Surfaceskins, developed by NIRI, a technical textile University of Leeds spin-out company, is designed to be used on hospital doors over the traditional aluminum doorplate that people push to open doors in hospitals.
The antibacterial door pad works by dispensing a small amount of alcohol gel onto the pad when it is pushed, which then disinfects the surface in the vital seconds between one user and the next passing through the door, thus helping to protect every door user.
In development for seven years, Surfaceskins was first imagined by one of the company’s founding members while he sat in a hospital waiting room. After going into a washroom, he came out and thought the door looked too dirty to touch, so he instead kicked the bottom of the door to open it. While waiting for the appointment, he saw other people using other methods to avoid touching the door. As a designer, he considered an alternative to opening doors and soon approached NIRI with an idea.
“We looked at trying to find a solution that would be effective, low cost and easy to use, and would work very quickly from one door user to another,” says Chris Fowler, group managing director, Surfaceskins and NIRI. “There are other technologies out there, but most of them take hours or days to work. Surfaceskins works in seconds, so it doesn’t matter how quickly users come after the previous door user, they always know they are touching a disinfected surface.”
The technology, which incorporates three separate nonwoven textiles, is fitted into a plastic holster that is attached to the door. It is designed to be replaced after seven days or 1000 pushes, whichever comes sooner. Its construction consists of a nonwoven-based reservoir, a spunbond material that acts as an ADL (acquisition distribution layer) in reverse and a film topsheet.
According to Fowler, nonwovens are ideal in this application because of their high technical performance and inexpensive nature. “The combination of those factors means that we’ve been able to design Surfaceskins as a highly effective, low-cost, consumable product.”
A clever part of the design, he says, is the fact that while it is vertical for seven days, the liquid gel is still available at the very top of the pad by the end of day seven. Also, micro-valves in the topsheet open and close with pressure, which ensures that the alcohol-based gel does not evaporate quickly.
“They were two of the technical challenges we had to overcome—the fact that you have gravity pulling on the gel, but we managed to counter that, and also the fact that the gel wants to evaporate very quickly,” he says.
A study into the effectiveness of the new technology was recently published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
At the start of the study, both the Surfaceskins and control aluminum doorplates were inoculated with bacteria at levels found on the hands of hospital staff. The study concluded that the Surfaceskins door pads were more effective than standard doorplates over seven days in reducing the levels of three bacteria that commonly cause hospital-acquired infections: S. aureus, E. coli and E. faecalis.
In fact, the independent test showed that Surfaceskins could reduce bacteria levels by more than 90%.
According to NIRI, Surfaceskins door pads are not meant to replace the strict handwashing rules in hospitals, but instead complement them and hand gel dispenser use by providing an extra line of defense, helping clean hands to stay clean.
In addition to the medical sector, the product is also garnering attention from companies around the world for other applications. These include in the food industry where there is food preparation; on cruise ships to help prevent the spread of bacteria that can lead to outbreaks of sickness such as norovirus; and oil companies that would use the technology on gas pump dispensers.
Brian Waligora, Surfaceskins’ newly appointed CEO, points out that the product has quite a large potential reach outside of the medical industry. “Anywhere that has a concern for the spread of bacteria, and general hygiene, you could apply this product.”
Having just recently launched, the Surfaceskins team is currently in talks with potential customers and distributors, and they’re hoping to find partners to help bring the benefits of Surfaceskins to many industries.
NIRI is currently in the process of designing a fully automated production line, so that when volumes increase, they won’t have any disruptions in supply.