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How Can Design Help Defend Against Deadly Diseases?

While its not saturating the headlines as it was just months ago, Ebola is still a threat to global health. There are a number of challenges that come with fighting the deadly virus, ranging from lacking advances in drug treatments to social issues that affect its spread and control.

The recent outbreak has been tragic but it’s also given health officials, scientists and doctors a clearer picture of how we can improve the efforts and elements needed to fight Ebola and similar illnesses.

Just one factor in the fight is the suit that healthcare workers wear when treating patients. As doctors and designers looked closer at that form of protection, they found plenty of room for improvement.


Major Flaws To Design Away
There are two significant problems found with the conventional anti-contaminant suit. First, is in how the wearer experiences it. Apart from being uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, and a challenge to move and work in, the standard suits didn’t provide ideal levels of protection.

A zippered front and exposed areas between goggles, face mask, and the suit’s hood make it difficult to minimize exposure, especially during removal. The longer the wearer stays in the suit, the hotter, foggier, and more uncomfortable it becomes.

Suits can typically only be worn for about forty-five minutes at a time, which can be a major hinderance in urgent medical situations.

Considering Inside And Outside
The other issues lie in how a non-healthcare worker experiences an Ebola suit. For patients, their families, and locals living in communities with Ebola clinics, teams of people dressed alike with their faces hidden can add to fear and misconceptions that come with disease outbreaks.

For those who are skeptical of the intentions of healthcare workers while so many around them become ill, a face hidden behind goggles and a mask can seem threatening rather than caring and trustworthy.


Conquering Faults With Creativity
A better Ebola suit design could help address all of these concerns. Tailors, designers, artists, and other professionals are working together to do so.  In one approach, LA Occidental College professor and artist Mary Beth Heffernan had the presence of mind to create photo stickers of healthcare workers and place them on the front of the wearer’s suit.

The stickers allow patients to associate healthcare providers with friendly human face rather than just an intimidating mask. Heffernan has been working with clinic professionals to make the photo sticker kits available at treatment sites.

When Technology Meets Needs
A greater challenge is the structure of the suit itself. To improve its wearability and protectiveness, designers of all types have started working with Tyvek and restructuring the suit’s vents, minimizing its components, and the way it’s put on, fastened and removed to make contagion exposure less likely and extend the wear time.

Using a facial shield instead of a mask and goggles makes the wearer more comfortable, visible, and less exposed. Special removal features could also help workers maneuver out of a suit in a single motion rather than having to undress from it with both hands.

Designers have brought a lot of improvements to the table, but there is still a long way to go in matching technology to need, and the key may be better design.

Do you have ideas for improvement in anti-contamination suits and other equipment that could help us more safely respond to health emergencies?

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  1. Clifford

    April 24, 2015 at 6:01 am

    These safety suits make the person wearing it look something like a super ninja or hero – which is what these medical workers actually are. They should be commended for their bravery and their dedication that would compel them to put their very lives at risk for the sake of saving countless other lives. No precaution can be too safe. I hope this tech continues to get better real soon.

  2. Ronald

    April 25, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Only a few hospitals in the U.S. are currently treating Ebola patients, but health-care workers around the country are sure on edge. Now, in addition to crafting technical protocol and decoding the latest infectious-disease guidelines, hospitals must figure out how to properly train and motivate workers who may be in harm’s wayand deal with those who may refuse to treat potential Ebola patients. This is a good step toward that.

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Medical Device Manufacturers Use Robots For Speed, Safety, And Cleanliness

Robotic equipment in medical device production lines allows companies to maintain high standards of cleanliness, worker safety, product consistency, and speed. From heart valves to artificial joints to surgical equipment, robots increasingly play an integral role in medical device manufacturing.

Robots Limit Biological Contamination

Manufacturing facilities have long contended with the contamination issues introduced by human workers. Robots allow for the removal of the human element from many production areas. In addition to maintaining sanitary environments, robotic installations have aided manufacturers during the coronavirus pandemic. The CEO of MICRO said that greater integration of robots in workflows helped to limit human-to-human contact among workers.

Robotic Spinal Surgery with Renaissance Robotic System. Credit: Ap2296

Precise And Consistent Results

On top of sanitation, medical devices require high degrees of precision. Robots are capable of extreme dexterity that a human worker cannot replicate with consistency. Medical device companies draw upon the robotic developments pioneered by the electronic and automotive industry that turned to robots to build miniature components. New production processes for building artificial heart valves have incorporated small robots that perform highly detailed work on small parts with repeatable accuracy.

Elimination Of Workplace Sharps Hazards

A multitude of medical devices and tools involve very sharp edges. Fabrication of these instruments historically exposed workers to the risk of serious cuts. The installation of robots to grind, deburr, and package medical sharps reduces risks of worker injury. Workers focus instead on monitoring operations while robots produce precision goods at speeds beyond what human workers could achieve.

Small and large disposable scalpel. Credit: Nadine90

Robots Aid Industry Expansion

Tecomet Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, is in the middle of expanding operations. In addition to hiring more workers, the company will add another 25 machines, including robotic systems, to its new facility. Longer-term, the company anticipates that it will manufacture robots for clients operating cleanroom facilities at hospitals.

In your experience, how has robotic equipment overcome production challenges or expanded opportunities for new business?

ABOUT Tegra Medical

Tegra Medical is a contract manufacturer of finished medical devices and complex components including surgical instruments, needles, and implants.

We’re headquartered in Franklin, Massachusetts and manufacture there, as well as Dartmouth, Massachusetts; Hernando, Mississippi; Heredia, Costa Rica; Altstätten, Hallau, and Heerbrugg, Switzerland; and Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Formed in 2007, Tegra Medical is the combination of four trusted firms from the medical device manufacturing industry whose roots go back for decades. Tegra Medical is a member of SFS.

Our customers rely on our unique ability to integrate common and non-traditional technologies, e.g., laser cutting with CNC grinding and metal forming, to make complex products.

ABOUT Tecomet Inc.

Founded in 1963, Tecomet is the market-leading provider of manufacturing solutions for complex, high-precision products and services for the Medical Device and Aerospace & Defense markets. Tecomet operates seventeen (17) global manufacturing facilities in five countries around the world and employs over 2500 people.

With unparalleled experience in high-precision manufacturing, Tecomet provides a full spectrum of Manufacturing Solutions and Services in the following areas:

Tecomet customers feature a list of blue-chip Medical Device and Aerospace & Defense OEMs. The company partners with its customers to provide innovation solutions, design and development services, and full spectrum of high-precision manufacturing solutions.

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More Flexible Electronic Manufacturing Means Better Medical Monitoring

To fit more reliably and comfortably when worn, wearable electronics must be flexible while retaining their ability to collect and communicate data. Conventional sensors and other electronic components, even when made very small, don’t often offer these attributes, which can limit their use as medical devices. A new additive manufacturing method from researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering makes it possible to create useful monitoring electronics that fit more comfortable and move naturally when worn directly on the skin.

Image result for httpswyssharvardedulow-cost-wearables-manufactured-by-hybrid-3d-printing

Image Source: Wyss Institute

Hybrid 3D Printing

Through a process that the researchers refer to as hybrid 3D printing, electronically conductive inks can be incorporated into wearable devices that are not only soft and flexible, and therefore comfortable to wear, but can also be stretched and still perform reliably. The conductive ink is made from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and contains electrodes, which can be layered with a soft, flexible substrate through an additive manufacturing process. As the ink solidifies, the result is a conductive, highly flexible, and fully functional circuit that can be used for a range of medical needs.

Wyss 1

Image Source: Wyss Institute

Custom Fit For The Patient And Diagnosis 

Since these soft sensors can be printed to just about any shape, and with the position of the conductive features determined during the manufacturing process, it’s possible to create medical sensory devices that fit the patient as well as the specific data to be collected. Researchers are able to collect information from a wearer’s movement or from the application of pressure and easily read the resulting data in a number of ways.

The hybrid 3d printing process has been noted as significant for the flexible and versatile devices it yields, as well as its relative low cost. While the resulting products are currently in the prototype stage, researchers have called this a first step in creating robust and affordable wearable electronics that are also comfortable and customized.


Have thoughts to share on this development? Let us know in the comments.

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New Surgical Glue Could Render Stitches And Sutures Obsolete

When wounds are quickly and securely closed following injury, healing is faster, risks of infection are minimized, and more serious sustained injury can be prevented. A new type of surgical glue has been created to do that in a fast-acting and reliable manner. It may even change first aid and medical response procedures at car accidents, in combat zones, and at emergency sites.

Once squirted into the wound the MeTro glue is said to behave much like the silicone

Image Source: New Atlas

Fast Forming For Better Wound Healing

MeTro behaves like a silicone sealant, much like those used to create a water seal in bathrooms and other household applications, but it works even faster. Once administered to human tissue, MeTro rapidly forms to gel-like thickness and serves to seal a wound. This action occurs as highly elastic proteins and light sensitive molecules are set after being exposed to UV light. The gel takes just 60 seconds to thicken and solidify, which is vital to blocking out bacteria in urgent situations.

Modifiable For Recovery Times

While MeTro securely remains in contact with the tissue to which it’s applied, it retains some elasticity so it moves with the patient and prevents wounds from reopening. The treatment can also be modified with a degrading enzyme that determines how soon MeTro will begin to breakdown. Whether sealing is required for minutes or months, the gel can be catered to appropriate recovery times.

The MeTro glue is highly elastic allowing the tissue it interacts with to maintain its elasticity

Image Source: New Atlas 

For Use On Difficult To Treat Sites

Northeastern University and Australia’s University of Sydney Researchers responsible for creating MeTro have also shown how it can be used on treatment sites that are otherwise difficult to seal due to exposure to bodily fluids and natural expansion and contraction. The substance shows potential for use on vital areas that are challenging to stitch, suture, or bandage, such as internal organs like the lungs and heart.


As MeTro has been tested successfully on pigs, researchers are now focusing on trials in humans. Will their development render conventional wound healing and closing treatments obsolete? Comment and share your thoughts.

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