Lerch Bates Inc. Building Insight

Global Leaders in Technical Consulting for the Building Industry

The “Unit Material” Empire Strikes Back

As consultants, we are expected to be the experts.  So, we spend a fair amount of our time doing research on new products that are on the market.  Honestly, it is amazing to see what is out there in new technology, including, elevators, Automated Guided Vehicles, Tug systems, Pneumatic Tube Systems, Pneumatic Chute Systems, AS/RS Systems (Automatic Storage/Retrieval Systems), and horizontal carousels to name a few.

In the past couple of weeks, we at Lerch Bates have had the opportunity to see some of the new robotic technology on the market for healthcare facilities, and I have to say that it seems we are getting closer to some of the technology portrayed in the sci-fi movies of the 1970s and 1980s.  Think R2-D2.  While we have yet to see a hover craft for unit material delivery in hospitals, we have still seen some pretty exciting technology.

Last week, Lerch Bates saw one such technology in action…the autonomous mobile robot.  These are small transport units available now, that can deliver up to 50 pounds of supplies, mail, samples, etc. These robots are intelligent enough to map an area and store where obstructions may be along a path so that they can travel along the route to get to the destination.  They can even detect people and can navigate around obstructions not on their map.  They are completely independent devices and can be programmed to say specific messages and play specific songs in route or at the destination.  It is almost as if they have been assigned a “personality.” These are definitely an option for anyone looking at possible solutions for small items to be transported via materials handling system, rather than using costly FTE “sneaker power.”  In some cases, these could even be used to relieve unit supply traffic on an existing Pneumatic Tube System.

Lerch Bates strives to continue to keep a strong pulse on the technologies available to give our clients the best options.  In fact, this is one of the best and most interesting parts of our job.  Who knows, maybe hover technology is next?