28 May, 2022

How to prevent moisture penetration of powered surgical tools

03 February, 2022

Reliability is crucial for electrically powered surgical tools and moisture ingress is a surefire route to premature failure. To maintain operational performance, design engineers must consider how to minimise moisture ingress and protect against its damaging effects. A moisture-resistant design will also provide longer-life surgical tools with a reduced total cost. Jon Culp, principal engineer at Portescap, explains how to combat moisture to maximise surgical tool design.


Undergoing rigorous operational use as well as the challenges of hygienic cleaning processes, electrically powered surgical tools must be designed to limit the ingress of moisture and mitigate against its effects. Comprising electrical components and materials susceptible to corrosion, most significantly this includes the electric motor that powers the tool itself. Protection against moisture means a long service life that brings down the cost of surgery - especially as surgical tools continue to increase in cost and complexity with sensors, feedback and control devices that improve the patient outcome.

To achieve optimum resistance to moisture, surgical tool OEMs are increasingly working with motor manufacturers like Portescap to create collaborative designs. Whether from saline, steam sterilisation or another contaminant source, we’ll look at how issues of moisture and corrosion in surgical tools develop, and how we can mitigate against them.

Preventing moisture ingress

The point of moisture ingress is often the distal end of the surgical tool. To prevent this a dynamic seal between the handpiece chassis and the shaft of the motor can be used. The seal itself is a special polymer blend designed for temperature and wear resistance, though it’s crucial that there’s a tight fit between the seal, housing and motor shaft to create a lasting barrier. However, as the seal lip and shaft surface will wear moisture will eventually penetrate so the motor and tool must incorporate additional moisture-resistant technology.

Moisture can also enter via the mating points on the motor housing, for example between a motor and a gearhead. Hermetic laser weld, sealed threads or Orings can all form varying barriers to moisture, and your motor manufacturer should advise on the most appropriate method of sealing.

Mechanical component failure

To enhance the resistance of mechanical components to the impact of moisture, it’s important to select materials according to the challenges they face; including balancing resistance to fatigue and wear with resistance to corrosion. For example, components made from austenitic stainless steel have good anti-corrosivity properties to saline or steam but may not have sufficient wear resistance for all components and uses. Alternatively, martensitic stainless steel has less corrosion resistance but increased hardness, making it ideal for metal-tometal contact components such as bearings and gears.

Newer materials with lower carbon levels can produce martensitic stainless steel with improved corrosion resistance, while additional materials with anticorrosivity and high wear properties, such as PEEK or PAI, can be used for lightly loaded components. Selecting the right lubrication to avoid washout and prevent corrosion and wear is also vital to ensure long life of the motor system.




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