Whoever thought there could be so many different kinds of swabs, aka, tipped applicators?
Most people only know of the kinds of swabs used to clean ears. Invented in the 1920s, Leo Gerstenzang thought to attach wads of cotton to toothpicks (Q-Tips). This little idea has since grown into a billion-dollar industry and evolved far beyond swabs for cleaning ears.
Most likely you’ve used some kind of swab or at least seen them used; for instance, swabbing the inside of someone’s mouth to get a cell sample for DNA testing.
Today, there are hundreds of different kinds of tipped applicators being used in various areas including medical, diagnostic, industrial and forensic, to name just a few. To further the point, the largest manufacturer of swabs, Puritan, presently makes 1094 different types of swabs.
A swab is not just a swab anymore.
Highly specialized swabs can actually be quite complicated to make, depending on the environment in which they’ll be used. Considerations such as length, width, color, scored or not scored, flexible, foam, or polyester must be decided upon, as well as, the manufacturer’s capabilities, i.e., machinery, workforce and equipment needed to produce them.
In the electronic assembly industry, workers use a multitude of different kinds of tipped applicators every day to perform very defined jobs and sometimes critical tasks, such as those performed in cleanrooms.
What may seem like mundane actions, like applying glue or cleaning a particular area of a circuit board, suddenly become critical operations. Should the wrong kind of swab for the job be used, the consequences can be extensive and expensive. An entire cleanroom can be jeopardized by just one little swab.
The standard of all things.
Furthermore, using the right kind of swab can potentially determine the difference between life and death, certainly when collecting samples of life-threatening viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically states the kind of Puritan swab that must be used during the Macrofoam Swab Procedure when sampling Bacillus anthracis –
Macrofoam swab, sterile, 3/16 inch thick medical-grade polyurethane foam head, 100 pores per inch, thermally bonded to a polypropylene stick (such as the Sterile Foam Tipped Applicators Scored with Thumb Stop [Puritan, Guilford, Maine; catalog number 25-1607 1PF SC] or equivalent)
Because of the myriad of industries needing swabs and the critical nature of some of the jobs they perform, different entities have created stringent standards to safeguard against irrevocable and possibly deadly mistakes. For instance, the kinds of swabs used in cleanrooms, where levels of all kinds of contamination must be continually controlled.
The implications of saying something as simple as, “I’ll probably need a swab for that,” become much more intricate when considering where, how and why it will be used.
Want to sample some swabs?
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