A hygienic keyboard is almost ready to go mass market

Following an innovation award win for its founder last fall, Cleankeys Inc. is gaining more attention and its third generation product release later this year may take its hygienic keyboard mass market.

“The original Cleankeys was designed as an infection control device for healthcare environments,” said Don McCormick, vice-president of strategic business development for the Edmonton-based company. “It’s a solid surface, touch-based keyboard that is easy to clean and disinfect.”

The company sells both glass and acrylic-surfaced models that work with most types of disinfectant. The keyboards have a wireless range of about 30 feet, according to the company, which currently holds one design patent and has several other U.S. and European patents pending.

Cleankeys was established three years ago and came out of Madentec Inc., a provider of assistive technology for people with physical disabilities, founded by Randy Marsden in the late 1980s. Marsden recently won a 2011 Manning Innovation Award in the medical category for the Cleankeys product.

Cleankeys also offers an easy to clean mouse as an accessory option for users who don’t like touchpads, but the product is manufactured by an OEM partner.

The product is most popular in the dental industry, where strict regulations exist around disinfecting the “splash zone,” or everything within a certain distance from a patient’s mouth. It was, in fact, because of a dentist’s concerns with this that the idea for Cleankeys came about.

The company’s third generation keyboard will be a corded model, as many hospital environments actually prefer them to a wireless option, McCormick said. The touchpad will also become a more prominent and reliable feature. “We’re going to try to convert those touchpad haters into touchpad users,” he said.

The new release will also include an “infection control monitoring system,” or a program that will use the sensors on the keyboard to provide information to a central location — such as an infection control officer in a healthcare environment — on when the keyboard needs to be cleaned, how often it has been cleaned and when.

Currently, the company sells through specialized distributors of dental and healthcare products. “The numbers of doors to knock on and that price point ($349) make it impractical for us to do direct sales,” he said.

“We were looking for companies that already had relationships in place with our target market,” he said. “This product represented a very cool, innovative add-on product to the products and services they were already offering. If we have an opportunity to expand our coverage in our core markets, we’ll look at any way of doing that.”

Recently, Cleankeys partnered with eight solution providers in the U.S., including New Jersey’s High Tech Innovations, that are focused on a mandated project to move all dental records to an electronic system by 2014. While overhauling dentists’ other IT and technology infrastructure, these partners are also including Cleankeys as part of their overall packages.

Related story: The next generation: Electronic Medical Records on the cloud

The product does have the potential to appeal to a larger market than the healthcare industry, though. McCormick gives the example of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. Keyboards are a key part of spreading a virus such as that one.

At the current $349 price point, resellers can expect margins of about 30 per cent, McCormick said. That price point isn’t very attractive yet to North American businesses who may not yet have the regulatory incentives to invest in an option like Cleankeys, he said.

About 70 per cent of Cleankeys’ business comes from the European market. “The reason has to do with the maturity of the healthcare space over in Europe,” McCormick explained. “Several (European) countries are extremely hygiene aware in the medical field and in fact, many have regulations in place that have put products like ours front and centre.”

Similar regulations aren’t yet as prominent in North America, where Cleankeys has about 15 per cent of its business. The remaining business is spread worldwide, especially in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

For the keyboard to be more attractive to the market here, the price point would need to be lower and hygiene regulations in healthcare would need to become even stricter. “I would expect that both of those things are going to happen,” he said. “Because Cleankeys is a relatively new product, our cost for manufacturing is as high as it will ever be.”

For its next generation of products, Cleankeys will also be moving its manufacturing offshore, most likely to China, which will lower its manufacturing costs considerably. “China has the largest number of options from a manufacturing point of view.”

Follow Harmeet Singh on Twitter: @HarmeetCDN.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Harmeet Singh
Harmeet Singh
Harmeet reports on channel partner programs, new technologies and products and other issues relevant to Canada's channel community. She also contributes as a video journalist, providing content for the site's original streaming video. Harmeet is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism.

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