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Innovative city-made RIVA units go global - Hospitals find system accurate, cost-effective

Impossibly complicated bundles of wires hang from ultra-polished stainless steel cabinets in the busy production space of Intelligent Hospital Systems.

Eight different units of Robotic Intravenous Automation (RIVA) -- which cost about $1.5 million each -- are in various stages of production at the south Winnipeg plant, including two about to be shipped to the Children's Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham. It has taken more than 10 years and well over $20 million to get to this point, but RIVA has finally arrived.

The first Canadian installation is being tested in Barrie, Ont. The second and third Canadian sales may happen before the end of the year.

RIVA is an automated self-contained unit for filling IV bags and syringes at speeds and with efficiency manual production could never approach. It can ensure hospital patients receive safe, sterile and accurate doses of medications.

"I absolutely believe there is a great future for this technology," said Niels Erik Hansen, chief executive officer of Intelligent Hospital Systems (IHS), who came to the company two years ago after running Winnipeg's Vansco Electronics and some much larger European companies. "There's no doubt in my mind we can take this company to much higher levels."

It has been a long, arduous road for the Winnipeg company, which started in 2004 with the acquisition of dormant technology developed at the St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre in the '90s.

"None of us realized just how challenging this would be and how sophisticated the technology would become," said Kevin McGarry, board chairman and founder of IHS.

Judy Chong, director of pharmaceutical services at Royal Victoria Hospital's Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Centre in Barrie, Ont., said they spent five years planning the new 500,000-square-foot expanded cancer centre.

"We bought the RIVA having had the chance to think about what the future might look like," she said. "We are anticipating about a 30 per cent increase in the number of patient visits to our chemotherapy suites."

IHS broke into the U.S. market before Canada because of the bottom-line-oriented health-care system there.

For competitive reasons, the company is cagey about how many units it has shipped, but Chong said Barrie is getting number 15. The company has already shipped three units to Australia and is negotiating a contract with a hospital in South Korea.

It has not been a continuous upward trajectory. In early 2009, in the aftermath of the financial services meltdown, IHS was forced to lay off 30 per cent of its staff.

But with the injection of about $11 million in new equity at the beginning of this year, IHS has the funds to get to the point where it will be self-financing. Hansen said the hope is IHS will become profitable this Christmas.

Its production rate could hit two units per month by the end of this year. Hansen expects to be up to four per month by the end of 2012.

"With the contracts we are in the process of signing, we should get to 50 (units shipped) next year," he said.

The company has doubled its workforce to 100 since it was force to downsize in 2009. Hansen said the company may outgrow its current 15,000-square-foot head office/production facility in the Tuxedo business park by the end of next year. Production manager Tony Bugeja said he will need to fill about 13 positions over the next few months.

At a recent user-group conference in North Carolina, a hospital manager said RIVA saves his facility $350,000 per year, said IHS chief technology officer Tom Doherty.

"User endorsement is our most powerful marketing tool," he said.