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Major hospital project ‘in the pipeline’ for pneumatic tube firm

Major hospital project ‘in the pipeline’ for pneumatic tube firm

A Nottingham firm has landed a deal with Bristol Royal Infirmary, sustaining its position as the key supplier of pneumatic tube systems to the NHS. 

Aerocom (UK) Ltd, a nationwide company based in Nottingham, has been selected to upgrade and replace the entire network of pneumatic tube systems across Bristol’s main city centre hospital complex.

The move reinforces Aerocom (UK) Ltd as the favoured supplier of its kind to the NHS and one of the very few pre-approved preferred bidders for tube system projects in the British healthcare giant’s supply chain.

Pneumatic tube systems are the sample transportation arteries of all hospitals, enabling the reliable and controlled transportation of critical items such as patient specimens and pharmaceutical prescriptions between floors, departments, and buildings across any extensive campus.

Since Aerocom (UK) Ltd was acquired from the German-based company Aerocom GmbH & Co. by chairman John Hughes in 2000, the firm has since successfully installed extensive pneumatic tube systems in well over 100 of the nation’s NHS and private hospitals.  

Each NHS hospital typically requires an average of 6.5km of precision-extruded tubing, meaning Aerocom (UK) Ltd has installed somewhere in the region of 650km of tubing in UK hospitals. This is more than the distance by road from London to Edinburgh or the length of 6,000 football pitches.  

John Hughes, who also chairs Aerocom Ireland, which is responsible for pneumatic tube systems in 40 Irish hospitals, said:

“This project is a major coup for Aerocom. It firmly endorses Aerocom as being the preferred provider of Medicare pneumatic tube systems in the UK.

“University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, which operates Bristol Royal Infirmary, was a hugely important customer for us for many years, so we are delighted to return.”

Aerocom (UK) Ltd previously installed an extensive tube system in the Southmead Hospital expansion project, and virtually every other NHS facility in Bristol. The firm’s very first project as Aerocom (UK) 23 years ago was at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which remains to this day one of Aerocom’s biggest customers.  

Pneumatic tube systems (PTS) are pipe networks that propel cylindrical canisters through networks of tubes by low-pressure air movement or by partial vacuum. 

Originally first used in the 19th Century for transmitting telegrams to nearby buildings, the physics behind the basic operation of pneumatic tube systems remains largely unchanged, however in the 21st Century automation and robotic enhancements are in high demand.

Tom Hughes, managing director of Aerocom (UK) Ltd, said the modern-day tube systems are far more complex to design, particularly for medical facilities. 

“The modern PTS must be capable of dealing with several thousand specimens alone daily in major hospitals,” said Tom. “A&E alone can account for up to 25 per cent of the traffic flow. It’s an entirely different concept now from where we were in Victorian times. 

“Sometimes we retrofit the systems, which may take a few weeks per project, however, in construction, we will team up with the main contractor’s design engineers on a new-build project, which could be six years ahead.” 

Projects are pre-planned and co-ordinated by Graeme Bell, the leader of the Aerocom (UK) design team, who spends a lot of time helping architects and designers to develop new systems for future hospitals. 

“The sheer complexity of a hospital tube network is quite mind-blowing,” said Tom. “At Bristol Royal Infirmary alone, the tube system includes 60 separate user group stations throughout the complex for the transportation of mainly patient specimens, while another larger capacity network of seven stations will transport drugs from the pharmacy to the wards or clinic areas.”

These massive tube networks, which automatically operate largely unnoticed through ceiling spaces and service areas, save an enormous amount of time and staffing costs for the NHS. 

The systems are computerised and every transportation is RFID-tagged for tracking and statistics. Modern pneumatic tube systems will cope with multiple simultaneous and tracked transportations.

Tom said:

“They vastly reduce what would have been the walking distance for hospital porters and medical staff delivering samples or trips to the pharmacy. The tube system can take direct routes, drop through floor levels, take shortcuts, go underground and so on. 

“This therefore makes the tube network a much more efficient process and takes pressure off the hospital staff. The tube system also works 24/7 and never sleeps, eats, encounters security doors, uses lifts, has any distractions, time off or holiday requirements.

“Secondly, it has been calculated that it would take around 30 additional porters in an average hospital to do the same work as a site-wide pneumatic tube system. The initial investment is recovered within several months of a system going into service which is a huge saving for the taxpayer.” 

The tube system upgrade and replacement project at Bristol is now programmed and the project is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Aerocom (UK) Ltd, which also supplies fire suppression devices and robotic guided vehicle systems, supplies pneumatic tube systems to numerous industry sectors, including manufacturing, logistics, retail and healthcare.


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