The impact of pandemics, most recently the COVID-19 outbreak, is driving up demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). Healthcare workers treating infected patients during an outbreak depend on a reliable supply of high-quality PPE to protect their health and safety. Medical gown manufacturers face both higher demand from customers, and increased scrutiny of their final product.
Suppliers need to balance multiple considerations, such as improving end-product sustainability, reducing production costs, and most importantly delivering comfortable gowns that protect healthcare workers. This requires that gowns be manufactured from materials that balance best-in-class barrier properties that prevent exposure to infectious fluids and microbials with garment breathability that improves wearer comfort.
Microporous films – one of the most commonly used medical gown material solutions – don’t provide complete protection against exposure to pathogens. Adding microscopic pores to the material makes it highly breathable. However, this process weakens the gown’s barrier properties, making it susceptible to strikethrough and tearing at critical zones, which are likely to come into direct contact with patients. As a result, microporous gowns don’t meet the highest standards set by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). Thus, they can’t be used in emergencies that require the strongest protection against blood-borne pathogens.
While some gown manufacturers have opted to use gown materials with weaker barrier properties to reduce costs, doing so has led to severe consequences. For example, a leading global PPE supplier provided gowns during an Ebola outbreak. Due to the low quality of the gowns, countless healthcare workers were being put at risk and some even died from exposure to the virus. A major recall and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit followed.
To be ready for such public health crises, medical gown manufacturers need a material solution that gives healthcare workers both the protection and comfort they require, and DSM’s Arnitel® VT does just that. The technology is a polyester-based block copolymer thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and has been used in medical supply manufacturing for more than 20 years. Arnitel VT’s hard crystalline polyester (PBT) and soft amorphous links create a lightweight, breathable and durable structure that provides outstanding barrier properties while ensuring wearer comfort. Easy processing capabilities due to high melt viscosity give manufacturers greater design flexibility that helps reduce production costs and improve gown sustainability.
Once manufactured into medical gowns, Arnitel VT forms a monolithic membrane proven to be 100% effective against fluid permeation while providing excellent tear resistance. By preventing material strikethrough at critical zones, it minimizes the risk of healthcare workers coming into direct contact with infectious substances during lengthy, high-fluid procedures, such as surgeries. In addition to meeting AAMI PB70 Level 4 standards, the material consistently meets the highest protection standards set by PPE safety regulatory bodies in China, Japan, Taiwan, India and the European Union.
Some manufacturers use polyolefin film as an alternative to microporous materials since it offers a strong barrier. Yet this comes at the expense of the wearer’s comfort, since the material prevents body heat and perspiration from escaping.
Arnitel VT allows moisture under the gown to diffuse out of the material and desorb on the surface while preventing external fluids from permeating through. It also achieves best-in-class breathability with a moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR) that outperforms competing materials. The latest Arnitel VT materials enable thinner membranes, which further improves breathability and reduces material costs without jeopardizing barrier performance.
In addition to being 100% recyclable, Arnitel VT’s polyester-based structure also supports greener gown manufacturing processes and produces no toxic gasses when incinerated. In reusable PPE manufacturing, Arnitel VT-based membranes leave a carbon footprint up to 70% lower compared to fluor-based chemistry microporous membranes. Reusable medical gowns are also increasingly gaining interest from healthcare facilities that want to operate more sustainably.
Arnitel VT is trusted by global medical industry leaders that have supplied PPE for healthcare workers combating SARS, Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks. With its unmatched monolithic membrane technology, Arnitel delivers the level of protection and comfort healthcare workers need to continue providing outstanding medical care.
Click here to learn more about DSM’s medical gown solutions.
Market Development Manager
Andre Oosterlaken is responsible for New Market Development for the Arnitel product line at Envalior. In his global role, he helps engineering leaders in diverse industries improve performance by leveraging the unique material properties of Arnitel thermoplastic elastomers. He joined Envalior in 1986, serving in research and development, application engineering, business development, and marketing roles. Oosterlaken earned his bachelor’s degree in analytical chemistry from the HU University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
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