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A Force for Good – SureTECH Innovations in Life-Saving Products

Home / Innovation / A Force for Good – SureTECH Innovations in Life-Saving Products

Despite modern warfare often being fought on computer screens as much as on the battlefield, the human cost of conflict remains very real. But now, clear-sighted thinking and high quality innovation is coming to the aid of the military forces in their search for ways to combat field trauma.

Around the world, a battle is taking place – a battle to save the lives of service personnel suffering serious injuries in the field. The fight to overcome the challenges of treating serious trauma has had to keep pace with the war on terrorism, not to mention some of the most demanding and inhospitable military operating conditions. The number of US military deaths in Afghanistan totalled 405 in 2011, in addition to the many members of the British Army, RAF, Royal Marines and Special Forces who have also lost their lives in the fight against the Taliban.

The fact is that injured soldiers are often hostages to the effects of serious trauma, and not always the actual wounds they’ve sustained. To understand why, we need a quick lesson in medical treatment: After suffering severe wounds, the body initially goes into shock which is quickly followed by a drop in core temperature. This leads to victims suffering Hypothermia, causing the blood to stop cleaning itself – essentially, resulting in the body poisoning itself. Eventually the blood stops coagulating. Medics call it the lethal triad.

Hypothermia in trauma cases can occur regardless of ambient temperature. As a result, stopping heat loss should begin as soon as possible after wounding. These stark facts led the US military to show a keen interest in a small company based on the edge of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Created by Blizzard Protection Systems, Reflexcell™ is one of the most innovative survival products on the market.

“We’re constantly asking SureTECH to engineer costs out of the solution without compromising quality. At times, we’ve changed component suppliers, requiring them to adapt and develop their adhesive solutions to fit. But they’re always prepared, they’re flexible, the quality is good and, importantly, the product is reassuringly consistent.” – Derek Ryden, Blizzard Survival
The original idea behind it was conceived fifteen years ago, when the founder and Managing Director of the Blizzard Survival brand, Derek Ryden, realised that outdoor enthusiasts and professionals needed something more effective than plastic bivvy bags and lighter than conventional sleeping bags to keep warm. An engineer by profession, and still an active mountaineer today, Ryden invented Reflexcell™, a super-lightweight material that he used to launch the Blizzard Survival range of products, providing unprecedented thermal performance in the most demanding conditions. In 2005, the company went into partnership with American-owned PerSys Medical.

PerSys already had strong connections with the US military and initial discussions about Reflexcell™ technology eventually led to the development of Blizzard Heat™, a breakthrough battlefield survival product designed specifically for the US Army which has since gone on to scoop the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. The unique design features of the self-heating casualty bag provide multiple access points to allow medics to treat wounds, whilst retaining a casualty’s core body temperature. With medics unable to predict where on the body trauma will occur, a three-part blanket was needed, with hook and loop fastening down the middle and both sides – enabling medical teams to attach IVs into the chest. It presented a complex development challenge and saw Blizzard turn to adhesive tape specialists SureTECH to not only create a workable solution, but to also take responsibility for applying the adhesive to the hook and loop fastening material before shipping to Blizzard to complete the manufacturing process. “It’s not a place where you can accept failures, there’s too much at stake,” says Alan Stott, Director and General Manager at Blizzard.

A major challenge was the Blizzard Heat™ blanket’s use of metalised and printed material. Finding an adhesive solution to stick to these surfaces proved extremely difficult. Indeed, many suppliers had already advised Blizzard that it would not be possible to develop an adhesive solution with the type of specialised backing needed to deliver the flexibility and the temperature range required.

“Military buyers are great, but they are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs. At the same time, we must never be in a position where we can be accused of cutting corners.” – Derek Ryden, Blizzard Survival
The adhesive product also had to have a very high tack, capable of withstanding a high tolerance in temperature change. “Military operations in Afghanistan are a great example,” says Stott. “Up in the mountains temperatures can be below -20°C and in the desert up to +35°C.” Such demanding operating environments required an adhesive solution as innovative as the Blizzard Heat™ concept itself.

Since launch, SureTECH have made further developments to the product in order to meet cost, efficiency and output requirements. From orders of 50 metres a week during the early days, today thousands of Blizzard Survival blankets are being issued by front line units in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the US Army’s strategy to eliminate avoidable deaths on the battlefield. Blizzard Heat™ is now also deployed by the UK, German and Finnish military.

As Stott explains: “Military buyers are great, but they are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs. At the same time, we must never be in a position where we can be accused of cutting corners.” It has led to a great deal of head scratching. But SureTECH is always a step ahead. Stott explains the benefit of SureTECH’s proactive, solution-centric approach: “We’re constantly asking them to engineer costs out of the solution without compromising quality. And, at times, we’ve changed component suppliers, requiring SureTECH to adapt and develop their adhesive solutions to fit. But they’re always prepared, they’re flexible, the quality is good and, importantly, the product is reassuringly consistent.”

It’s why, as Blizzard continue to seek a bigger slice of the demanding military market, they are determined to stick with the specialist adhesive knowledge and expertise that has already enabled their product to achieve so much, and save so many lives.

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