Watlow’s innovative cartridge heaters help warm premature infants

Watlow’s innovative application of well-established cartridge heaters has helped a leading medical devices manufacturer in Germany develop a stand-out, high-performance incubator to warm premature infants. The engineering and manufacturing experience, adaptability, established technologies and innovative approach Watlow is able to deliver can make a significant difference for manufacturers of medical devices and help improve patients quality of life.

Maintaining a constant temperature is critical for premature infants

It is critical for premature infants to maintain a constant temperature and a high-performance, safe and reliable heating system to circulate warmth in an incubator is of crucial importance. Premature babies normally have little body fat and can struggle to regulate their own temperature. Infants can lose body heat four times faster than adults, and if a baby’s skin temperature drops just one degree, the baby’s oxygen use can increase by 10 percent. In addition, a premature baby may use up its entire energy reserve gained from feedings just to stay warm.

Watlow’s cartridge heaters rise to the challenge of warming premature infants safely

In neonatal intensive care units, keeping an infant’s temperature stable is a challenge when doctors and nurses are treating these small patients. A well-known company based in Germany, has been working closely with Watlow for about four years to develop a new line of infant incubators that provides the constant temperature these small babies require.

The enterprise manufactures medical devices for hospitals as well as safety products for emergency services, law enforcement, mining and industry. The company’s Babyleo TN500 IncuWarmer brings new technology to improve care for premature infants.

Torsten Roth, key account manager in Germany said:

“In a former device, they used a ceramic heater in the reflector. The infant beds are rolled around a lot and when they hit doorways, it would shake the bed and break the ceramic heater. Obviously, they don’t want pieces of the heater to fall on the babies.”

The new incubator provides multiple sources of heat to keep each baby’s temperature constant. They approached Watlow’s former site in Kronau, Germany to provide a pair of FIREROD® cartridge heaters for each reflector over the infant to provide heat when the lid of the incubator is opened for access to the baby. The work was eventually shifted to Watlow in St. Louis where development has continued during several rounds of testing.

Watlow taking an innovative approach with an established product line of cartridge heaters

The reflector uses radiant heat to provide a constant 37 degrees Celsius temperature for the infant. In the warmup stage of the device, the heaters ramp up to 600°C. To ensure efficient heat transfer to the infant, the surface of the FIREROD heaters are blackened by lasers to improve the emissivity of the heaters. The laser blackening of a cartridge heater is a good example of Watlow being innovative with a well established product.

There is better radiant heat transfer from a black surface compared to a shiny metal one. A St. Louis company does the blackening of the heaters with a laser, meaning there is no paint or covering to flake off above the baby over time. Additionally, parts are only shipped to Germany once after all the work on the heaters is completed in St. Louis. During reliability testing, engineers changed the pin wire inside the cartridge heaters to prolong the life of the product.

A testing and development approach helps medical device manufacturers improve their products

Watlow’s customer also had a requirement for the heaters to have low linkage current. The FIRERODS have an 8 mm core inside a 10 mm sheath. By reducing the diameter of the ceramic wind core, the distance between the element wire and the metal sheath increased.

That’s important because it allows more ceramic fill material which increases the thickness of the dielectric layer. That in turn reduces the linkage current.

Torsten added:

“Testing is very crucial in this application because the equipment is all about helping small babies.”

“Our client has other suppliers for cartridge heaters, but none of them could meet this high performance application. Watlow has shown through the testing and development that we have the engineering team and the manufacturing capability to make it happen.”

More about Watlow

Watlow is a global technology and manufacturing leader that provides world-class engineering expertise and innovative thermal products and systems that enable customers to thrive. Since being founded in 1922, Watlow has grown in product capability, market experience and global reach and now holds more than 450 patents and employs 2,000 employees working in nine manufacturing facilities and three technology centers in North America, Europe and Asia.

With sales offices in 50 countries around the world, the company continues to grow, while the commitment remains the same – to provide its customers with superior products and services for their specific needs. Watlow brings its experience to numerous industries, including semiconductor processing, environmental chambers, energy processes, diesel emissions, medical and food service equipment.


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