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The University Hospital Bonn (UKB) is one of the main providers of medical care in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, treating around 500,000 inpatients and outpatients on 1,300 beds every year. As well as its role in providing healthcare, the UKB also focuses on research and teaching. To meet these responsibilities as best as possible, the hospital constantly invests in automating and digitalizing its processes. One area given special attention here is the automation of the transport system. The TranspoNet pneumatic tube system (PTS) ensures that samples, documents and medical products get to where they are needed quickly and reliably.
The challenge: lots of departments needing lots of transports
Effective patient care is top priority at the UKB. This relies on smooth, fast and reliable transport of things like samples, documents and medical products. This can be a challenge, however, as the hospital is spread over an area of around 43 hectares, with 38 clinics and 31 institutes.
Not every department has its own laboratory, which is why samples from various parts of the hospital complex have to be transported to the central laboratory. Speed is essential here, as quick diagnoses are often the key to successful treatment. Transport systems must also protect the contents, as the laboratory cannot properly analyze a damaged sample.
Manual transport in a hospital complex of this size can be a time-consuming process and lead to delayed diagnoses, depending on what needs to be transported where. Transport automation solutions can help make intralogistic processes more efficient and improve patient care.
The solution: automation with the TranspoNet pneumatic tube system
To overcome the drawbacks of manual transport, the UKB chose to optimize its internal transport network with the TranspoNet pneumatic tube system. This has been improving transport processes on the campus since 2018 and is constantly being optimized further.
TranspoNet is an integrated pneumatic tube system that bundles flows of both material and data within the hospital. It connects the various hospital departments and enables transparent tracing using RFID technology. A range of stations are available for various needs to ensure efficient processes.
TranspoNet at UKB
The pneumatic tube at the University Hospital Bonn is one of the largest in Europe:
- Approx. 16 km of tubing
- 7 transfer units
- 145 stations
- Average volume of around 1,400 transports per day
- What makes it special: 5 automatic OpenLog unloading stations support 3 different laboratories.
TranspoNet connects over 17 different departments at the UKB. Carriers can be sent to and from any station within the network. The transport network is shaped like a ring, in order to create redundancies and cover for failures in the event of a fault. At the five automatic OpenLog stations, users can precisely track when a carrier was sent, how long it was in transit and when it was unloaded at the destination thanks to RFID tags.
Different departments have different needs. The stations in the UKB’s pneumatic tube system are suitable for all kinds of requirements. They include standard stations with access management and fast dispatching to the wards , automatic OpenLog unloading stations in the laboratory and virology department, or FlapLog stations in operating theaters for receiving multiple carriers one after another.
The PTS project
Planning and constructing a pneumatic tube system of this size inevitably involves a number of challenges. Parts of the tube network had to be integrated into existing buildings, which brought a number of technical difficulties. One of the transfer units had to be fitted at an incline, for example, as the ceiling height was not sufficient.
A hospital complex of this size has a lot of different departments with very different needs. These must be continuously evaluated, in order to best respond to the interests of everyone involved throughout the project.
Benefits for the hospital and its staff
TranspoNet is playing a key role in automating operations at the hospital. The pneumatic tube network ensures fast and reliable transport, and removes the need for staff and vehicles to travel great distances across the campus. This is a major advantage at a time when qualified staff are hard to come by.
Successful treatment relies on the safe transport of samples. Manual or otherwise inadequate transport can significantly delay the diagnosis and presents a greater risk of damage. A compromised sample can lead to incorrect analysis and therefore the wrong treatment in a worst-case scenario.
Transporting samples using a pneumatic tube system reduces the risk of human error, while the enclosed system creates the best possible conditions for transport.
Growing with the campus
Even though the project began all the way back in 2012, it still is not yet complete. The UKB campus is constantly undergoing expansion, and the pneumatic tube system is growing with it. The new heart center is also due to be integrated into the system. This will ensure that rapid sections get to the laboratory quickly, allowing patient care to continue at world-class level.
Conclusion: automating transport can play a major role in improving patient care
The example of the University Hospital Bonn shows how automating the transport system can improve both the efficiency and quality of patient care. The TranspoNet pneumatic tube system has proven itself to be a reliable and cost-saving solution that has made the UKB a pioneer in this area.
The planned expansions will help the hospital further reinforce its position as the region’s leading medical institution, while ensuring patients get the best care possible. The automation of the transport system is perfect evidence of how reliable technologies can make healthcare provision better.