Biosafe Inc., a Pittsburgh-based maker of antimicrobial polymer additives, has had an educational journey through the plastics market.
The 15-employee firm was founded in 2000 and brought in outside investors in 2004. At that point, Biosafe officials thought their product's main plastics application would be in traditional injection molded or extruded parts that used additive concentrates.
But the going proved to be slow in that sector, even though the firm reached deals to have its product used in compounds made by leading compounders RTP Co. and Teknor Apex Co.
“We first made the material as a powder — and we can still make it in that form,” Donald Wagner, business development vice president, said in a recent interview in Pittsburgh. “We thought there would be a lot of applications in traditional plastics. But it's not like dumping an ingredient into sauce — there's a big learning curve.”
This curve — as well as the premium charged for the additive — caused Biosafe to focus more on uses for its material as a polymer coating, where it's had more success.
“One of the keys is finding the sweet spot for antimicrobials in general,” President and CEO Max Fedor said. “Our product can be used with PVC as a plasticizer, but it generally provides something on a surface that kills bacteria.
“Each application has to be scrutinized,” he added. “We have a lot of value in hospital applications, but in something like flooring, maybe — maybe not.”
Biosafe has made major gains in the last couple of years, using its product with polyurethanes and polyurea as a coating in plumbing applications and on fixtures. It's also been used as a coating on a polyethylene aeration hose used to reduce algae at fish farms, as well as in PE sheet applications at hospitals.
One of Biosafe's more prominent applications has been as a chemically resistant coating in vacuum-formed PU computer keyboard covers. The keyboards are being used in hospitals and labs and in Classmate-brand netbook computers marketed by Intel Corp.
Development and testing work also is being done with the Biosafe additive in fabric applications for the U.S. military. Previously, the additive had been used as a coating on spunbond polymer medical masks.
The firm also has learned which resins its material works well with. This list includes PU, liquid silicone rubber, acrylic and Pebax-brand polyether block amides from Arkema Inc. It also has seen good results in PU foam and ethylene vinyl acetate foam.
Outside of plastics, the Biosafe additive is available as an antimicrobial spray that's being sold by specialty retailers. The spray can be ordered directly from the company, and is used in a spray made by industrial supply firm Union Springs Wellness LLC of Erlanger, Ky. It also is going to be test-marketed by a major grocery chain, officials said.
Biosafe got its start when Wagner and other partners developed a way to make a polymer version of an existing liquid organosilane chemical that was being made by Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning Corp. The resulting new product had the same antimicrobial properties and was improved in some ways, Wagner said.
Today, the firm is owned by several parties, including Wagner, Fedor and medical products maker Cantel Medical Corp. of Little Falls, N.J. Cantel's Crosstex International unit produced the medical masks that used the Biosafe additive.
Biosafe uses contract manufacturers for production of its additive, and has no plans to have its own production site.
“We're primarily focusing on licensing and selling the product to others,” Fedor said.