A new film laden with a surface micro-pattern imitating sharkskin is being used in the fight against bacteria, especially in high-touch areas in a medical environment.
Flexcon Co. Inc. of Spencer is producing the patented, bacteria-inhibiting, microscopic texture on large film rolls for Sharklet Technologies Inc., an Aurora, Colo., biotech company. It is being marketed and sold by LGInternational Inc. of Portland, Ore., under the brand name Tactivex.
“The beauty of the imaging is that it is non-kill — germs don't like to grow on it,” said William Sullivan, vice president of performance products at Flexcon, in a telephone interview.
There are chemical products designed to kill bacteria, but according to Sullivan, this micro-pattern inhibits bacteria growth by its texture and is therefore non-toxic as well. It uses a design discipline known as biomimicry, meaning it imitates life or nature.
“We started with Flexcon on a small scale and then it just happened that we needed larger Sharklet film in high quantities,” noted Sarah Eder, vice president of sales and marketing at Sharklet.
She said each Sharklet micro-feature has to be a specific height, width and depth to inhibit bacteria, and Flexcon consistently makes it the right way. Now, the company is using 54-inch rolls that are what she termed “infinite lengths.”
LGInternational already is selling the Tactivex product for use in hospitals, public restrooms, laboratories and other areas where bacteria are inclined to grow. It can be used as an adhesive-backed skin that can be applied to a surface or as a top layer on a workplace mat.
Eder said Sharklet also is working on a film to apply to a urinary catheter.
The company has nine full-time employees. It was co-founded in 2007 by Anthony Brennan, a University of Florida materials science and engineering professor.
According to Sharklet, Brennan came up with the idea in 2002 while visiting the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor and observing an algae-covered nuclear submarine return to base. He was convinced that an engineered topography was the answer and studied sharkskin, finding a distinct pattern.
The first test hindered algae, and Brennan applied the idea to inhibit bacteria.
Sullivan said Flexcon officials' interest in biominicry started when they read about Brennan. They went down to Florida to discuss how the product could be applied to film.
“It didn't take too long and we were able to turn out a good working prototype,” he said, noting that from that point on, they just started making the film wider.
Sullivan said the film was tested on a television controller and a tray in a hospital setting and it worked. Another successful test recently was to cover the walls in an Austrian hospital.
The biomimicry field is growing, and Sullivan said Flexcon is working on a number of projects for other companies. The design of the top of a moth's eye is leading the way to develop a more effective photovoltaic cell.
Another area of interest is the topography of the top of a lotus leaf, where liquids do not stick. That might be applied for a liquid package for medicine delivery, Sullivan said.
Flexcon also is collaborating with a number of universities, such as Florida, to keep involved in the newest studies and innovations, he added.
Flexcon has operations throughout North America and Europe and distributes worldwide. The company works in adhesive coating, laminating and finishing of durable materials used for graphics appli- cations, electronics and other products.