Nanopatterning for medical applications

Nanotechnology appears in popular culture as a cure for everything from cancer to balding. In science nanotechnology is an umbrella term for a variety of structures and molecules used in optics, MEMS, materials, chemicals and some biological systems.

In this new blog series, we shall explore nanopatterning (the engineering of nanoscale structures on surfaces), its prevalence in nature, manufacture and application to medical devices.

Drawing inspiration from nature

Figure 1 – Sunset moth scales macro by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel, Cropped, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nanoscale structure plays a fundamental role in numerous biological systems, and in some cases has developed to aid an organism’s survival and proliferation. Nanostructures can impact on the wetting and optical properties of a surface as well as their molecular interactions. Adjusting the spacing and morphology of these structures can change how they behave in contact with solids, liquids, biomolecules and how they catalyse certain chemical reactions. Organisms rely on these structures to stay clean, aid communication, and promote or prevent adhesion. The presence of ordered micro- and nanoscale structure appears to the human eye as iridescence created by the selective scatter of certain wavelengths of light.

Dry adhesion

While the exact mechanisms of adhesion differ, the feet of various tree frogs, insects and lizards rely on nanoscale and microscale structure to cling to and climb vertical or inverted surfaces. Perhaps the most famous climbers that rely on adhesion are geckos. Gecko climbing ability comes from millions of hair or setae on their feet which experience Van der Waals interactions with the substrate [1]. Individually the interactions are weak but collectively give the gecko the adhesive force necessary to hold up to four times its own weight. These setae evolved from tiny hair-like growths present on the bodies of all geckos [2]. Generating setae involves lengthening these hairs and splitting the tips to produce micro- and nanoscale hierarchical structures. Curiously, researchers have found that several gecko species developed these adhesive abilities independently when faced with an environment where climbing aided survival, losing them again over time when the environment changed [2].

Figure 2 – Gecko’s secret power by Matteo Gabaglio, Annotation, Order, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the last 20 years, the adhesive strength, reusability and non-fouling properties have attracted increased interest in gecko-inspired adhesives. Manmade micro- and nanoscale hierarchical patterns produced by embossing, casting or roll-to-roll printing have resulted in several tape and patch analogues. As popular as this topic has been, it has not been without its challenges. In addition to difficulties in manufacturing, gecko mimetic adhesives experience poor adhesion to wet and contaminated surfaces [3]. Water disrupts the surface interactions which is also the reason why PTFE (which exhibits weak Van der Waals dispersion forces) is one of few materials that a gecko can’t climb on [4].

Wet adhesion

For wet adhesion it makes more sense to look to water dwelling organisms. Mussels create an adhesive containing a tyrosine residue called DOPA, which has seen increased attention. DOPA and similar coatings are key to allowing nanopattern based adhesives to work in wet conditions. The structure of DOPA allows mussels to form strong and reversible bonds with a variety of substrates [5]. Mussels use this to anchor their pads to rocks and withstand significant punishment from tides and currents. Researchers have so far used DOPA and analogues in an attempt to develop improved surgical adhesives, particularly for amniotic sac repair[6]. Some have combined this with the gecko adhesive above to produce all-purpose hybrids named “Geckel” [7]. These hybrid surfaces consist of a microstructure coated in mussel mimetic adhesive to achieve adhesion in wet or dry conditions. As with any novel technology, achieving a robust product and scalable process has likely limited its implementation. Alternative adhesive-free-adhesives for wet conditions look to the octopus for inspiration. Although an octopus sucker is far larger than the other features we have discussed, its design has been the inspiration for many micro- and nanoscale mimics. Octopodes use suckers as muscular-hydrostats where the internal volume is increased to generate low pressure (≤ 2.7 bar below ambient pressure when submerged) [8]. The octopus vulgaris differs from other species in that it utilises a ball in cup morphology to maintain adhesion and resist shear [9].  Its unique morphology creates two regions of low pressure with the ball protrusion sealing the two volumes and mechanically locking the sucker configuration.

Figure 3 A.) Suckers of octopus by Steve Lodefink, Suckers of octopus by Steve Lodefink, CC BY 2.0. B.) Illustration of sucker adhesion mechanism of Octopus vulgaris.

Octopus mimetic surfaces produced by vacuum casting use microscale suction cups (~ 100 μm) with a similar ball in cup morphology to generate suction [10]. This approach has seen some applications targeting skin but so far appears limited to working on flat surfaces and generating relatively weak vacuums. Some commercial materials such as REGABOND micro-suction foam are aimed for the general consumer market and work on a similar principle [11].

Repulsion

Some plants use micro- and nanoscale texture for an alternative purpose, the “lotus effect” being the most famous example. The lotus effect arises from the ability of micro- and nanostructures to amplify the natural tendency of a surface, making hydrophobic materials superhydrophobic. A lotus leaf has arrays of hydrophobic waxy hierarchical micropillars on its surface [12]. The high roughness and low contact area of these pillars forces water droplets to adopt a Cassie-Baxter state where air is trapped below the fluid meniscus. To reduce the Gibbs free energy of the system the water droplets adopt a highly rounded shape. This allows them to slide off and pick up dirt in the process, keeping the leaves free of debris. The springtail takes this effect further with a cuticle that has a re-entrant or overhanging surface structure [13]. These structures resemble nanoscale mushrooms which pin the fluid line to prevent even low surface tension fluids from fully wetting the surface in what is referred to as oleophobicity. The springtail uses this for survival creating an air trap around its body when submerged. Both superhydrophobicity and oleophobicity are found in industry, often finding use in semipermeable membranes and self-cleaning coatings. The surface energy and morphology of the of the coating material dictate the degree of nonwetting. These structures are still vulnerable in high pressure applications where the structures or the film of air can collapse.

Figure 4 – The springtail cuticle has been used as inspiration for manmade re-entrant omniphobic surfaces A.) Springtails. B.) Springtail submerged in water. C.) Springtail submerged in oil. Scale bars: 1 mm. Image from R. Hensel et al. [13], CC BY-NC 3.0.

A very different, and potentially more robust approach is used by the pitcher plant. In these plants a microporous surface is used to retain a lubricating fluid film. The films are created when water or nectar becomes locked into microscale textures in the surface of the plant creating a continuous layer of lubrication. The film is immiscible in the oil on the insect’s feet resulting in a surface that easily shears away on contact and very low friction. Unlucky insects which land on the plant’s lip end up sliding down into the plants digestive fluid to become a snack. The film is replenished by capillary effects which redistribute fluid across the film surface. The advantage of this arrangement is the immiscible fluid is incompressible unlike the air used by the lotus leaf and allowing it to serve in higher pressure applications.

Figure 5 A.) Sarracenia pitcher anatomy by Noah Elhardt, Sarracenia pitcher anatomy basic, marked as public domain. B-E.) Microstructure of N. gracilis waxy surfaces. Scale bars shown. Image from Bauer et al. [14], CC BY 4.0.

Pitcher plant mimetic surfaces have been named “slippery liquid-infused porous surface(s)” or SLIPS. These surfaces can be tailored and often use a lubricant which is immiscible in the target substance. The porous substrate consists of open interconnected pores to retain the lubricating fluid. While evidence of industrial application is limited, it is a promising route to stain-resistant coatings for optics.

Optical effects

Certain organisms use micro and nanostructures to produce iridescence that makes the rest of the animal kingdom pale by comparison. While many rely on chemicals for coloration, using microscale structures is called structural coloration or physical colour. Butterflies use this effect for visual communication to find mates or scare away would-be predators. The most famous example is the Morpho butterfly native to Latin America [15]. The Morpho is an underwhelming (but well hidden) shade of brown with its wings closed but a bright iridescent blue when they open. The blue iridescence comes from tiny chitin gratings on the surface of a butterfly’s wings [3]. The layering of these structures causes diffraction and constructive interference of visible light waves according to Bragg’s law, producing the visual perception of a very intense colour [17]. The angle at which the butterfly is observed changes the colour we perceive the wings to be, shifting from blue to copper when viewed at an angle. The papilionidae family of butterflies use similar architectures combined with fluorophores to harvest NIR light to create luminescence [18].

Figure 6 – A.) Blue morpho butterfly by Gregory Phillips, Blue morpho butterfly, CC BY-SA 3.0. B.) Nanoscale Structures on a Blue Morpho Butterfly Wing Image from Potyrailo et al. [19], CC BY 4.0.

The unique physical, chemical, and optical properties of these structures have led to interest in several industries. Extensive research and development efforts have gone into mimicking these effects for energy harvesting, sensing and photocatalysis [19]. For medical applications they have a role to play in optical biosensing. By coating a grating in environmentally responsive molecules or hydrogels an optical indicator can be constructed. Structures such as this have been coined hydrogel-actuated integrated responsive systems (HAIRS)[20].

We hope that this has been an interesting read. The next edition will discuss the practicality of fabricating these structures, and their suitability for parts used in medical devices.

If you have any questions about micro engineering and smart surfaces, please do not hesitate to get in touch or find me on LinkedIn.

Bibliography

[1]        K. Autumn and N. Gravish, “Gecko adhesion: evolutionary nanotechnology,” Philos. Trans. R. Soc. A Math. Phys. Eng. Sci., vol. 366, no. 1870, p. 1575 LP-1590, May 2008.

[2]        T. Gamble, E. Greenbaum, T. R. Jackman, A. P. Russell, and A. M. Bauer, “Repeated origin and loss of adhesive toepads in Geckos,” PLoS One, vol. 7, no. 6, 2012.

[3]        A. Y. Stark, T. W. Sullivan, and P. H. Niewiarowski, “The effect of surface water and wetting on gecko adhesion,” J. Exp. Biol., vol. 215, no. 17, p. 3080 LP-3086, Sep. 2012.

[4]        A. Y. Stark et al., “Adhesive interactions of geckos with wet and dry fluoropolymer substrates,” J. R. Soc. Interface, vol. 12, no. 108, p. 20150464, Jul. 2015.

[5]        J. H. Waite, “Mussel adhesion – essential footwork,” J. Exp. Biol., vol. 220, no. 4, p. 517 LP-530, Feb. 2017.

[6]        M. Perrini, D. Barrett, N. Ochsenbein-Koelble, R. Zimmermann, P. Messersmith, and M. Ehrbar, “A comparative investigation of mussel-mimetic sealants for fetal membrane repair,” J. Mech. Behav. Biomed. Mater., vol. 58, pp. 57–64, 2016.

[7]        H. Lee, B. P. Lee, and P. B. Messersmith, “A reversible wet/dry adhesive inspired by mussels and geckos,” Nature, vol. 448, p. 338, Jul. 2007.

[8]        J. J. Wilker, “How to suck like an octopus,” Nature, vol. 546, p. 358, Jun. 2017.

[9]        F. Tramacere, L. Beccai, M. Kuba, A. Gozzi, A. Bifone, and B. Mazzolai, “The Morphology and Adhesion Mechanism of Octopus vulgaris Suckers,” PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 6, p. e65074, Jun. 2013.

[10]      S. Baik, D. Wan Kim, Y. Park, T.-J. Lee, S. Ho Bhang, and C. Pang, “A wet-tolerant adhesive patch inspired by protuberances in suction cups of octopi,” Nature, vol. 546, pp. 396–400, 2017.

[11]      “materialdistrict.com.” [Online]. Available: https://materialdistrict.com/material/regabond-s. [Accessed: 05-Sep-2018].

[12]      T. Darmanin and F. Guittard, “Superhydrophobic and superoleophobic properties in nature,” Mater. Today, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 273–285, 2015.

[13]      R. Hensel, C. Neinhuis, and C. Werner, “The springtail cuticle as a blueprint for omniphobic surfaces,” Chem. Soc. Rev., vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 323–341, 2016.

[14]      U. Bauer, B. Di Giusto, J. Skepper, T. U. Grafe, and W. Federle, “With a Flick of the Lid: A Novel Trapping Mechanism in Nepenthes gracilis Pitcher Plants,” PLoS One, vol. 7, no. 6, p. e38951, Jun. 2012.

[15]      Y. Ding, S. Xu, and Z. L. Wang, “Structural colors from Morpho peleides butterfly wing scales,” J. Appl. Phys., vol. 106, no. 7, pp. 1–6, 2009.

[16]      R. Yan et al., “Bio-inspired Plasmonic Nanoarchitectured Hybrid System Towards Enhanced Far Red-to-Near Infrared Solar Photocatalysis,” Sci. Rep., vol. 6, no. December 2015, pp. 1–11, 2016.

[17]      S. Zhang and Y. Chen, “Nanofabrication and coloration study of artificial Morpho butterfly wings with aligned lamellae layers,” Sci. Rep., vol. 5, pp. 1–10, 2015.

[18]      E. Van Hooijdonk, C. Vandenbem, S. Berthier, and J. P. Vigneron, “Bi-functional photonic structure in the Papilio nireus (Papilionidae): modeling by scattering-matrix optical simulations,” Opt. Express, vol. 20, no. 20, p. 22001, 2012.

[19]      R. A. Potyrailo et al., “Towards outperforming conventional sensor arrays with fabricated individual photonic vapour sensors inspired by Morpho butterflies,” Nat. Commun., vol. 6, p. 7959, Sep. 2015.

[20]      J. M. J. den. Toonder and P. R. Onck, “Artificial cilia.” Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, 2013.

Consultancy or manufacturer?

Let us suppose you need a new product developed.  You have 3 choices:

  1. Develop the product entirely in-house.
  2. Contract a consultancy to develop the product for you.
  3. Contract a manufacturer to develop the product for you.

In the past, companies would develop products themselves, entirely in-house.  In recent years, that model has become less common as companies have reduced their internal R&D teams and looked for collaboration to bring new products to market.

In some markets, engineering and design consultancies have delivered development projects as a service.  More recently, manufacturing companies have hired development engineers and set up development labs.   This article discusses the pros and cons of each method.  If you would like to know more, or have any feedback, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Development strategy Pros Cons
In-house
  • Knowledge stays in-house.
  • Limited IP leakage (other than employees leaving, indiscretions etc.).
  • Lower cost if, and only if:
    • Team and facilities are already in place, and
    • Recruitment, training, site and maintenance costs are not in your budget, and
    • Your team is fully utilised on productive projects at all times.
  • Limited to the skillset of the existing team.
  • Psychological inertia due to historical products and constraints.
  • Large expense of keeping the team when they are not fully utilised.
Consultancy
  • Highly skilled people available. This can make all the difference between a device passing tests and getting to market on time, or languishing in endless cycles of fire-fighting modifications. Removing even one redesign-revalidate cycle can easily save far more money than using a low-fee-rate manufacturer.
  • Flexible team structures.
  • Best option for an impartial view of which technologies would work best.
  • Impartial as to which manufacturer to use: consultancies are the best option if you intend to have more than one manufacturing source for risk mitigation.
  • Some consultancies, particularly those that specialise in your industry, will have relevant up-to-date experience from other projects.
  • Can have high fee rates (particularly those with > 100 employees).
  • Might not have experience in manufacturing. You can ask who will be working on the project, and what their experience is.
  • Consultancies with internal projects might save the best ideas for themselves. Springboard does not have internal projects.
Manufacturer
  • Fee rate can appear lower than consultancies.
  • Sometimes, deep knowledge of a given manufacturing process.
  • Good at making incremental changes to existing products, but not at innovating new products.
  • It will be very difficult to transfer manufacture to another party because the design will be optimised
    for their processes, and there will be no documentation or data necessary for transfer to another company.
  • Manufacturing costs will be high because they will need to recover their costs and make more profit than otherwise to make up for Net Present Value, and their risk.
  • Most manufacturers are trying to build up their own IP portfolio. This might mean they save the best ideas for themselves, or put some of their IP into your product.
  • Limited to the skillset of the existing team.
  • Psychological inertia due to knowledge of their existing processes. For example, if the company is very experienced with aluminium tooling, can you guess what your tools will be made from, even if steel tooling would have been a better option?

Springboard moves into new premises

Fast-growing product and technology innovator Springboard has expanded into larger offices at St John’s Innovation Park in Cambridge, UK, having outgrown its space in the Innovation Centre itself.

A steady flow of new projects for international clients has required the scale-up and Springboard has built additional capacity into its new HQ.  Now, the labs and offices are under one roof in a 4,000 sq ft unit, which also has self-contained meeting rooms and reception area.

Springboard team

Springboard’s capabilities have been in strong demand, and its project portfolio has been international from day one, driven by recommendations (word of mouth) between major medical device and pharmaceutical companies, especially where they have run into problems with a medical device.  Its focus has already enabled a number of big-name clients to launch devices that they could not have otherwise, and in the process saved time and money in product development. Cul-de-sacs have been moulded into highways of success for a large number of satisfied clients.

The consultancy’s reputation for troubleshooting and technical excellence spread across Europe and the United States. We are proud to say that more than 80 per cent of Springboard’s work is repeat business.

Some problems with delivery devices – injectables for example – cannot be solved “simply by throwing man hours at it”; in-depth technical insight and world-class engineers are required. And that is exactly what Springboard has provided since opening its doors.

Springboard has put much time and effort into recruiting, mentoring and training the best team possible.  The diversity and depth of skills now far outstrips that of the founders and includes skills in physics, optics, thermodynamics, fluidics, materials science, biotech, mechanics, systems engineering, electronics and manufacture engineering. This means the company now takes on cross-disciplinary projects and creates teams that have the breadth of knowledge to ensure success.  Recruiting talented people is a time consuming challenge, but of even more importance is creating an environment in which they can flourish. The company’s focus on professional development means people have opportunities to take responsibility and grow their careers at the company.

This broad church of capability is exactly what the founders wanted to achieve – a turnkey capability in the segment, rather than being pigeon-holed simply for one area of expertise.

We believe another strength of Springboard is its open innovation culture. Springboard can provide a fully self-sufficient team to a project but welcomes input from clients either through brainstorming sessions or weekly updates.  This approach enables the client to retain control of the concept while giving Springboard full rein to suggest enhancements.  “They don’t have to hand-hold us but they get to contribute; we believe in a highly collaborative approach”.

Springboard is also renowned for its highly ethical approach to projects. Its mantra is to work on innovation that are technically challenging but also ethical and worthwhile.  Staff like to be able to say that they are working on a project that will certainly improve peoples’ lives and might, for example, lead to a cure for cancer.  This approach is helping the business recruit the highest calibre of engineers and scientists; the ongoing recruitment process is also enhanced by Springboard’s outreach activities with schools, colleges and Cambridge University.

If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

Massive demand for top medical device developers

Springboard has been featured in a new article about the demand for top medical device developers.

As a leading technology consultancy, Springboard excels in the development of devices for safety-regulated industries such as medical devices. These span drug delivery devices, diagnostics, minimally-invasive surgical tools, wound care and more.

See the full article at Business Weekly or, if you would like to get in touch now, call Tom Oakley on +44 (0) 1223 422 273.

Springboard attending Wounds UK 2014

The latest innovations in wound care will be on show at the Wounds UK Annual Conference in Harrogate, 10 – 12 November 2014.

Last year’s event had a several advanced technologies lurking between the traditional products. Diagnostics made an appearance, such as Woundchek’s protease test strip and a new partnership between Molnlycke Healthcare and Edinburgh University to identify infection risk. Perhaps we will see further steps towards patient-specific measurement of infection, performed rapidly at the point of case so that a personalised response can be delivered to that particular individual?

There was also a great deal of activity by the newly funded NHS Health Technology Co-operatives, who were stepping up the effort to evaluate the performance of new technologies. Peter Vowden, clinical director of the Wound Prevention and Treatment co-operative said he wanted to improve the abilities of companies to target the most important issues with their new inventions. Several exhibitors spoke of their interest in following the evaluation programme, and so this year, with several technologies having completed the process, we should learn which ones were considered to be most valuable.

It will also be interesting to see where the commercial direction is heading in future. KCI will have completed the first year following their merger with Systagenix, so perhaps there will be an indication of the direction the new combined company will be taking. And ConvaTec have announced they are seeking a buyer, so will no doubt be seeking to present those technologies which they feel will represent the most exciting opportunities for growth.

Keith Turner of Springboard will be attending the event. As a company which develops new wound care technology for clients, we are always interested to speak to people about where the opportunities lie and how the latest advances in technology can be embraced to create business growth. Please get in contact via the form below to arrange a meeting at the conference.

Top 3 devices from Trauma Innovation 2014

I’ve just got back from the Trauma Innovation 2014 conference – Europe’s largest gathering of military, humanitarian and emergency healthcare professionals. It was held on 14 – 15 January at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, and showed the latest innovations, strategies and case studies in trauma management.

One of the things that came through loud and clear was that survival rates and outcomes for major trauma cases are improving year-on-year. There are many reasons for this. One is the large stimulus given by the recent military experiences (a staggering fact that was dropped in during the conference was that the US Military trains 6000 medics every year!) and another is the redoubled efforts to examine, learn and disseminate good practice.

Of the devices on show, three highlights stood out for me as being especially innovative:

1. The iTclamp – at first glance surprising, it is used at the scene of injury to stop bleeding from deep and wide cut wounds especially in awkward places. It pulls the skin edges together over a wound using teeth and seals the edges using ribbed bars, a bit like a bulldog clip. This can instantly stop bleeding until the patient can be recovered to an emergency room where surgical techniques can take over for a permanent fix. But the details I liked were:

  • The packaging presented the device to the paramedic in a ready-to-use format the moment the lid was ripped off, making it easy and very quick to apply.
  • There was a sweetly-designed one-way clutch built in that locked the clamp in any position – simple, robust and very compact.
  • It incorporated a release mechanism, so the device could be released and reapplied with a single hand if a wound continued to bleed.

2. The Droper – a completely electricity-free IV infusion pump. This used the energy stored in springs in a scissor-jack-like mechanism to pressurise an IV-bag, generating a consistent pressure broadly independent of its fullness or emptiness. The flow rate can then be set using conventional variable restrictor valves. Since it requires no electricity, it can be used in all the places there is none (disaster zones, floods, earthquakes, in collapsed buildings, down mines or on patrol), as the logistics of shipping electricity and batteries is a common bugbear of disaster relief, third world and military medics alike. What I liked about it was that:

  • It doesn’t need hanging up in use like a regular IV drip- once pressurised it can even be laid beside the patient, in any orientation, so it is practical in the many real environments encountered outside a hospital.
  • The robust components – no fussy, unreliable manufacturing issues there.

3. The MOVES® – a portable life-support system for use on stretchers in pre-hospital care. Though incorporating several functions, it was built around an oxygen generator that incorporates a recirculating breathing path and a CO2 scrubber. Hence oxygen breathed out by the patient is not wasted as normal, and only that fraction passed into the bloodstream needs replacing with newly generated oxygen. I thought its best features are:

  • Changing the way oxygen is delivered in this way neatly breaks the paradigm that increasing the flow rate requires proportionately larger and heavier generators.
  • The shape format of the device was chosen so that it could mount beside the patient on a stretcher and be no taller than him, and so give greatest flexibility when transporting people in confined spaces
  • The incorporation of rapid release tracks along the top edges, so that ancillary equipment can be quickly fixed and securely positioned.

These are three devices that address very different problems in the care of trauma patients. What is the similarity between them? The way their creators have used innovation to solve old problems in new and unusual ways, have underpinned them with good detailed engineering design, and have paid attention to their use cases in real-life operating environments by real people.

These are all areas in which Springboard excels. If you would like to talk about how we can help you develop your next generation product and gain a march on your competitors, give me a ring on +44 1223 422274.

David Foster, Jan 16 2014

Springboard attending the Trauma Innovation Conference Jan 2014

Springboard will be attending the forthcoming Trauma Innovation Conference in London at the Royal College of Surgeons on the 14th and 15th of January 2014.

Techniques to treat patients immediately after injury through to the emergency rooms of hospitals are developing rapidly and have resulted in major improvements to survival rates and outcome. More can still be achieved especially by pooling latest ideas and learnings. This conference will gather together experts, leaders and innovators from many areas: paramedics; first responders; trauma surgeons; equipment providers; and the humanitarian, disaster relief and military sectors.

David Foster is a Director at Springboard, which is a contract developer of advanced technology and specialises in engineering exceptional devices for regulated markets.

Springboard can help with engineering and prototyping, usability engineering, verification and validation, and planning and management of the scale-up to clinical trials and production. If you would like to arrange a meeting at the conference, please call +44 1223 422274.

Where should innovation in Wound Care be focused in 2014?

How can Wound Care technology companies grow their profits?

Many of the answers to this question were on display recently at the annual Wounds UK conference in Harrogate. A great deal of the market sales volume is in standard products such as bordered foam dressings but, as every senior manager will be aware, it is difficult to grow a business with poorly differentiated products, especially when under intense cost pressure from suppliers in the emerging economies. This means innovation is required to solve a valuable need in a way that other competitors cannot match. Get yourself some Intellectual Property and you’re in a strong position.

A good example of innovation in wound care has been negative pressure wound therapy. For many years, KCI had the market sewn up with a broad patent and was able to deliver real benefits to patients. But now, with the patent defences overcome by litigation, a whole slew of competitors have launched negative pressure products, with multiple products on show at Wounds UK. This competition has led to a tenfold decrease in daily revenues from this type of product.

So, where are Wound Care companies are looking next for innovation?

Improved usability is one hot topic, and is nicely exemplified by CircAid‘s compression stocking, which was acquired in 2012 by Medi. One issue faced by patients is the need to wear multiple layers of stockings, each providing a certain pressure. The sum of the pressures needs to add up to the right level, such as 45 mmHg for the prevention of leg ulcers. CircAid’s new product allows adjustable pressure to be set in a single layer, wrap-around stocking, so it is simpler for the patient to wear while at the same time providing flexibility to the healthcare professional.

Another trend is that the value of new products is under scrutiny by healthcare providers. The NHS in England increasingly is seeking an evidence base in favour of adoption of new technologies. The new product must be shown not only to work, but also to be cost-effective when compared to the health economics of alternative treatment pathways. Health Technology Co-operatives have been set up to evaluate new technologies, and above all they are concerned to make sure that companies spend their time solving the right problems. The first wound care devices are going through the evaluation process now, and many of the exhibitors at Wounds UK are lining up to have their new products evaluated. This means that approval by the NHS increasingly should become a criterion that shapes innovation. While global healthcare systems have different systems, the underlying message is the same to all innovators: your product will only be profitable if it successfully meets recognised needs in a cost-effective way.

As an innovator in Wound Care technology, Springboard has compiled a report of innovations from the show. It offers insight into where the trends lie and how companies are tackling innovation in 2014. Executives and managers at wound care companies are welcome to contact us to arrange a meeting to present the report, free of charge.

Springboard attending Wounds UK in Harrogate

Springboard will be attending the UK’s leading Wound Tech conference in Harrogate from 11 to 13 November 2013.

Wound care is a major sector of the healthcare industry, but with increasing global pressures, many companies are finding that they can no longer compete effectively in a commoditised market.

Well-established companies are increasingly turning to innovation to add value and compete on quality of treatment. Traditional dressings are starting to give way to advanced wound therapy such as negative pressure wound therapy and pressure relief, while prevention and monitoring of infection is increasingly critical. It is in these new advanced spaces where the world’s leading companies will be battling it out for supremacy in the coming years.

Recent examples of commercial activity that is changing the market are Smith and Nephew’s launch of the PICO negative pressure system, and KCI’s acquisition of Systagenix.

The rapidly changing landscape leads to many organisations finding they have to adapt to new technical skills, perhaps by branching out from adhesives knowledge and into electronics or fluid management. Not only does this bring new engineering challenges, but the task must be carried out in a world of increasing regulatory requirements (such as new requirements on usability engineering) and ever-shorter product lifecycles.

Keith Turner is head of medical devices at Springboard, an advanced technology engineering consultancy, which specialises in pushing the boundaries of devices that are sold in regulated markets. If you would like to arrange a meeting at the conference, please call +44 1223 422275.