Robinson-based TUG maker Aethon builds on health care trend
The push to reduce health care spending has been a boon for Robinson robotics maker Aethon Inc.
The 13-year-old manufacturer of robots that transport supplies within hospitals just finished up its best year of sales on record because hospital administrators are looking to use the company's autonomous machines to reduce costs and improve efficiency, said CEO Aldo Zini.
“Many hospitals are already bare bones. They can't cut any more staff,” Zini said.
Aethon's robot, the trash barrel-sized TUG, performs a variety of tasks that are labor intensive and can cause injuries, such as waste disposal and laundry and food delivery, or are security sensitive, such as delivery of pharmaceuticals to a nursing ward. It responds to calls for pickups and deliveries, can navigate autonomously and pages employees when it arrives with supplies.
TUGs have been deployed to about 150 American hospitals since 2004 — including a record 21 medical centers during 2013, Zini said. It is in one hospital in Denmark, and Zini said he expects TUGs to be in hospitals in Germany, Canada and Australia before the end of the year.
A $3 million investment last month from Mitsui & Co. Inc., the American subsidiary of Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsui & Co. Ltd., will help Aethon expand international sales. Mitsui invested $4 million in Aethon in 2012.
The privately held company doesn't release sales figures. But hospitals typically lease a TUG for between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, Zini said. Aethon has produced about 450 TUGs in the last decade.
Sales have more than doubled in the past two years, he said. And he's predicting sales will double again in the “next several years.”
“We're growing nicely as a company,” Zini said. “Everything is going in the right direction and we just hope that continues.”
Aethon was founded in 2001 by Henry Thorne, who left the company in 2003 and co-founded Thorley Industries, the Strip District-based parent of 4moms, a company that makes robotic infant and children's products.
Zini, who joined Aethon soon after it was founded, said he was named CEO after Thorne's departure and in 2004 focused the company on the hospital market.
An early customer of and investor in Aethon was hospital giant UPMC, which has used TUGs in five of its hospitals in the Pittsburgh region, said John Krolicki, UPMC's vice president of facilities and support services.
Most recently, UPMC bought 20 TUGs in late 2012 for linen, trash and food services at its Presbyterian and Shadyside hospitals, Krolicki said. TUGs typically cost between $75,000 and $140,000.
UPMC traditionally has had high turnover and many worker injuries in those positions, he said.
“It's definitely showed a cost savings,” he said of deploying TUGs.
“They're really replacing work that the employees did not enjoy doing,” he said. “That's why they've been so successful around the country.”
In addition to trying to expand sales around the world, Zini said growth will come from a tracking service Aethon has developed.
“Anything that gets delivered in a hospital should be tracked, starting with the pharmacy,” Zini said.
Using bar-code scanning and RFID, or radio-frequency identification, the company is helping hospitals prevent narcotic drugs from being stolen by employees, as well as reducing paperwork and improving the timeliness with which drugs are delivered to patients, he said.
Building from its tracking systems is an effort to link with hospital medical-record systems. Aethon is working with two of the largest developers of electronic medical record systems, Epic and Cerner, on integration, Zini said.
“I feel like we're just scratching the surface,” he said. “I think this year is going to be a really great year for us.”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Retailer rolls dice on TargetExpress
- JetBlue considers charging for first checked bag
- Export-Import Bank in dispute in Congress
- Rising number of health care workers have less than 4-year degree, study shows
- EPA failing to stop natural gas pipeline leaks, internal watchdog says
- Plug-in Accord makes gas station visits rare
- Car dealers find silver lining in cloud of vehicle recalls
- Russian consumer watchdog targets McDonald’s items
- Engine that quits a mystery
- China pork giant WH Group makes 2nd IPO attempt
- 2 cars put 50 mpg in rearview