Medical Devices Factory Combats Environmental Concerns
Yu Jiao, a young female employee at Zhejiang Kindly Medical Devices Co. Ltd (KDL) has worked for years in the medical devices industry in very difficult conditions. “Our company has a huge cleaning workload at an annual amount of 400,000 or so pieces of fixtures.” The cleaning procedure for all fixtures was manually done, with workers such as Yu Jiao brushing and refilling the cleaning solvents over and over by hand.
The use of HCFC-141b-based technology, such as that used in the medical devices manufacturing process, is harmful to the environment and workers have had health concerns due to the odor on the factory floor . With complicated procedures, Yu Jiao says “there was limited quality or safety control in the cleaning process.” The health of the company’s workers, of which over 90 percent were female, was a critical issue in the factories.
- Phase-out 27.82 tonnes (3.06 ODP tonnes) of HCFC-141b or 4.4 percent of the overall 627.272 metric tonnes HCFC phase-out target in the solvent sector (69 ODP tonnes)
- Adoption of KC-6, a non-ozone-depleting substance in medical equipment manufacturing enterprises, such as KDL in China
- Installed new safety measures, including 1) fire resistant materials; 2) enough air supply and exhaust ducts on the ceiling; and 3) smoke detectors and alarm systems in all the purification workshops, to protect against potential effects of new KC-6 solvent
Based on national concerns over the deterioration of the globe’s ozone layer, China ratified the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) in 1991 and committed itself to specific ODS phase out targets for CFC’s. Later in 2007 at the 19th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, policymakers adopted an accelerated phase-out schedule for HCFCs, another group of substances which have high ozone depleting and global warming potential (GWP).
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of HCFCs. With rapid economic development and growth, consumption of HCFCs in the solvent sector has grown significantly alongside six other sectors including foams, refrigerator, and air conditioning. Currently six of more than 30 categories of HCFCs are produced in China namely HCFC-22, HCF-123m HCFC-124, HCFC-133a, HCFC-142b, and HCFC-141b.
The UNDP demonstration project was committed to converting the traditional solvent HCFC-141b to iso-paraffin and siloxane (KC-6), a non-ODS and low GWP alternative, to achieve environmental protection at Zhejiang Kindly Medical Devices Co. Ltd (KDL). HCFC-141b, used in solvents to clean medical devices, was often exposed in large amounts to workers. Wang Zhang, another employer stated that “the cleaning solvents often gave a pungent smell.” With no collecting system, the waste from the solvents remained high. There was no precaution taken to ventilate the air removing smells and resedue giving rise to concerns amongst the workers regarding their health and safety.
UNDP, with its conversion of the old technology, adopted a half-auto needle assemble equipment and procured a new Ultrasonic Wave Cleaner. Additional efforts were made to assure a safe and healthy environment for workers coming in contact with the new KC-6 solvent. Specifically speaking safety and health measures were taken by installing 1) fire resistant materials; 2) enough air supply and exhaust ducts on the ceiling; and 3) smoke detectors and alarm systems in all the purification workshops. Protecting the environment and the workers from new working conditions was of critical importance.
The aforementioned products introduced by the project had met worker’s longstanding complaints. For example, the concentration detector in the workshop could now inform workers if solvent concentration reached a threshold. Yu Jiao’s concerns for “the concentration of solvents gathered in the plant” was no longer a concern. With a warning system installed for the new solvent, workers were more aware of their safety and the level of chemicals they were exposed to.
Lin Haili, another female employer, was glad that the new cleaning equipment reduced volatilization, with additional safety measures such as caps and glass windows, preventing direct exposure of solvents.
The solvents sector is one of seven HCFCs producing sectors in the country and the demonstration project phased-out 27.82 tonnes (3.06 ODP tonnes) of HCFC-141b or 4.4 percent of the overall HCFC phase-out target in the solvent sector (627.272 metric tonnes or 69 ODP tonnes). Generally speaking, countries that are part of the HCFC phase-out plan for all sectors had to freeze based on 2009-2010 baseline level by 1 January 2013, a target that China has met. Further, countries should achieve a 10% HCFC reduction by 2015, 35% reduction by 2020, 67.5% by 2025, 97.5% by 2030, and complete phase out from January 1, 2040.
The engagement in retrofitting the production lines has not only addressed environment and worker concerns, but the replacement of old technology has also led to higher productivity. Before the conversion the efficiency of manual labor was low. After the conversion many workers were released from manual scrubbing and cleaning of silification tooling line and moved to much faster posts. For example, the new Ultrasonic Wave Cleaner can clean all silification tooling in one week.
KDL is on its way to become one of the first responsible enterprises to use ODS-free solvent. The conversion technology has been very successful and so can be adopted by similar enterprises. The demonstration technology at KDL is an important alternative for phase-out ODS in medical equipment manufacturing enterprises. The project encouraged a number of medical apparatus producers to improve their own cleaning apparatus to assure workers’ safety.
The KC-6 apparatus and safety measures installed shows full automation of cleaning apparatus, preventing female workers from exposure to toxic solvents and improving efficiency. After the installation of new equipment, Yu Jiao says “the new automated process makes our work much easier. New technologies applied guarantee the cleaning quality and the anti-explosion equipment design prevents the possible hazard of accidents.”