If there is one area where reliability is crucial, it has to be the medical sector. Since the 1970s, Saft has been active in various sectors of this enormous market, including in the field of connected medicine – the medicine of the future.
Those small implanted batteries that keep hearts beating… that's what we think of when batteries and medicine are mentioned. However, this is only one of many medical applications for batteries.
From 1974 through to the 1980s, Saft was active in the medical sector with its lithium-silver chromate technology. It was then the second-largest producer of pacemaker batteries. Producing them was very demanding in terms of manufacturing, control, and tracking; an ‘ID fact sheet’ containing all the relevant information was supplied with each one.
However, the rapid evolution of pacemaker technology, together with the need for standardization in a high-growth market, led to and consolidated the dominance of another technology – lithium-iodide batteries. In the early 1980s, Saft stopped marketing implantable batteries and now focuses on external medical devices.
Today, Saft is highly regarded as a supplier of batteries for defibrillators, those devices used to treat cardiac arrests.
Saft entered the market in 1998 as part of a collaboration with Cardiac Science Corporation, a company based in Wisconsin, US. Saft manufactures non-rechargeable, lithium-sulfur dioxide defibrillator batteries at one of its American plants – in Valdese, North Carolina.
"Defibrillators can remain on a shelf for years before being used. But at the time they are used, they must work, since they are the difference between life and death. This is why our batteries must be of the highest quality and extremely reliable. A failure is not conceivable," stresses Claire Oshei, Saft's Civil Electronics Sales Director in the US.
Keeping hospitals fully operational
The medical division also helps hospitals to stay fully operational in any circumstance. The consequences of a power outage, even a short shutdown, in the middle of open-heart surgery, for example, could be catastrophic. Saft offers batteries that provide emergency power to hospitals to cover the interim between a power shutdown and when the back-up generators take over.
This situation creates a market for traditional products, both in hospital buildings and medical equipment, and Saft makes a difference thanks to electrochemistry of the highest quality.
Saft also markets batteries for medical carts, widely used in the US. These workstations give medical staff easy access to the patient’s file, among other uses. Fitting them with batteries avoids having to plug in multiple cables, given that ground wires can be sources of contamination. In addition, hospital staff no longer need to turn terminals off and on before each use, therefore gaining time.
"What the customer is looking for in this case are batteries with a very long operating life. Our lithium-ion solutions have exceptional longevity. For example, in certain conditions and after 3,000 cycles, they display a loss of only 30 percent of their capacity," explains Cécile Joannin, Head of Lithium Products at Saft. In addition, Saft, a medium-sized company, has preferred contacts and very close ties with its customers. This makes for easier access to technical teams.
Saft also participated in perfecting the Steris smart operating table. It supplied lithium-ion battery packs that are sufficiently compact to be coupled to the table's column and which supply power for eight hours before needing to be recharged.
Saft is active in perfecting tomorrow's medical treatment systems, too: for instance, it has teamed up with French company Pixium Vision, which aims to restore the sight of patients suffering from outer retinal degeneration.
Thanks to a pair of eyeglasses equipped with a bionic camera and linked to a pocket computer, the patient receives visual signals that partially restore their vision. Of course, for this project, Saft supplies the computer's battery, which must "be lightweight and reliable, and provide particularly high performance," explains Pascal Hans, Civil Electronics Marketing Manager for Europe.
The company also works with Berlin Heart, which manufactures ventricular-assist devices destined for patients awaiting a heart transplant. Here, the challenge is supplying patients with autonomous systems that enable them to stay mobile; it's easy to see the importance of batteries in this case, which once again must be durable, reliable, and lightweight.
Staying connected to patients
Unsurprisingly, connected health, which is very much in the news, is another Saft competency. The American company LifeWatch has already developed a system to remotely monitor individuals suffering from a cardiac pathology, thanks to sensors placed on the patient that supply data to doctors in real time in the case of arrhythmia. This way medics can respond more quickly to a person's condition. Clearly, such batteries must operate non-stop. This remote monitoring method has huge development potential because it can be applied to many other markets.
Saft has been active in the medical sector for more than 40 years, providing unquestionable reliability; it aims to continue supporting both the innovations currently in progress and those to come.
The pacemaker battery adventure
In 1973, an Italian pacemaker manufacturer (LEM) asked Saft to make a tiny battery for pediatric pacemakers. At this time, lithium batteries, which were not yet being marketed, were a very attractive proposition for this application, and Saft was one of the pioneers in this field. A lithium-silver chromate button battery, developed since the 1970s for Swiss watchmakers, met the required criteria. From this model, a thicker battery was developed, adapted to the pacemakers of the time. The first two Li210 lithium batteries were implanted on June 21st and 23rd 1974. At the end of this same year and further to the request of several manufacturers, Saft decided to set up a production line for these batteries.
In August 1979, 350,000 batteries had been implanted and not a single failure had been reported. Saft's implantable battery featured one great advantage: it displayed very clearly its end of life signal a full year before full discharge. Saft then became the world's second largest producer of implantable batteries after the US pioneer Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker and lithium-iodide battery. The manufacturing process for these batteries were very demanding in terms of control and tracking. Each battery was identified, weighed to the nearest milligram at each manufacturing phase, and given a specific ID fact sheet. All of the data was retained for ten years.
In 1980, Saft proposed new technologies, but the rapid evolution of pacemakers together with the standardization of the market kept lithium-iodide batteries in a dominant front-runner position. Saft resisted until 1983, then shut down production of implantable batteries.