Lifecycle extension of single-use medical device sensors: Case study of an engineering sustainability transition program



We describe the processes and verification testing of a medical device engineering team (the authors) performed during their first sustainability transition project on a commercialized, single use sensor product; no changes to the device were made. This sensor was composed of sensitive plastics, gels, metals, and electronic parts and was intended for direct skin contact with hospitalized patients.

The goal of the engineering project was to lengthen the single use device’s shelf life from 12 months to 24 months, effectively doubling the time the device can be used. The change was requested by customers; they wanted to decrease scrapping of expired products in the field. The extensive and highly regulated testing and engineering work are relayed in the paper. The device passed the rigorous testing and shelf life was increased; this advance is an example of lengthening the loop of product life during sustainability transitions and not creating a down-time in product deliveries. As medical device waste is a high contributor to global emissions, it is important to consider existing medical devices in the field and determine how to transition them to be more sustainable. This paper adds to the nascent knowledge of the depth, manner, and intensity of work involved to transition highly regulated, single-use legacy medical device products into more sustainable products.

Usefulness of the results: This paper provides detailed steps for medical device engineering and marketing teams to consider when they design new products or reconsider legacy products with a sustainability mindset. This research also showed that moving regulated products towards sustainability is a considerable effort. Customer input was a key contributor to starting the effort; the voice of the customer is a valuable sustainability indicator and close collaboration with the customer helped form the business case for this sustainability transition. Even though the device was not fully sustainable or circular at the end of the effort, the increase in sensor shelf life greatly decreased for the need to scrapping expired sensors; this improvement contributes to less waste and cost savings and added customer value. Each genuine effort towards a more sustainable product is a positive step towards the sustainability transition. This is an example of the scope of work that has to be done to make an existing tech product sustainable.

Authors: Kristina Leppälä (UEF, GE HealthCare), Laura Vornanen (GE HealthCare), Outi Savinen (GE HealthCare)

Published: Journal of Cleaner Production

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Kristina Leppälä