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Why diversification adds value in the age of Covid-19

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COVID-19 has disrupted markets and many manufacturers will be forced to create new opportunities outside their established sectors. Here  Alphasonics’ managing director David Jones explains why ideas that cross boundaries can not only strengthen the supplier but its customers, too.

TV Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick has been a vehement advocate of an increased exchange of knowledge between medicine and veterinary science. He recognises that the shared understanding and cross-fertilisation of ideas is to the mutual benefit of each sector and ultimately good for human and animal health alike.

The idea astounds no one because the disciplines of curing and mending are common to medicine and veterinary practice. The only surprise is that this has not happened already. But when a company synonymous with printing and indeed the sub-sector of flexography (used for frozen peas flexible packaging, labels and corrugated printing, for instance), migrates into hospital theatres it is a little more surprising. That is what we did at Alphasonics.

The company was founded nearly 30 years ago to develop advanced ultrasonic cleaning systems that use high frequency sound in fluid to create cavitation in order to efficiently clean anilox rolls on flexo printing units.

With cavitation, transducers bonded to the base or sides of a tank are excited by high frequency electricity. They expand or contract at very high speed and this causes downward flexure of the radiating tank face. It happens at such speed that the water in the tank cannot follow so vacuum chambers are created.

On the upward flexure the vacuum is released in the form of a vacuum bubble, which rises up through the fluid until it hits an object. That causes the bubble to implode under high pressure, drawing away any contamination that might be on the surface of the object.

In printing it is about cleaning the multi-celled anilox rolls of ink and chemistry. These cells can have walls that are as little as 3µ wide and in many cases have to be cleaned daily, with the average life of the roll being up to five years.

In 30 years, the company has not had a single case of roll damage and has secured countless awards for the effectiveness of the technology which enables printers to operate at optimum quality (in flexo up to 80% of all print problems stem from the condition of the anilox roller) with minimum print problems or machine downtime. The technology has been a great success and from our Liverpool plant, 80% of the annual output is to export markets.

Recognising that advanced ultrasonic cleaning could assist with the battle against sepsis in the healthcare decontamination sector, our expert team has evolved its technology for use with the cleaning of surgical instruments.

The unique Ultrasonic Protein Removal Technology can effectively remove proteins in cold water consistently down to the nano gramme range (unlike thermal cleaning methods) and that has been key to us getting a toe in the door of the health sector. Once the protein is removed, any remaining bacteria is then exposed for effective removal. Independent trials have shown an impressive log reduction of between 5.5 to 6.5 with 20°C water.

To enable the project to move forward, in 2015 the company invested in a ‘ProReveal’ device, which identifies the precise location and amount of any remaining protein on an instrument. This device really opened up the project and allowed us to quickly discover what the most optimum parameters were that enabled the consistent cleaning level as set out in the HTM01-01 (2016) guidance of maximum allowable protein limits on an instrument.

This Healthcare Technical Memorandum also stipulated that the ultrasonics in the system had to be validated very regularly. The traditional method of using aluminium foil is a totally outdated and inaccurate way of determining the distribution of sound and as such would not enable compliance.

We therefore had to develop a new, modern and most importantly accurate method to validate the distribution and intensity of the sound within a tank of fluid. This separate development took us two years, so by 2018 we were able to fully comply with the HTM, something that even today, nobody else to our knowledge can actually do.

A Cavitation Validation Device is now included with the Medstar 3 cleaning unit as standard This enables us to show customers the reduction in spikes and troughs of sound compared to standard ultrasonic commercial devices (see tables), thus ensuring thorough, condensed and consistent cleaning results.  Improvements in cavitation measurement technology and the ability to provide a very even distribution of ultrasonic activity, makes it safe and effective for even frequent and high volume cleaning applications.

Now Alphasonics is turning the heads of the 500 to 600 people working specifically in contamination in UK hospitals and others abroad. We are also in discussions with suppliers of theatre equipment, including robotics, to see if there is a package solution to offer to theatres in future. Alphasonics is on the NHS Supply Chain List and the latest Alphasonics system was recently installed in Cardiff University Hospital.

Breaking into new markets takes courage, time and commitment. My advice to others looking to diversify would be to research thoroughly. You need to understand the needs of the sector and how you can meet those needs, including an analysis of what investment has to be made to take your products to market.

It is important to evaluate the competition and to be certain you can offer added value. You need to understand the buying process (quite different in the public sector than in commercial business to business) and to identify the key influencers and decision-makers and how you can reach them effectively to market or sell your product.

Expand effectively, learning from the issues of the new market and taking the developments that result back to your existing customers. This cross-fertilisation means your products will get better and better and create new customers and keep existing customers loyal.

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