Using innovation to save lives and alleviate suffering.

Steam sterilizer (autoclave)

Steam sterilizer (autoclave)
  • @ Ludovic Gonet

    @ Ludovic Gonet
  • @ Andreas Larsson

    @ Andreas Larsson
  • © Sterimed

    © Sterimed
  • @ Andreas Larsson

    @ Andreas Larsson

Many medical devices are reusable and have to be sterilized after use in order to prevent healthcare associated infections. Autoclaves, i.e. sterilizer machines using high-pressure saturated steam, are crucial to achieve effective and safe surgical activities in the field. With surgical activities in MSF requiring increasingly complex surgical instruments – e.g. tubular instruments – the demands on autoclaves continue to grow. Sterilization quality aside, autoclaves should use less water and energy per cycle, be more time-efficient, and be robust and easy to use and maintain in situations where technical support and training is lacking. This innovation project explores a new autoclave concept to complement current autoclaves in field settings where power supply is more reliable.

The project includes multidisciplinary collaboration between several actors, with MSF Sweden Innovation Unit as coordinator and biomedical and infection control referents from the MSF Operational Centre in Brussels as problem owners. Interviews and questionnaires were used to gain insights into the needs of referents, surgeons, nurses, mobile implementation officers, and field workers. Sterilization experts with both field and research backgrounds were consulted to bring in the latest sterilization research findings along with complementary experiences from Ministry of Health (MoH) settings in resource-poor settings. Universities were involved to design new autoclave concepts and explore potential failure modes on existing heater elements. Finally, a manufacturer was brought in to do detail design and prototyping.

The autoclave was installed at the MSF’s training and innovation centre in Brussels, Espace Bruno Corbé (EBC), where initial tests showed that the prototype improves the water efficiency with at least 70% compared to reference autoclaves. Also, average cycle completion time has been reduced with at least 50%. Using an electronic testing system (i.e. 3M ETS) as a complement to Bowie-Dick tests, the sterilization cycle has been redesigned to achieve full steam penetration also in tubular instruments.

Apart from the advantages regarding time and resource efficiency, a significant outcome is the improved understanding of sterilization quality that has evolved. Designing a machine that can promise the highest level of sterilization is obviously important, but the innovation project has also allowed the MSF Operational Centre in Brussels to more thoroughly assess its own protocols when it comes to sterilization.


Initiation Development Implementation
Completed Completed Ongoing
A thorough needs and requirements analysis has been performed, together with theoretical and experimental analysis to find the reasons behind broken autoclave heater elements. MSF Innovation Unit was responsible for coordinating the development of a concept for a new autoclave to address the above and other requirements. A first prototype was designed, which did then undergo assessment and evaluation at Espace Bruno Corbé (EBC) in Brussels during Q1 2016. Field tests in Tabarre, Haiti, are ongoing and will be completed during Q3 2017.

Case Owner:

MSF Biomedical Working Group (Case referent is the biomedical referent from Operational Centre Brussels, OCB)


  • Sterimed S.A., Lausanne, Switzerland
  • MDS, Chambly, France
  • Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Delft, The Netherlands
  • Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden
  • Lambda Projects, The Netherlands
  • HEART Consultancy, Renkum, The Netherlands
  • 3M, The Netherlands & Sweden



This video is part of an F1000Research channel that includes posters, slides and videos from the MSF Scientific Days in London, May 20-21, 2016. To see more please visit:


External financial support provided by Postkodlotteriet.


Andreas Larsson, Case Manager