Cataract Surgery Scalpel

User Research, Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, Design Research, Design & Innovation Strategy, Engineering Analysis & Optimization

New safety elements for a cataract surgery scalpel prevent sharps injuries without compromising quality, ease of use, or accuracy.

Bursts of targeted research delivered the catalysts to rethink and redesign what doctors and nurses have come to expect from a safety knife.

Research drove a holistic, safety-focused product design strategy for the world leader in ophthalmic knives — a cataract surgery scalpel that skirts broad patents and meets manufacturing requirements.

The ClearCut™ S Safety Series safety scalpel is a disposable incisional instrument used during cataract surgery. 

The patented retractable blade guard protects doctors and nurses from accidental sharps injuries; reducing injuries and minimizing the potential spread of infectious disease. Intuitive single-handed activation enables protection with minimal change to typical workflow.


More than three million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year. And with each procedure performed with traditional scalpels, there is risk of accidental sharps injury while passing the scalpel from assistant to surgeon. The CDC estimates “between 600,000 and 800,000 needle sticks and other percutaneous injuries occur among healthcare workers annually.” Speed and safety are paramount for the patient and medical staff.

One-on-one interviews with nurses and surgeons plus observation of pre-surgery prep and more than a dozen surgeries identified safety issues that we mitigated with proactive design solutions, including clear tactile and audible feedback about the activation and state of the shielding mechanism. Surgeons’ eyes are focused on the view through a binocular microscope while rapidly using and transferring scalpels and other sharps with an assistant to perform incisions that only take a few seconds.

They need to be able to detect whether or not they’ve retracted or activated the scalpel shield without removing their eyes from the microscope.

Usability testing with realistic prototypes identified immediate risk factors, and ergonomic analysis determined risk of injuries from long-term, repetitive tool use. Resulting features include an ambidextrous orientation to accommodate a range of grips and a prominent activation button that can be accessed singlehandedly with either the thumb or pointer finger. For ease of use, an anti-roll rib prevents the round tool from rolling into a facedown position on the prep table, and a non-slip grip helps guide it into position.

Novel housing and casework skirt competitors’ overly broad patents, and, as an extension of Alcon’s reputable ClearCut™ incisional platform, our integrated team of industrial designers, researchers, and engineers optimized the design for efficient manufacturing.


The design, consisting of low-cost materials and few parts, met the client’s manufacturing requirements and resulted in a successful and affordable final product. And the unique look and feel – thanks to the bi-color split housing and emphasis on tactile and audible design – gave Alcon an outstanding product and brand identification in the marketplace. In 2012 the product won an IDEA Silver from IDSA and was named a Notable in Core77’s Design Awards.

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