Microspec Innovation Attacks Medical Infections

Breakthrough formulation improves antimicrobial properties of tiny medical tubing

The Challenge

In 2011 alone, 75,000 people died from infections they picked up while at acute-care hospitals, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). 

Peterborough, N.H.-based Microspec Corp., a leading manufacturer of medical tubing products for adult and pediatric markets, wanted to specifically target these healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) when it went to work on its next generation products, small and complex extrusions with outside diameters as small as 1/10th of a millimeter.

To combat HAIs, Microspec’s design team wanted to develop a specialty antimicrobial formulation. The antimicrobial needed to disperse consistently during the extrusion process while maintaining the proper surface finish for each product to effectively carry out its medical mission. And, of course, it needed to comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards.

The Solution

In searching for the right antimicrobial, Microspec’s engineers encountered Avient’s NEU Specialty Engineered Materials subsidiary and its WithStand™ Antimicrobial Technology. The manufacturer was attracted to the technology because it works with a range of polymers and has a proven track record in food and health care applications.

Microspec’s design team worked with NEU specialists to develop a custom formulation to meet targeted performance objectives, provide consistent dispersion to address HAIs, and satisfy surface finish requirements. 

The collaboration also discovered that by using a co-extrusion process, Microspec could reduce the amount of antimicrobial additive required – even while raising the concentration of antimicrobials on the inside surface of the tubing, where it is most effective.

The Impact

When the new formulation went into full production, Microspec was able to measure improvements in several areas:

  • Performance: Antimicrobial performance was improved through consistent dispersion of the WithStand additive and – using co-extrusion – by concentrating it at the tube’s interior surface. 
  • Properties: Superior surface finish was achieved, with improved smoothness and lubricity – or “slippage” – on the tubing surface. In addition, color consistency was improved through consistent dispersion of the antimicrobial.
  • Material cost: Optimized tubing design and co-extrusion reduced the amount of antimicrobial needed even while increasing its effectiveness.
  • Operating efficiency: At full production, scrap rates were reduced, as was the amount of labor needed to manage the process. Co-extrusion also eliminated a secondary antimicrobial coating step that had previously been necessary. These led to a combined 10% improvement in production costs.

The CDC’s subsequent annual report on HAIs noted a dramatic and ongoing reduction of all types of these infections as hospitals improve internal procedures and companies like Microspec do their part by delivering innovative products to support better patient outcomes.