AGVs traveling through the main tunnel from the service center.

A newly constructed cardiovascular facility and a 12-story urological and kidney institute will do more than improve clinical care at the Cleveland Clinic's Cleveland campus. The buildings will dramatically boost efficiency in the way supplies are managed and delivered and streamline waste management.

In place of the previous manual materials system is a new, highly automated underground 227,000-square-foot service center that is staffed by more than 100 employees. The service center has increased efficiency and cut costs by consolidating five operating departments, including linen, patient food, materials, central services and waste management.

"We believe this facility can be a model to get other hospitals thinking about cost efficiencies," says Jeff Pepperworth, senior director of materials management at Cleveland Clinic. "Our waste management handling process has helped us increase our green initiatives by well over 50 percent."

The center features 81 automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that travel more than 1,000 miles a day on top of a magnetic grid to deliver the materials. The AGVs are dispatched by staff in each of the departments served by the system through a touch-screen panel.

The AGVs, which are about 1-foot high by 6-feet long, pick up radio-frequency identification (RFID) encrypted carts and run a magnetized, quarter-mile circuit to deliver 75,000 medical supplies daily. An underground tunnel system connects the service center to several depots in the hospital, where supplies are picked up and then manually delivered to the appropriate floor or unit by AGV techs, Pepperworth says.

The AGVs are programmed to pull into charging stations when they run low on battery power and regularly take carts to a cart wash. If someone steps in their way, the AGVs automatically stop until the path is clear.

Pepperworth says staff visited hospitals in Europe, where AGV systems have been used for more than 20 years. To maximize space, the center is below a parking garage.