What is a Pneumatic Tube System?

Over the last century, the world has become increasingly interconnected. From letters to emails and telephones to smartphones, technology has evolved at a rapid rate. Prior to the breakthrough technological advances of the 20th and 21st century, communication looked very different. Until the mid 19th century, the lack of road infrastructure saw individuals relying on marine vessels to spread information and transport goods.

Today, information can be spread from any location in a matter of seconds. The Pneumatic Tube System was a cutting-edge development in communication and transportation. While these systems have changed and altered with technological advances, pneumatic tube systems still play a crucial role within society.

The History behind Pneumatic Tube Systems

Pneumatic Tube Systems are not novel to the 21st century, the concept of pneumatic transportation can be traced back to the late 1700’s. Historically pneumatic tube systems connecting buildings were first used by the post office, hence the German name “Rohrpost” which translates to pipe post in English. Most European capitals and many other large cities had large parcel post systems from the post office to the stock exchange and government buildings in the mid-1800s.

Engineer Latimer Clark was the first to design and build a tube system, which went into operation at London Telegraph Office in 1853. This system would revolutionise rapid transportation; paper telegrams could be transported rapidly between the London Stock Exchange and the London Telegraph Office – a total distance of 220 yards – through a network of underground tubes using compressed air. Popularity in rapid transportation grew quickly leading to the expansion of the tube network; the length and diameter were altered in order to connect a greater number of locations and to facilitate the transportation of larger goods including parcels.

London had almost 22 miles of underground tube by 1880. Department stores were also using air tubes in the early 1900s sending payments to the cash office and returning the change to the sales desks. Initially, metal tubing was used and compressed air.

history of pneumatic tubeDuring the 19th century, Pneumatic Tube Systems were primarily a postal service; utilised by post offices, stock exchanges and banks alike, to rapidly transport goods between two locations. Pneumatic Tube Systems were a turning point, especially within the financial sector. London’s network of underground tubes eliminated the need for frequent road travel, providing an alternative, fast and efficient means of communication. It was not long until local stock exchanges in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester installed similar systems.

Overtime, Pneumatic Tube Technology developed and was applied to various sectors including, retailers, hospitals and warehouses. On account of the systems success, during the late 19th century other European cities began to utilise similar systems to speed up internal communication. A major tube network was constructed in Paris to be utilised for postal travel. Demand led to the extension of such networks and by the 20th century, pneumatic messages could be delivered across Paris in its entirety.

Today, Pneumatic tube systems are not utilised on the same scale as they were a century ago – likely on account of modern innovations such as the mobile phone. Nevertheless, there continues to be a great demand for Pneumatic Technology within several fields’ especially health care facilities. Dealing with hundreds of patients a day, hospitals required a quick way to transport samples and medication between locations. Despite continuing technological advances, Pneumatic Tube Systems continue to play an integral role in modern day health system.

How do Pneumatic Tube Systems actually work?

Put simply, Pneumatic Tube Systems architecture, uses pressurised air to propel cylindrical containers through networks of tubes. The air compressor pumps, frequently described as ‘blowers’ uses both vacuum and air pressure to transport sealed products; this means that products can be moved through transport tubes in every direction. A control centre is used to oversee system function; operating blower units and transfer units to ensure products are guided to the correct location.

An overview of the main components:

Pneumatic Tube Carriers

pneumatic tube carriers

The term carrier refers to the cylindrical containers used to ‘carry’ goods from point A to point B. Coming in a diverse range of sizes, carriers can fit a wide selection of packages and objects. These containers can be either plastic or metal dependant on user preference and needs. Plastic is often the preferable choice, being clean and durable, whilst also exhibiting static reducing qualities. Leak-proof and lockable carriers fitted with RFID chips are ideal options for hospitals, offering safe and secure transport for sensitive content. Carriers are often fitted with plastic bumpers and fabric bands to help protect the capsules content during its journey.

Pneumatic Tube Stations

pneumatic tube stations

Pneumatic tube stations refer to the location where carriers are sent or received. The large range of pneumatic tube stations available allow users to select the most appropriate station based on their needs. Stations come in a range of sizes and designs. Standard design includes a loading port and an interface panel. With users keen to improve efficiency, the latest designs have features such as auto unloading. Accessories can also be added to ensure safe and secure transport including receiving baskets, carrier storage and arrival indicators.

Diverters for Pneumatic Tubes

Diverters are extremely important to Pneumatic Tube Systems, allowing packages to turn corners and/or change directions within the tube network. Today, users often require complex systems, which incorporate a larger number of send and receive stations and thus paths. Located at zone connections, a diverter regulates air flow to ensure that carriers are transported along the correct and most direct path. Once installed diverters can be operated remotely.

Blowers for Pneumatic Tubes

The blower is the driving force behind pneumatic tube systems, providing the system with its air supply. ‘Blower’ is used to describe the fans that create the vacuum and air pressure within the transport tubes, causing the carriers to move. These fans create a difference in air density behind and in front of the canister. This difference in air pressure enables the carrier to be pushed or pulled along the tube. These fans are responsible for propelling containers through the system at speeds of 25 feet per second.

The Utilisation of Pneumatic Tube Systems in Hospitals

Especially in hospitals – where resources are scarce and seconds count – pneumatic tube systems continue to play a fundamental role in day-to-day operation. Despite continued technical advances, pneumatic tube systems continue to be the best solution when transporting medical goods, offering fast and safe transportation between hospital departments; for example, wards, surgical rooms, blood banks, pathology laboratories and the hospital pharmacy.

Pneumatic tube carrierPneumatic tube systems have had various uses within hospital infrastructures but today these systems are principally used to transport laboratory specimens (blood/ urine samples) and pharmaceutical products (drugs and prescriptions). Therefore, features such as carrier design are extremely important to ensure that samples and prescriptions are transported without damage. Modern plastic sample vials were a simple yet ground breaking development, suitably constructed and robust enough to protect precious goods in transit.

Moreover, pneumatic tube systems increase efficiency within hospitals, reducing dependency on medical staff for repetitive mundane tasks. Instead, medical staff has more time to focus on patient care and patient therapy. Accessibility to such a system 24 hours a day has helped optimise hospital logistics.

Pneumatic Tube Systems are indispensable in modern hospitals with an estimated one million samples being sent via Pneumatic Tube Systems weekly in Britain alone. Initially, hospitals utilised a basic point-to-point system. However, Pneumatic Tube Systems were enhanced by developers in conjunction with developments in computer software. As a result, modern multi-zone systems are controlled by a central computer system, often complete with RFID tracking and diagnostics. To ensure the health sector is provided with the safest and more reliable system it is important to continue researching and developing these systems.

The Aerocom AC3000 

pneumatic tube

Here at Aerocom, we recognise the importance of pneumatic tube systems within hospitals, concentrating 90% of our operation on serving healthcare infrastructures.

Initially, hospitals utilised single zone tube systems to transfer documents between wards. However, growing demand necessitated system expansion. The Aerocom AC3000 revolutionised UK hospital internal logistics. This multi-zone, multi-station tube system was designed with the capacity to control up to 500 send and receive stations at once. This system model – hosted by a Microsoft Windows operating system – provides a larger, faster and more complex operational service; complete with computerised tracking, Internet monitoring, and security protection. On account of its dedicated hardware and software, the AC3000 system continues to be the leading choice of Pneumatic Air Tube System for hospitals in 85 countries worldwide.

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