An Albuquerque physician teamed with a Sandia National Laboratories engineer to improve the design of doctors' trauma shears so emergency personnel can get to the injuries they need to treat more quickly. “Sometimes seconds count. This product will make a difference for the medical community,” said Mark Reece of Sandia’s Multiscale Metallurgical Science & Technology group. “It’s neat to see something come out of Sandia that will save lives.”

Fig. 1 – Albuquerque emergency room physician Scott Forman, left, and Sandia engineer Mark Reece look over a prototype set of improved trauma shears they worked on together. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Reece worked with Scott Forman, an emergency room physician and CEO of the Albuquerque startup Héros, formerly known as EMvolution, to improve the performance and durability of trauma shears — the go-to tool for responders in the first seconds of a crisis. The shears must cut through a wide range of materials, from denim to leather to Kevlar, to expose wounds for treatment.

Reece and Forman joined forces through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) Program, which pairs entrepreneurs with scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. The state-funded program was established in 2000 by the New Mexico Legislature to help small businesses get technical support from the labs. It has provided $29.8 million in assistance to 1,876 companies in 33 counties. The help is free of charge to the business.

Smarter, more durable trauma shears was something Forman had imagined and tinkered with in his garage for years. He has a background in mountaineering and wilderness medicine and was frustrated by the flimsy, disposable construction of typical trauma shears. “They are imprecise and made of cheap, shoddy materials with a blade that dulls quickly,” he said. “People just throw them away.”

They also get lost. “It’s not at all uncommon to have a patient come into the ER and everybody starts looking for their darn trauma shears,” Forman said. “They’re hard to keep track of. You can’t find them.”

Forman fitted the handle of his first homemade shears with an integrated carabiner that clips onto a belt. He attached it to a standard manufactured set of trauma shears blades coated with titanium nitrate for a sharper, longer-lasting edge. And he personalized the shears with laser engraving so if they got lost, they’d find their way back.

Fig. 2 – Physician Scott Forman's prototype trauma shears has an ergonomic handle with an integrated carabiner, a proprietary blade design and various attachments, some recommended by emergency medical technicians. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Forman founded a company in 2008, applied for a patent and made 1,100 pairs in his spare time while working as a University of New Mexico resident in emergency medicine. “They just caught on from word of mouth,” he said. “Most of the EMTs (emergency medical technicians) in New Mexico carry some version of my early trauma shears. I started to think this could work.”

But Forman needed serious help to produce the top-notch shears he envisioned and believed he could sell in bulk to global customers in military, medical, emergency and other fields. He met flight paramedic Daniel Barela, who had brought a product to prototype through NMSBA with his company Trinity Medical. Barela was intrigued by Forman’s trauma shears, introduced him to the NMSBA and joined his business. They applied to NMSBA for help. In December 2010, Forman was directed to Reece — and stopped making shears in his garage.

“I took Mark our first-generation product and told him we needed help with the material selection for the blades and the blade design so the shears could cut through a more robust set of materials,” Forman said.

He handed Reece about 15 materials that emergency personnel typically face, including Kevlar from bulletproof vests, loose gauze, diapers, fiberglass, and plaster, all with different densities and compositions. He also gave Reece a variety of blades.

“We wanted Mark to determine if there was one blade design that would give the most bang for the buck,” Forman said. “And Mark, the genius that he is, did it.”

How it Works

Reece studied the best shears from all over the world, focusing on why some worked better than others and why none worked well on synthetic fibers such as Kevlar, ballistic nylons, and polyethylenes. He tested all the blades on all the materials. “The failures were very reproducible,” Reece said. “I began to see a trend of what worked and why.”

He researched the literature on cutting with scissor blades. “I drew in material on everything from hairstylists to fabric manufacturers and tried to assemble a picture of what was going on here,” he said. “I got out the microscope and video camera and examined what happens as each blade attempts to cut fabric.”