Lead-Free Acrylic Shielding
Employees: 8 full-time
Industry: Bioscience & Medical
Products: Lead-Free Acrylic Shielding
Dr. Clark Turner remembers a time when having lead in your product was a good thing, a thing to be advertised. But today he has made it his mission to literally get the lead out.
“In my last company, I worked to get the lead out of x-ray dental equipment,” Turner says. He sold that company and has since started Turner MedTech, but the mission of this new company is still the same. “Lead is a neurotoxin. It’s environmentally unfriendly. We’ve seen the disaster it has caused in Flint, Michigan. I’m trying to get the lead out of medical products however I can.”
Turner’s most recent product is ClearShield, a lead-free acrylic shield which can be used by the medical community. “We use bismuth instead of lead to create a healthy, environmentally-friendly product,” he says.
To create ClearShield, Turner purchases all of the raw chemical materials needed from multiple sources. “We mix them together, in-house, and cast them into a sheet of plastic,” he says.
So far, Turner MedTech has been able to mold shielding in a 2-by-3-foot size. He has been asked by radiologists to create a 4-by-8-foot sheet, one which can be used for radiology room windows. “It’s not a trivial process,” Turner says of doubling the size. “Even the small sheets are heavy and hard to work with. The new sheets will be over a hundred pounds per sheet. We have to figure out how to manipulate the new size and do it right so there are no optical defects or distortions. It has to be crystal clear.”
Size and weight are of particular concern because Turner Medtech’s primary customers are in Europe. Its biggest distributor is in Germany.
“We have been in this industry a long time, and we knew the major players before starting Turner MedTech,” Turner says. “Once we knew what we could develop, we already knew exactly who to talk to. We are now actively trying to get into Asia, but our biggest market is still Europe.”
A good name with good relationships, Turner believes, has been critical. “Our product is new and more expensive than lead acrylic. When we reach out to new customers, we have to convince them that buying our product is the right thing to do, even though we cost 10 percent more. If we can increase our yields, we can get our costs down, and we will gain a larger share of the market. They already want to buy our product. We just have to have it make economic as well as environmental sense,” he says.
Challenges: Technical. The first prototypes produced were not optically transparent. “And once we got it clear, it was too brittle, and our shipments arrived cracked. We had to rework the chemistry again. It took three years of trial and error to get it right. And now we have to get it bigger, scale it up."
Opportunities: New products. Turner also owns an affiliated company called Turner Imaging Systems. "We are working on a battery-powered x-ray unit which can be used by Doctors without Borders or the military. But that’s still two years away, and our focus is on scaling-up ClearShield production. But I’m always thinking about other needed medical devices."
Needs: Funding. “There are very few angel investors in medical technology and banks will not loan money without proof of revenue,” Turner says. “In Utah, the angel investors are attracted to the software or IT products because they offer a quicker return. Medical devices require FDA clearance and the time it takes to see a return is longer. I am active with BioUtah, and our number one initiative as a trade association is to increase access to funding. It’s really hard to get financing at the early stages of product development."