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The Hospital Pneumatic Tube System Is Engineered to Scale
hospital staff loading pneumatic tube system
Jeff Erbert | 4 January, 2024

The Pneumatic Tube System in the Public Eye

Since the dawn of the drive-up bank teller, the pneumatic tube system has amused both the young and young at heart. There’s just something satisfying about watching a carrier fly through the tube and reach it’s intended destination. However, as sophisticated and futuristic as it may appear, the idea behind a basic tube system isn’t really that new – at least at the bank.

In fact, pneumatic tube systems have been used to transport mail since the mid-to-late 1800s. The pneumatic tube system at the hospital on the other hand, though conceptionally similar, is a whole different animal that faces a whole different set of challenges.

Beyond the obvious difference in location, the pneumatic tube system in the hospital is used far more often and at a much larger scale. As such, there are key distinctions that separate the two applications and their operation.


Length of Tube System and Materials Used

The bank pneumatic tube system often connects the teller to a drive-up station just outside of the bank and generally uses plastic tubing. Bank systems also possess roughly 50 to 200 ft worth of tubing.

On the other hand, the average hospital TransLogic pneumatic tube system possesses 8,750 feet of tubing and tubes are constructed of stainless steel.

Tube System Transfer Units


Transfer units are rotating tube connectors that allow carriers to be sent through varying tube networks. Think of it like a railroad switch that allows trains to transfer to other sets of tracks. Since the drive-up teller transaction is fairly simple, bank pneumatic tube systems typically do not require transfer units since the carrier is only sent back and forth in the same tube.

Hospitals, however, process thousands of transactions per day at different parts of the facility. As such, hospitals typically possess many transfer units that are monitored and operated via software.

The Stations

The bank uses anywhere from 2 to 6 stations depending on the size of the institution. These stations are simple in that they only send one carrier at a time, and they only send from A to B. Hospitals have multiple stations (with touch screens) that can send multiple carriers at a time to different parts of the hospital.

There’s a lot of sensitive, controlled, or biohazardous material being sent, so it’s imperative that senders and receivers are on the same page. Hospital stations, then, have technology that identifies the sender(s) and lets them know if the carrier(s) has successfully reached its destination.

Operational Considerations

In our blog “Just Say No To Carrier Towers”, TransLogic veteran Scott Fincher writes about the internal oversight of tube systems carriers and it’s impact on hospital operations.

About 30% of hospital tube system traffic involves the lab thus forcing laboratory managers to create a process for retrieving and sending empty carriers. In a large hospital or health network, that can be quite a few carriers. At the bank, carrier management means keeping tabs on the whereabouts of 1 or 2 carriers.
old tube system station at bank
Old Bank Carrier Station 

Construction and Design Considerations

When it comes to installing a pneumatic tube system in a bank, the construction is pretty straightforward. There are two simple stations, some tubing, and a blower that needs electricity.

Not surprisingly, the hospital build out is much more complex. Not only does the hospital operate on a much larger scale – the pneumatic tube system must be engineered in such a way that it can withstand day-to-day operation, be easily accessed for maintenance, not interfere with any other hospital infrastructure, and be secure.

To ensure all of these criteria are met, it’s highly recommended that architects, business leaders, or general contractors opt for a design assist service during the pre-design phase of construction.

The Responsibility of Each Pneumatic Tube System

The Bank’s tube system provides an added level of convenience, which no doubt helps those who prefer not to leave the comfort of their vehicle like those with children or older adults. But should the system go down, the bank can still operate relatively unphased.

If the pneumatic tube system goes down in the hospital, it can become quite costly. The hospital has no choice but to use a large team of human couriers to transport goods throughout the hospital. Not only is this much slower – a pneumatic tube system carrier travels 5x faster than a human – and less secure, but it will affect the operational efficiency of multiple departments resulting in more losses.

To see just how much value a pneumatic tube system can add to a hospital, try out our manual transport cost calculator.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the pneumatic tube system has evolved to serve distinct purposes in both banks and hospitals. While the bank's system exudes simplicity and convenience, the hospital's complex network, with its longer tubing, multiple stations, and advanced technology, underscores the critical role it plays in healthcare operations.

The contrast in operational considerations, construction complexities, and the repercussions of system failure highlight the need for tailored approaches. In healthcare, the pneumatic tube system is not just a convenience but a vital component influencing patient care and operational efficiency.