HUP’s pneumatic tube system includes miles of pipes leading to specific destinations throughout HUP’s physically connected buildings.

With speeds of 22 feet per second — approximately 15 miles an hour — HUP’s pneumatic tube system delivers nearly 4,000 specimens, blood and blood products, and other urgently needed supplies and medications to stations throughout the HUP campus each day. Thanks to recent upgrades, the system’s efficiency has not only improved, but this quality service will continue at Pavilion when it opens in the fall.

Switching Gears

HUP’s “super highway” is a complex system: miles of pipes divided into multiple zones leading to specific destinations all over HUP’s physically connected buildings. Hundreds of “carriers” (containers of specimens or supplies) can be moving through the tubes at any given time and the system’s real-time monitoring constantly tracks them in an effort to keep “traffic jams” and other issues to a minimum so each carrier can arrive at its destination station in the fastest time possible. “Most transactions are under 5 minutes from point A to B,” said Gary Maccorkle, supervisor of Maintenance Operations.

HUP now has 130 stations, up from 105 a few years back. Most were added to those areas that receive the greatest influx, i.e., labs (almost half go to Central Receiving), blood banks, and pharmacies. These extra stations “are like adding another lane of highway, internally,” he said. The larger the infrastructure, the more likely the computer can find a fast, open route to get to a destination. For example, rather than waiting for traffic to die down in one zone, the carrier will be automatically rerouted to another zone that’s open and faster.

HUP’s upgrades are also helping to reduce any downtime. Problem alerts are sent to Maintenance staff iPhones, 24 hours a day. “This notification system lets us know about a problem and fix it before someone else even realizes it,” he said.

New Carriers with Added Features

The pneumatic tube system’s destination stations in the Pavilion will have 10 inch screens.

The 300 new carriers coming onboard, which raises the total number to 1,200, include many features to keep things running smoothly. For example, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the carriers will help track down their location anywhere in the system. And badge scanning will identify not only the sender and recipient but pinpoint the time and from which station. This accountability helps ensure that “a specimen got to the right location and someone got it to process in the right amount of time, before it expires,” Maccorkle said. “It provides peace of mind.”

The new carriers also have water-tight seals to prevent spills inside the tube as well as latches which use green and red lights to show if the latch is locked.

Maccorkle hopes the additional carriers will decrease “hoarding” that sometimes occurs. “Putting empties back in the system makes a huge difference,” he said. Each station has a par level for the number of carriers it should have so the computer “will automatically divert the empties in the system to whatever station needs them.”

With the opening of the Pavilion — and the addition of 85 stations — “we’ll have the second largest pneumatic tube system in the country,” he said, adding that, even at number 2, HUP has more transactions than any other hospital in the U.S. And thanks to upgrades, regular maintenance and real-time monitoring, the system will continue to stay up and running 98.6 percent of the time, a “very high rate that exceeds the national average.”

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