A city within a city.
Transport Magazine

A city within a city.

Transport at the University Hospital – both on and under the road.

City logistics of a special kind: How the Atego keeps things running at University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein.

From the helipad, you can see the church towers of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. And another similarly diverse urban landscape spreads out below the building: the campus of University Hospital Schleswig‑Holstein. Pedestrians and recumbent cyclists, taxis and public buses: you will see just about all the kinds of road users that you would expect in a city on the streets of this 55‑hectare site. If you look closer, you will inevitably spot trucks and vans bearing both the hospital logo and a star.

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Head of transport in Lübeck: fleet manager Gerhard Plate.

“We use three Atego trucks for transporting materials on this site”, says Gerhard Plate. The 57‑year‑old head of transport manages the Lübeck hospital vehicle fleet, which also includes several Mercedes‑Benz Sprinters. These are joined by five further Ategos and additional Sprinters in Kiel. The two operations in Lübeck and Kiel, which are roughly the same size, together form Germany’s second largest university hospital after the Charité in Berlin. The state‑owned company has almost 16,000 employees. Last year it treated exactly 440,824 patients, about three quarters of them as inpatients. The wards and other facilities at both sites are distributed over a total of 103 buildings.

This gigantic operation requires huge quantities of goods every day. Here are just a few examples: To guarantee the medics a constant supply of sterile instruments, they are cleaned and sterilised after each use in the reprocessing unit for medical devices and packed for the next procedure. Together, the two sites use around 200,000 items of sterile goods every year.

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High level of automation: The reprocessing unit is tuned for maximum efficiency.

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High level of automation: The reprocessing unit is tuned for maximum efficiency.

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High level of automation: The reprocessing unit is tuned for maximum efficiency.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

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Uncompromising hygiene and control of functions in the reprocessing unit for medical devices.

“We practice unit‑dose care: individually packaged medicines that are specifically picked for each patient.”

Hans‑Gerd Strobel, chief pharmacist at University Hospital Lübeck

Medications are picked and packed without pause in the Lübeck hospital pharmacy. Nursing staff and care workers depend on hygienic products. Patients eat several times a day, so the hospitals’ catering departments produce around 9,000 meals every day.

Getting all these materials and foodstuffs to their correct destinations is a major logistical feat. The Ategos are indispensable for this task. They tirelessly drive to and from an elongated courtyard at the south end of the Lübeck campus. The buildings here house the central warehouse and goods issue department of the hospital pharmacy. It is also home to the depot where meals are distributed in the hospital’s own containers. It is a hive of activity from early morning until late in the afternoon.

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Picking, packing, labelling: automation is also indispensable in the hospital pharmacy.

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Picking, packing, labelling: automation is also indispensable in the hospital pharmacy.

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Picking, packing, labelling: automation is also indispensable in the hospital pharmacy.

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Picking, packing, labelling: automation is also indispensable in the hospital pharmacy.

“Many of our deliveries are made on fixed routes”, explains Plate. But they also receive a varying number of spontaneous assignments. “These can involve heavy and bulky items, such as operating tables, beds and ultrasound equipment, or the tiniest of deliveries”, such as medicine that is urgently needed on a ward and for which no smaller delivery vehicle is currently available. Furthermore, one of the Atego trucks constantly transports waste paper – especially packaging materials – to the hospital’s own recycling station.

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material transports take place annually at or between the hospital’s two sites.

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“Trucks are still indispensable for our logistics.”

Gehard Plate, fleet manager at Lübeck, University Hospital Schleswig‑Holstein
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A total of eight Atego vehicles ensure the supply of materials.

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A total of eight Atego vehicles ensure the supply of materials.

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A total of eight Atego vehicles ensure the supply of materials.

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A total of eight Atego vehicles ensure the supply of materials.

Walking through the yard with the fleet manager, we see a Lübeck Atego with a registration beginning with the letters HL–KI and another with the reverse combination, KI–HL: “This truck commutes daily between the two locations taking goods from Kiel to Lübeck and medicines from Lübeck to Kiel”, explains Plate.

The truck also has a refrigerated body for precisely these medicines. The “commuter” from Kiel is an Atego 924, while a lighter version is used in Lübeck. And for good reason: “Our trucks are used exclusively on campus and it’s a tight squeeze here”, explains Gerhard Plate. “We need a vehicle with the smallest possible turning circle, and that’s what the Atego 818 gives us.” All trucks are equipped with reversing cameras for safety reasons.

Logistics on the hospital premises are challenging at the best of times. The trucks’ daily mileage is low at a maximum of 20 kilometres, but the demands are still high: the traffic on campus is in a constant state of stop‑and‑go. “The Ategos are up to the task”, says Plate. The truck boxes have an additional door on the right‑hand side. This eliminates the need to open the rear lift wall for every incoming and outgoing load and so saves time.

All trucks are leased, replaced by the next model after three to four years and regularly serviced in the meantime. “That is another reason why we put our trust in Mercedes: the service is excellent!”

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One thing is clear: trucks and vans cannot handle the hospital’s material logistics on their own. Because despite all their agility, they can only get as far as a building’s entrance. This is why a driverless transport system handles much of the work at both sites. It takes the deliveries right up to the wards. The Lübeck site uses compact vehicles that carry containers completely autonomously, mainly on around five kilometres of underground tracks. For example, the instrument reprocessing department loads the containers with sterilised surgical instruments for the maternity or dental clinic. A control centre sends the vehicles their starting and destination points wirelessly.

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Compact vehicles with a high payload: The automatic goods transport system handles around 1,600 container movements per day.

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Compact vehicles with a high payload: The automatic goods transport system handles around 1,600 container movements per day.

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Compact vehicles with a high payload: The automatic goods transport system handles around 1,600 container movements per day.

On average, around 1,600 containers move through the mainly deserted passageways every day at the Lübeck facility. Lifts take the vehicles to the loading and unloading points, which could even be on the fifth floor. As soon as they enter areas where they might encounter hospital staff, the vehicles call out in a friendly yet firm recorded female voice “Clear the way!”

The system is efficient but does not reach all stations by a long shot. Moreover, many heavy or bulky goods can only fit in a box body. Therefore, “trucks are still indispensable for logistics at both university hospital sites”, says Gerhard Plate.

Photos & video: Sebastian Vollmert