Automated Transport And Sorting System:
ARUP implemented the original Automated Transport and Sorting System built by MDS AutoLab of Toronto, Ontario on November 17, 1998. This system served ARUP's needs extremely well for more than five years, reaching a level of 18,000-22,000 new patient specimens per day and a total volume of tubes transported and sorted each day of 27,000 to 32,000. On January 17, 2004, exactly five years and two months from the "go live" date of the first system, ARUP implemented a major expansion of the Automated Track System with the capacity to meet ARUP's future growth for the next decade or more.
The new Automated Track System floor plan can be viewed by clicking on the image to the right. The system consists of 1100 feet of conveyor or track and seven high-speed sorting machines, which are connected to the track. Four single-track lines transport newly ordered specimens from 72 workstations in Specimen Processing to a switching system that quickly routes the tubes to single track lines that each serve one or two sorters. Each sorter can sort up to 1000 tubes per hour into 30 user-definable lanes. The combined sorting capacity of the seven sorters (7,000 tubes per hour) is thus the total capacity of the system and is 3.5 times the previous system's capacity 2,000 tubes per hour. These sorters, designated as West, North 1&2, Central 1&2, and South 1&2, are the primary sorters for the laboratory sections in their vicinity. They sort tubes into lanes for high volume tests or for logical groups of tests (work-centers), as specified by the laboratory sections. Refrigerators and freezers are located next to each sorter, in order that specimens can be maintained at appropriate temperatures after being unloaded from the sorters, which are continually staffed. Some critical frozen specimens are not placed on the system, but are manually transported to the lab sections.
In the Automated Track System all tubes are said to have a "route." A route is merely a listing of which sorters the tube is to be transported to and in which sequence so that all testing is completed in the order preferred by the laboratory sections. For those tubes that are to be stored in ARUP's centralized specimen storage systems, the final route stop is a storage sorter. For most specimens the route consists of a single primary sorter for testing and then the storage sorter. For some specimens with two or more tests to be performed in different lab sections, the route may show two or more sorter stops for testing, followed by the final stop for storage. When laboratories have completed their testing on specimens delivered via the Automated Track System, the specimens are simply returned to a central location where they are placed on the track again. Labs do not have to know whether particular tubes require more testing or are ready for storage. The Automated Track System keeps track of each tube's progress toward completing its route. Those tubes that still have more testing to be performed are automatically routed through the main switching system to get to the designated route stop, whether it is the West Sorter, Central Sorter, etc. Those specimens that are ready to be stored go directly to a storage sorter.
As part of the 2004 automation expansion, a sorting machine built by Motoman was attached to the Automated Track System. Now there are two Motoman Storage AutoSorters (SAS). These robots automate the transfer of tubes from the Automated Track System into storage trays, or racks, a process that was previously manual. Trays are used to store tubes in storage categories of higher volume and racks are used for lower volume categories. See ESP Specimen Storage Module for more details about the storage process. ARUP's plans include the purchase of two additional Motoman Storate AutoSorters when our future growth requires.
The keys to ARUP's success with this Automated Transport and Sorting System include rapid transport away from the Specimen Processing area, high-speed sorting into a large number of different initial sort groups, and superior tracking of each specimen. From even the most remote specimen processing workstation to the farthest sorter, travel time on the track is less than 8 minutes. The continuous flow of specimens to sorters that are located near the laboratory sections has eliminated considerable walking from the labs to Specimen Processing and the congestion associated with that practice. Prior to the implementation of the Automated Track System, a typical specimen was sorted at least three times and handled 7-9 different times prior to testing. Specimen Processing sorted by temperature, and then the labs typically sorted twice more - first to work-centers or groups and then to individual tests. In separate steps, the laboratory sections also used hand-held bar code readers to change the tracking status in the PathNet LIS and to build worksheets for batch testing. The Automated Track System has eliminated much of this sorting and handling, by automatically changing the PathNet tracking status and by sorting to individual higher volume tests or to work-centers within minutes of leaving Specimen Processing. As excess handling is eliminated, errors are reduced and the process is faster.