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Medical gloves suppliers' R&D efforts address latex dilemma

In surgical gloves, latex is still unparalleled but its allergenic proteins pose a problem.

Hypoallergenic solutions and better synthetic alternatives to latex drive the R&D initiatives of China medical glove companies. These are part of efforts to address the negative effects of the material such as skin irritation and even anaphylactic shock, and at the same time boost competitiveness.

Latex surgical glove
This latex surgical glove from Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright may come in powdered or powder-free variants.

Despite the disadvantages, models made of the natural rubber, however, continue to top the surgical glove selection for their elasticity and tactile quality. These attributes have yet to be simulated perfectly in artificial substitutes.

Manufacturers are carrying out various processes to reduce protein content in latex pieces since these easily extractable molecules are prompting the harmful reactions. One of the popular methods used to be leaching, but this way of dipping items in hot and cold water has limited results.

Enzyme treatment is proving to be a more effective technique and therefore increasingly preferred by many suppliers. The procedure breaks up proteins to facilitate removal and yields softer models. A number of traders, including Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright Imp. & Exp. Co. Ltd and Neo Impex Co. Ltd (Changzhou Yuandong Medical Equipment Co. Ltd), are offering products that undergo such preparation.

Chlorination is likewise popular for reducing allergen content. This also makes the pieces easier to wear and take off without powder, commonly cornstarch, which spreads the molecules in the atmosphere. Eliminating the use of granulated lubricants prevents easy inhalation of the proteins.

Makers are utilizing anti-allergy herbal medicine as reflected in latex gloves from Jiangsu Guotai International Group Guomao Co. Ltd. For 10 years, the supplier worked with China Pharmaceutical University and a drug manufacturer in creating items with curative substances, fighting bacteria and viruses. These follow EU and FDA requirements. The main export markets are Japan, Denmark and Germany. The company is waiting for the approval of the local Ministry of Health, similar departments in target destinations and the UN.

Examination and surgical gloves with herbal medicine are priced $0.00176 to $0.00226 and $0.003 to $0.0045 higher than regular variants. The manufacturer plans to impose markdowns to widen market reach.

Amid efforts to improve latex gloves, China suppliers continue to develop synthetic alternatives that mimic the physical properties of natural rubber products.

Malaysia-invested Encompass Inc. Ltd and partner Shijiazhuang Hongray will open a factory in Puyang city of Henan province to focus on surgical versions made of polyisoprene. The material has the same chemical structure, elasticity and texture as latex but without the allergenic proteins. This is sourced from Puyang Linshi, said to be its largest manufacturer in China. Polyisoprene models, however, are more expensive. Currently, the two companies offer releases in nitrile and vinyl.

Suppliers are constantly improving examination gloves utilizing alternative inputs while searching for the perfect synthetic substitute to latex. They are adopting chlorination to yield smoother nitrile versions, replacing the previously popular but costlier silver coating on the inner side of the products. The former method, however, leaves a yellow stain on the machines and gloves. To solve this problem, companies such as Encompass employ chlorine scrubber systems.

Accelerator-free nitrile releases are available from several manufacturers. The pieces do not contain sulfur and heavy metals ZMBT and ZDBC, which are hazardous substances.

Encompass is one of the suppliers offering these items. It utilizes heat energy and few chemicals during production, increasing outlay by 1 percent. This type of glove is designed for highly susceptible people and accounts for only a small portion of the maker's output.

As for enhancing the tactile sensitivity of pieces in synthetic materials, suppliers are creating thinner variants, which cost less but are more difficult to process.

Encompass released 0.05mm-thin nitrile gloves last year to add to its 0.1 and 0.7mm-thick options. The new versions are priced 18 percent lower and have become more popular. The company is therefore boosting its output of 0.05mm pieces.

In addition, it is increasing production of white alternatives to resemble latex variants. Softening agents are incorporated. Encompass accepts buyers' specifications.

Similarly, Neo Impex has launched 0.066 and 0.05mm nitrile pieces, respectively weighing 3.5 and 3g. These are 6 and 15 percent less expensive than 0.1mm variants.

The maker likewise reduced latex examination models to 0.09mm and 5g. It has ceased the production of 4 and 5.3g items in nitrile and latex.

Rising outlay for latex is posing a big challenge to many suppliers in China. Spending on the input rose by 80 percent in eight months from May 2010, forcing companies to increase prices between 15 and 20 percent. They expect more markups in the year ahead.

The labor shortage and climbing petroleum outlay are exacerbating the problem. The latter affects PVC rates.

To control costs, manufacturers such as Encompass are automating the stripping process. Frank Healthcare Co. Ltd and Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright have been implementing this since 1H10, increasing efficiency by 20 percent.

In addition, Encompass improved its ovens to lower coal consumption by 20 percent, reduce moisture in the gloves and dispense with a second vulcanization after baking.

Neo Impex strengthened management strategies to lessen latex wastage, resultantly saving $75,300 per day.

Medical gloves selection
Product gallery

Medical gloves selection

Medical gloves from China are available in latex, nitrile and vinyl. Versions in the last material dominate output and exports. Examination models are offered in sizes XS to XL. Surgical options have 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5 and 9in variants.

Thickness, size and AQL are the key price determinants for medical gloves. Quotes of powder-free pieces may be 5 percent higher than powdered versions. The gap is the same between items with anti-slip fingertips and those without the feature.

Most products are sterilized via the use of gamma radiation or epoxy ethane, and follow EN 455 and ASTM D5250 requirements. Several releases have FDA certification.

Among latex gloves, examination models top output and exports. These weigh from 5 to 6.8g, and go for between $24.50 and $48 for a carton containing 1,000 pieces. Surgical alternatives are about 15g and list from $0.15 to $0.226 per pair.

Meanwhile, vinyl and nitrile selections are available only in examination versions.

Options in the latter material are $28 to $45 for one carton but have better elasticity, tactile sensitivity and anti-chemical properties. These can feature anti-slip exteriors as well. All nitrile models are powder-free and treated for smooth donning and removing. Weight varies from 2.5 to 4g. Items from Encompass can stretch up to 500 times the original size after aging and boast 21Mpa, exceeding ASTM standards.

Vinyl gloves are quoted from $14.50 to $25 per carton, and may be powdered. Powder-free alternatives have PU coating.

Several makers utilize synmax, a very elastic type of vinyl with properties closer to latex. Pieces in the material are priced 5 percent higher than regular vinyl versions. Models from Encompass reach 400 percent elongation after aging and have a tensile strength of 12Mpa.

The company also offers better-performing gloves in combination vinyl and nitrile. Such alternatives are 12 percent more expensive than synmax options but quoted 19 percent lower compared with 0.05mm-thick pure nitrile variants.

Related reports:
Pill boxes: Pillboxes with user-friendly features, safe materials pushed
Stethoscopes: Stethoscopes with advanced features on the rise
Wound dressing products: Wound care products' rising costs precipitate upmarket shift among suppliers

Nitrile examination glove
Product gallery

Encompass Inc. Ltd

Model: Nitrile (Accelerant-free, White)
Delivery: 60 days
Description: Nitrile examination glove; accelerator-free; no sulfur and heavy metals such as ZMBT and ZDBC; powder-free; white

Nitrile examination glove

Encompass Inc. Ltd

Model: Nitrile (Blue)
Delivery: 60 days
Description: Nitrile examination glove; powder-free; sizes XS to XL; blue

Examination glove made of nitrile and vinyl

Encompass Inc. Ltd

Model: Nitrile+Vinyl
Delivery: 60 days
Description: Examination glove made of nitrile and vinyl

Latex examination glove

Neo Impex Co. Ltd (Changzhou Yuandong Medical Equipment Co. Ltd)

Model: Latex (Examination)
MOQ: 800,000 pieces
Delivery: 15 days
Description: Latex examination glove; powdered version available in 5 and 6g; 6.2g powder-free; FDA for 6 and 6.2g variants

Nitrile examination glove

Neo Impex Co. Ltd (Changzhou Yuandong Medical Equipment Co. Ltd)

Model: Nitrile (3.5g)
MOQ: 500,000 pieces
Delivery: 7 days
Description: Nitrile examination glove; powder-free; 3.5g; blue or white

PVC examination glove

Neo Impex Co. Ltd (Changzhou Yuandong Medical Equipment Co. Ltd)

Model: PVC
MOQ: 300,000 pieces
Delivery: 3 days
Description: PVC examination glove; 4.5,
5 or 5.5g; powdered or powder-free; FDA for 5.5g variant

PVC examination glove

Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright Imp. & Exp. Co. Ltd

Model: PVC
MOQ: 100,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: PVC examination glove; powdered or powder-free; sizes XS to XL; white, yellow, red or blue

Nitrile examination glove

Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright Imp. & Exp. Co. Ltd

Model: Nitrile
MOQ: 100,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: Nitrile examination glove; powder-free; sizes XS to XL; blue, green, black

Latex surgical glove

Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone Everbright Imp. & Exp. Co. Ltd
Model: Latex
MOQ: 50,000 pieces
Delivery: 20 days
Description: Latex surgical glove; powdered or powder-free; sterilized; 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5 and 8in

Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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