Richard Wolf - Keep it clean: modular laparoscopic instruments

While single-piece surgical instruments are still widely used, modular designs are easier to clean and can be assembled before sterilisation. Richard Wolf's Benjamin Seidenspinner, marketing manager general surgery, and Helmi Henn, product manager hygiene and reprocessing, outline the financial and logistical advantages of using modular tools for laparoscopic surgery.

Can you give us an overview of the company and its history?

Benjamin Seidenspinner: Since the company was founded in 1947, Richard Wolf has thrived as a specialist medical equipment manufacturer.

Richard Wolf is represented in more than 120 locations, with over 1,500 employees globally, and also has various subsidiaries. Headquartered in Knittlingen, Germany, it is active in all endoscopic fields of human surgery, from ENT to arthroscopy - and everything in between.

While Richard Wolf deals directly with hospital directors, administration teams and purchasing departments, it places a particular emphasis on maintaining a dialogue with doctors and other end users. This has enabled the company to keep abreast of changes in the industry.

What are the key trends you've recently seen in endoscopic instrument design?

BS: Different approaches to design is one of the major factors dividing today's market, and some firms are selling single-piece instruments. While they do tend to have a rinsing port so that the inner lumen can be flushed, you can't take them apart for proper cleaning and reprocessing; with a modular design, used by Richard Wolf's ERAGON modular instrument line, you can take the instrument system apart for cleaning.

What about the sterilisation process?

Helmi Henn: Many of our competitors' products can only be sterilised when the instrument is dissembled. This unfortunately means that nurses will open laparoscopic trays to find an unconstructed instrument.

Putting the instrument together is time consuming; pieces can also go missing and they sometimes don't fit together properly. It's inconvenient and unsafe. But Richard Wolf's instruments can be sterilised when they're already assembled - steam can penetrate all the inner surfaces. As a result, once the tray is in the operating room, the nurse doesn't have to put anything together. The instruments are already set up.

Is there a right or wrong instrument design for easy manual assembly?

HH: The ease with which an instrument can be assembled or taken apart is extremely important. Some of our competitors use screw connections, but this means making sure that everything is perfectly tightened. There's also a risk that the connection will loosen over time - merely opening and closing the instrument, or using it, can open up gaps.

Our instruments use a 'click it' system to connect the different parts; you simply push them together until you hear a click. That way, you know the connection is 100% perfect.

Could you give us a little more detail about the laparoscopic instruments Richard Wolf offers?

BS: Richard Wolf's ERAGON modular system is a surgeon's complete laparoscopic toolbox: it contains numerous different instruments of varying sizes and diameters for a variety of laparoscopic operations. The surgeon can choose whatever instrument they need for each job. There is also a range of handle designs to suit the needs of every surgeon's working style.

The system's modularity means different instruments can be combined, reducing the number of instruments on the laparoscopic tray. This saves time and money during reprocessing, and it also reduces maintenance and repair costs.

What materials do your instruments use?

BS: The materials in our instruments are one of the key differentiators between Richard Wolf's products and the competition. The ERAGON line uses high-class Halar® insulation coating, while all the plastic parts use PEEK - an expensive, premium-quality form of plastic. It's extremely reliable and safe.

What new products do you have in development?

BS: The ERAGON modular line is a growing family of instruments. So far, we offer instruments at diameters of 3.5, 5.0 and 10.0mm. The next step will be a 2.0mm instrument line for paediatric surgery. Surgeons are performing minimally invasive operations in this field and require instruments with smaller diameters.

We hope to be able to offer this by the end of the year, and then we can provide the entire range of instruments needed for laparoscopic surgery - the surgeon's toolbox will be complete.

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