Operating rooms are getting more crowded. Along with surgeons, nurses and other personnel, space needs to be made for more robots and other advanced diagnostic imaging and surgical equipment.

Having more equipment in the rooms also means more sterilization needs to keep patient infections down. Cleaning the equipment between each procedure is an option. Another is to use protective barriers that are replaced after each procedure, which reduces the wear and tear and also takes less time.

Ecolab, a long-time vendor for health care facilities' cleaning and sanitization needs, opened a 22,000-square-foot Advance Design Center in Eagan this week to collaborate with medical device companies on those sterilization solutions.

The St. Paul-based company says the new center is designed to deliver prototypes and then continue with corrections or modifications so new products can get to market quickly.

"We can provide assurance that the infection prevention is done effectively but also efficiently so that more of the health care providers' time and energy and resources can be focused on patient care," said Catherine Draper, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Ecolab's Global Healthcare.

The Twin Cities is one of the hubs for the device industry, allowing for closer geographic relationships with those businesses, but the center has video conferencing and presentation rooms.

The key features are a maker space, an advanced machine shop and a metrology and testing space. In addition, there is a 9,600-square-foot ISO-8 clean room for assembly and packaging.

Some of the more complex robotic surgical equipment move and operate in multiple dimensions that require custom drapes that don't interfere with the operation of the machine and can be swiftly removed and replaced. Some machines might need a single drape, while others might need multiple drapes packaged in a kit.

Ecolab is a $12 billion per year provider of clean water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services. Its Global Healthcare and Life Sciences segment is responsible for about 10% of total revenue. In 2020, the segment sales grew 21% to $1.2 billion and operating income rose 67% to $208 million.

Ecolab's products are used in more than 8,700 hospitals in over 90 countries. The products, among other things, were used to help process 2.8 billion surgical instruments.

COVID-19 increased sales of the segment's hand and surface disinfection and sanitization products in 2020, but some sales to hospitals and surgery centers were down as people elected to defer elective surgeries. Those elective procedures are bouncing back, and in the process, accelerating trends of using robotic and advanced imaging and diagnostic equipment.

Ecolab already makes the barriers and drapes that will continue to be developed in Eagan.

But partnering with the medical device makers earlier in the new product cycle will help deliver new products faster.

"Its been a project that's been under discussion for some time as this part of our business grows and as we see the innovation in this industry grow," Draper said.

Ecolab secured the new space in December and spent the spring and summer building out and equipping the new space. The new maker space, machine room and testing center are modular and customizable for each particular project and are equipped with, among other equipment, the latest 3-D printers, a CNC machine and laser-cutters.