgeshire is a region that is well-renowned as a life sciences hub of excellence, so we have a raft of technical excellence on our doorstep.
At CMR we need to look at how to develop local talent, and so we will introduce ‘high skill’ training programmes for the local area and work with schools and colleges to build programmes in the future. It’s not just about attracting highly skilled talent, it’s about finding the right talent and investing in upskilling our existing workforce. The skilled workforce that exists in the Cambridge area will be key to helping manufacture and deliver our systems.
What benefits will the new manufacturing site bring to CMR?
Surgical robotics are one of the highest growth markets I have worked in so we need to be proactive in ensuring we don’t run out of space – the building needs to include potential for further expansion. The new site has been built to accommodate a continued doubling of factory output, as it would have been suboptimal to have to find and buy another building in the area further down the line.
People are very excited about our robot, and it’s a big market, despite the fact the pandemic is still ongoing. Therefore, we expect to be making a significant number of robots and, as such, we need a factory of the future to enable that increase in demand.
The new site will enable CMR to manufacture and iterate much faster, which will further be aided by the fact that our engineers and R&D teams will be close by. It is vitally important that engineering competency is close by and easily accessible, particularly if development needs to be super-fast
What are the key benefits of the Versius Surgical Robotic System?
First and foremost is the size and ease of access of the Versius system, and unlike many surgical robots, it is not large and cumbersome. Many of the new market entrants are beginning to move away from large, fixed structures within operating theatres in favour of pedestal-based systems, however, they still haven’t managed to harness the technology to have the small footprint of the Versius system.
We have created a high technology platform within a very small package, and it’s this versatility that can make all the difference to surgeons working in today’s hospitals. They are able to sit or stand at the console, operate in a 3D environment and can use balanced, haptic controllers featuring gravity compensation, which enhances accuracy and precision. Once you take away the complexity of having to manage a moving instrument, the surgeon can then focus on what they are doing.
It’s also extremely intuitive and easy to use. We recently ran a family day where eight year olds were able to feed a piece of string through a hoop inside a fake body cavity within five minutes of sitting at the console. The system’s flexibility means that once one operation is complete it can be simply wheeled to another theatre to perform another. This is important to our horizon of making robotic surgery available to the masses.
What are the challenges of medical devices manufacturing?
There are certainly challenges with making a robot of this nature, including growing our expert teams, suppliers, and designing processes to manufacture such a small technological package designed for accuracy and precision.
With something as technical as a surgical robot, we must consider how to make it cost effective and affordable. It takes around five days to build but 20 days to finish because it’s so technical and needs to be perfect. At the same time we also want to be nimble and agile in manufacturing, and make changes quickly when required.
The tolerance and accuracy for Versius is of magnitude higher than it would be for an automotive robot for example, and while we have a very high level of manufacturing talent in the UK, we need to develop new processes and find the relevant skills to achieve such small precision automation.
There are not many companies in the world that make articulated instruments for robots, so we need to work out how we upskill our supplier base, and work with them to find solutions so they can grow with us. Interest in medtech is burgeoning, and there is a broader set of industries who are interested in working with companies like CMR.
CMR’s vision is not about building a robot, it’s to improve surgical care for the rest of the world. It’s about building a high tech, reliable product that can be manufactured at low cost.
D’Arcy’s joined CMR in June 2020 and his role is to utilise his extensive manufacturing experience to help grow CMR’s manufacturing and supply chain. Prior to joining CMR, he worked at SpaceX where he focussed on ensuring that extremely expensive space rockets could be manufactured in a high tech, low volume environment. Before Space X, he worked at BMW/Mini where he saw vehicles from initial idea through to full production.