From Tapes to Surgical Drapes: How One Challenge Led to Decades of Healthcare Innovations

3M™ Scotch™ Surgical Drapes

You may think of 3M as a company that makes tape, Post-it® Notes and industrial goods. So, why does health care make up almost a quarter of the company’s sales? In a word (or two): 3M Science.

“We lead with a focus on science and technology, unlike most companies which lead by focusing on a specific market,” says Ken Hanley, technical director for 3M Medical Solutions Division.

Our culture is to be curious and explore. We have an appetite for solutions. We have relevant technologies and science that can be applied to improving lives, and health care is the perfect fit.

Ken Hanley

From the beginning

The first 3M medical solution started with tape. After World War II, three physicians approached 3M with the idea to create a surgical drape using a plastic sheet that could stick to skin. The only solution for creating a barrier for incisions at the time was to sterilize cloth and attach it with pincers to the patients’ skin.

3M™ Ioban™ 2 Antimicrobial Incise Drape

The doctors knew about 3M tapes so they wanted to collaborate with 3M scientists to create a gentle adhesive that would stick to skin. That partnership kicked off the first 3M medical solution. The new surgical drape was introduced in 1948 to the American College of Surgeons in Cleveland, Ohio.

3M™ Micropore™ Surgical Tape

The next medical product also leaned on 3M’s expertise in tape. In the early 1960s,3M launched the first hypoallergenic tape to the world – 3M Micropore™ Surgical Tape.  Autoclaving tapes and surgical masks soon followed. 3M established a Medical Division in 1962 and continued to develop new products, often combining technologies like adhesives and nonwoven materials to create entirely new products.

Combining technologies and expertise

3M™ Tegaderm™ CHG I.V. Securement Dressing

It’s that unique combination of technologies, along with manufacturing know-how, that has made 3M a powerhouse in developing new products. “3M’s an expert in film, in adhesives, in die converting,” says Ken. He cites 3M™ Tegaderm™ Dressings as a perfect example of a solution that brings together multiple technologies. “It uses our expertise in so many ways – you make film, you laminate it in layers with adhesives, and convert it at high quality and precision to specific shapes,” he says. “You take several technologies and put them together to solve a problem for contact with human skin.”

Expertise with chemistry also aligns to delivering health care solutions. For example, antimicrobial dressings work by delivering a chemical via the material applied. “It’s less about the specific antimicrobial and more about how you incorporate it into another material,” Ken says. “It’s about getting it to deploy in the right conditions.”

And when you get into the space of microbial management, that leads to preventing other sources of infection, like equipment. We can use chemical indicators and microbiology to help ensure that sterilization takes place. “It takes significant chemistry, microbiology design and manufacturing expertise to make those products,” says Ken. “We keep extending our expertise,” he says.

Health care fits our innovative and curious culture. The need keeps growing, which is food for an inventor. An inventor’s best friend is a problem that needs to be solved.

Ken Hanley

That appetite for solving problems and broad scientific expertise has led a wide variety of health care innovations, and the team is always up for a new challenge.

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