In recent months, the pandemic has had devastating effects globally and it may be many years until the impact is fully understood.
In these times it is heartwarming to see how collaborations are formed and new problems are faced head-on.
Ultraviolet-C (or UV-C) sterilisation is one of the solutions that was initially implemented as a crisis measure in South Africa, but it seems that it may just be here to stay.
“Along with physical security, cyber security, backup power generation, and a myriad other business processes, it seems that sterilisation will become a part of standard business processes and business compliance requirements,” said Kobus Wolvaardt, GoodX CEO.
The use of chemicals, however, poses many long-term challenges and companies are turning towards UV sterilisation techniques as a safer and cheaper alternative.
UV sterilisation systems can run for hours on end with minimal electricity consumption and consumables.
UV-C sterilisers can also fit into a business’s standard operating procedures and help reduce the risk of handled items spreading disease.
A UV-C unit at reception, for example, can improve the health of an entire organisation at negligible cost.
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South African companies reacting to the crises
GoodX, a South African medical software company, received requests from a number of their medical practitioners to provide an alternative sterilisation method to conventional alcohols.
Alcohol sanitiser is the go-to sanitising product, but a solution with lower running costs and less health risks was needed. Many personal items are also damaged by liquids and can therefore also not be sanitised with alcohol.
GoodX took up the challenge and partnered with Aditiv Solutions, a local engineering firm that produces metal 3D printers. Within a few weeks, they designed a low-cost UV-C sterilisation device called the uvX16.
“Developing a new product during lockdown was quite a challenge” said Pieta Ferreira, mechanical engineer at Aditiv Solutions. “Lockdown regulations placed significant constraints on the design process, since many businesses were closed, and imports cut off. Care was taken to design a UV steriliser with these constraints, while ensuring a safe, reliable, and quality product.”
Another issue was getting the devices tested. The correct use of UV-C radiation is critical when used as a sterilisation tool, and a minimum dosage is required to ensure that surfaces are sterilised.
“It is worse to have objects that you think have been properly sterilised, than objects that you know are infected. Some people use certain items with a false sense of security” said Jacobus Prinsloo, software engineer at Aditiv Solutions.
South Africa, however, has extensive resources in the field of UV-C radiation testing.
The Photometry and Radiometry department of NMISA (National Metrology Institute of South Africa) has an accredited UV laboratory and has substantial experience in testing UV-C devices.
Marius Vermeulen, CEO of Aditiv Solutions, stated that: “The development of the AditivX range of products would not have been possible in the required timeframe, were it not for the established testing capabilities at NMISA.”
In the end, the uvX16 steriliser was very successful and passed all testing. To date, over 100 uvX16 devices have been delivered and are being employed by doctors, hospitals, and other medical practitioners.
Not only are these devices used to sterilise everyday items, but they are also used to recycle scarce and expensive N95 masks.
These UV sterilisers also proved valuable in other industries and have since been deployed in schools, finance offices, and households.
Additionally, the development of a range of other UV-C sanitising systems, now branded as “AditivX”, has been triggered to solve different sanitising requirements
The use of light as a sterilisation method has many advantages over chemical methods.
UV sterilisation is a non-contact process which eliminates the use of alcohols and other chemicals, reducing the risk of long-term medical effects and ensures the safety of the user.
Everyday items such as electronics, clothing, and paper cannot easily be cleaned with alcohol in the workplace due to the damaging effects on these items. The items are then typically excluded in everyday sanitation activities.
When engineered correctly, UV sterilisation devices are more efficient at ensuring sterilisation, since the level of sanitation is not dependent on the skill of an individual.
“The UV sterilisers that AditivX manufactures, are designed and tested to sanitise items in minutes. The typical lifetime of UV-C germicidal lamps is more than 8,000 hours (when the efficiency drops below 80%), making this technology far more cost efficient than chemical sterilisation techniques,” said Vermeulen.
The uvX50 that AditivX manufactures consists of the following:
- An ultra-fast 120 second sterilisation cycle.
- 48W UV-C radiance at 254nm for fast deactivation of viruses and bacteria.
- Easy one-button operation with a built-in timer to ensure adequate UV dosage.
- Built-in safety features to protect the operator against harmful UV-C exposure.
- A sterilising volume of 500mm x 290 mm x 140mm.
- High-quality UV-C lamps with 8,000 hour average rated life.
- Fitted with lamp hour meter (via Wi-Fi interface).
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Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI)
UV-C is a subset of the UV light spectrum. “Artificially produced UV-C is used in Ultraviolet germicidal radiation and has been a staple method of sterilisation against pathogens for over 60 years” reported Pieter du Toit of NMISA.
The medical industry specifically has been one of the primary users of UV-C sterilisation.
“UV-C at a specific wavelength, 254 nanometers, has been successfully used to inactivate H1N1 influenza and other coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory virus (SARS-CoV) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV),” reported Indermeet Kohli, a physicist who studies photomedicine in dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
A study (awaiting peer review) published on June 26, 2020, by one of Kohli’s colleagues now confirms that UVC also eliminates SARS-CoV-2.
UV-C sterilisers use science to meet the need for chemical-free sanitisation. It is a fast, cost-effective, and safe method to use on everyday items.
UV sterilisers may very well become more commonplace in the standard business procedures of companies globally, as an alternative method to keeping employees safe.