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New Robot Vehicles Will Help Keep Things Moving at Rush University Medical Center

A fleet of robots is now rolling through the supply chain tunnels underneath Rush University Medical Center transporting linens, supplies and trash. Rush has acquired 14 automated guided vehicles (AGVs), mobile robots that can move supply carts around campus. Once programmed and activated, the AGVs travel on their own without human assistance along designated paths guided by lasers.


“The carts are placed in a parking area; an employee presses a button that calls for an AGV and the AGV comes to that location, slides underneath the cart, picks up the cart and takes it to wherever it’s supposed to go,” explains Mary Byrne, director of Supply Chain Management at Rush.

Currently, the AGVs are hauling supplies back and forth from the new Rush loading dock, located in the lower level of the new Orthopedic Building, to a central distribution point underneath the site of the new hospital building under construction at the corner of Ashland Avenue and Harrison Street.

“The new dock is approximately 1200 feet from our central distribution point underneath the new hospital building,” said Byrne. “This is a very long distance that would be difficult and time consuming to deliver supplies without the AGVs. Once we complete the final phase of this project, the AGVs will travel nearly two thirds of a mile roundtrip.”

Eventually the carts will travel into the sub-basement of Rush’s main hospital, the Atrium Building, and once the new hospital building is completed in 2012, the AGVs will have dedicated elevators to make deliveries to the floors.

The AGVs can carry up to 1000 lbs per load. The materials that are moved by the AGV system include medical supplies, clean and soiled linens, regulated medical waste and trash. When the new hospital opens, patient food trays also will be moved using the AGV system.

Rush employees will load and unload the carts at each end of the AGVs’ travel path. The AGVs are programmed to notify employees when a delivery has arrived.

“The AGVs will not replace current members of our very capable staff. We still need people to move carts on and off the AGVs, and there will be even more to do once the new hospital building opens,” said Byrne.

The AGVs also have an infrared sensor that can sense if something is in their path, which will cause them to stop. If someone is standing in front of an AGV, it politely will ask the person to step aside. The AGV voice can be programmed to use a number of different accents.

“They really do seem like part of the team,” Byrne said. “We plan to name them after prominent internal customers.”

The AGVs can run up to 22 hours without recharging, which they’ll do automatically at recharging stations along their travel path.

The implementation of the AGVs accommodates the relocation of the loading dock from underneath the Atrium Building to the lower level of the Orthopedic Building — a change that was needed in order to clear traffic routes to the new hospital building.

“We’re going to have a lot more supplies, linens, everything moving in and out of the Medical Center once the new hospital building opens,” said Eileen Dwyer, RN, MSN, director, Office of Transformation, who expects the fleet will increase to 22 AGVs at that time. “The AGVs will help us keep things moving and make sure everyone keeps getting what they need, when they need it.”

Rush University Medical Center includes the 671-bed (staffed) hospital; the Johnston R. Bowman Health Center; and Rush University (Rush Medical College, College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College).

Rush is currently constructing a 14-floor, 806,000-square-foot hospital building at the corner of Ashland Avenue and Congress Parkway. The new hospital, scheduled to open in 2012, is the centerpiece of a $1 billion, ten-year campus redevelopment plan called the Rush Transformation, which also includes a new orthopedics building, a new parking garage and central power plant, renovations of selected existing buildings and demolition of obsolete buildings The new hospital is being designed and built to conserve energy and water, reduce waste and use sustainable building materials. Rush is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It will be the first full-service, “green” hospital in Chicago.

Rush’s mission is to provide the best possible care for its patients. Educating tomorrow’s health care professional, researching new and more advanced treatment options, transforming its facilities and investing in new technologies—all are undertaken with the drive to improve patient care now, and for the future.

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Posted January 6, 2010

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