Click here for a PDF version of this story.
In 1982, a team of researchers from the CSIR, comprising Peter Mundell, Dr Michael Hunt and Dr Angus Strover, invented and developed an implantable expanding rivet, called a bollard. Today, over 30 years later, the bollard is still on the market, and over 60 000 of these medical devices have been sold over this period.
The bollard is used in conjunction with a prosthetic ligament for repair of cruciate ligaments in the knee. The device is made of carbon fibre reinforced polysulfone (a family of thermoplastics) and marketed from the United Kingdom. In 1984, the bollard received the Chairman’s Award for Excellence from the SABS Design Institute (at that time called the Shell Design Awards). It was also the first carbon fibre reinforced composite implant to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human surgery.
The device resulted from the CSIR’s investment in research on biomaterials with a focus on developing composite materials that were biomedically more compatible than the metals used for surgical implants at the time, without compromising strength.
Sales of the device started in 1984, via the CSIR’s technology commercialisation company, Technifin. In 1989, Peter Mundell left the CSIR and set up Fibretek Developments CC to manufacture the bollard.
Fibretek later became a private company (Fibretek Developments (Pty) Ltd), which still exists today. Since 1984, Fibretek has manufactured and sold over 60 000 bollards, the last sale being an order of 250 units in 2013.
Although Fibretek had two other main products over the years (the Optoscan Visual Field Scanner and the Cape Town Stereotactic Pointer), the bollard has been the mainstay of Fibretek’s sales over its 30-year lifespan.
Fibretek employment peaked at five staff members at the height of product development and sales. It was one of the first South African medical device manufacturing companies to develop export markets for its products.
“Very few companies, if any, can sustain themselves from income based on a single product, but Fibretek was fortunate to have had sufficient sales in the early years to be able to invest income into the development and commercialisation of other products,” says the company’s Peter Mundell.
Sean Moolman, Group Manager of Licensing and Ventures at the CSIR, says, “It is very unusual for a medical device to be on the market and still to be in demand after such a long period, but the bollard has succeeded in doing just that. The success of the product and the long-term sustainability of the manufacturing company is truly testament to the innovative design by its inventors at the CSIR, way back in the early 1980s.”