Business

Manufacturing

Up the tubes— Bremen

Preface

Email looked to have made obsolete the process of transporting data by pneumatic tubes, but logistics firm Swisslog saw a potential growth market: healthcare. Now, every new hospital has a network to carry drugs and samples.

Swisslog, drugs, healthcare, pneumatic, tubes

Back in the 19th century, pneumatic tubes were brand-new and all the rage. Department stores, banks, even cities were linked via vacuum-driven post systems. These networks transported documents or money in capsules travelling through tubes of compressed air winding up and down and around all sorts of buildings. But by the late 20th century, such systems had become increasingly rare, made nearly obsolete by modern technology such as email.

However, the past 10 years has seen a renaissance in pneumatic tube technology. This is in part due to the…

Timeline:

1977: Jürgen Walter and Hermann Ewertowski launch Walther Rohrposttechnik in Westerstede, Germany.

1991: The firm takes over the client base of Siemens Tube System Division of Thyssen Aufzüge. The number of employees doubles.

2000: Becomes a full subsidiary of Swisslog, a world leader in hospital logistics, with Jens Ewertowski as CEO.

2009: A new building opens to accommodate expansion.

  1. Mittal Steel Galati, Romania
  2. Carrefour, Taiwan
  3. Deutsche Bank, Singapore
  4. Schiphol Airport, Netherlands
  5. Bundeskanzleramt (the Chancellery), Berlin

Q&A: Sabine Schünemann, Deputy director

**Why is there so much interest now in such old technology? **
About 15 years ago it became clear tube systems were no longer needed to transport documents, but rather materials. Where is material transport and safety important? In hospitals. We recognised a decade ago that the renaissance of the pneumatic tube system lies in healthcare, so we went into hospitals to optimise their logistics.

Is this market open?
Yes. Nowadays, no new hospital is built or planned without a pneumatic tube system. We’re proud to say that we’ve contributed to this development.

What makes you different from the competition?
Swisslog is a comprehensive logistics company and pneumatic tube systems represent just part of what we offer. The ability to supply comprehensive logistics solutions is our primary advantage. We’re also very fast and flexible.

Are there limits?
I don’t think so! There are physical limits, such as a heavy load that can only go so fast. But we are visionary. Over the years, we’ve developed and collated our know-how. The employees are so connected to pneumatic tube technology that they are used to coming up with creative solutions. We work on things until things work.

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