If you worry about germs on ATM touch screens, or your customers do, a Massachusetts manufacturer has something for you.

Microtouch Systems Inc., of Methuen bonds a microbe-killing chemical to its ClearTek line of touch screens, turning them into CleanScreens. There is no extra charge.

The selling point is consumer interest in antibacterial products. From 1992 to 1998 the number of consumer products labeled "antibacterial" grew 572%, to 242, a Microtouch white paper says.

"It makes our product better and differentiates it in the market," says Alice Moran, director of product marketing.

Microtouch started shipping CleanScreens - which cost no more than their germy counterparts - in February 1999 to manufacturers of ATMs, video-game equipment, and cash registers.

Some consultants, including Alan Pohlman, view CleanScreen as a solution to a nonexistent problem.

Mr. Pohlman, executive vice president of Carmody & Bloom Inc., a Ridgewood, N.J., consulting firm, said he has never seen any research indicating that consumers have a real problem with microbes on touch screens.

However, since the antimicrobial feature cost nothing extra, "there doesn't seem to be a downside," he said. "It may present a small differentiation,"

Microtouch developed the technology with Aegis Environmental Management Inc. of Midland, Mich. That company's Microbe Shield coating, which is said to rupture the membranes of most bacteria on contact, is bonded to the surface of Microtouch's ClearTek screens, one of three lines the company makes for ATMs.

Microtouch says the bonding has been tested for up to 200 million touches and should last the life of the screen.

Ms. Moran said CleanScreen demand has stepped up recently, and 10,000 have been shipped in the last six months.

Diebold Inc. of Canton, Ohio, uses Microtouch as its exclusive screen vendor. Of the more than 35,000 ATMs that Diebold shipped last year, about 10% had touch screens, the company said. It expects that number to be closer to 15% this year as more banks demand touch-screen ATMs.

Many of Diebold's machines will have the antimicrobial technology, said Tiffini Bloniarz, a Diebold spokeswoman.

"This is a nice add-on feature," she said. "It is something that customers like, and it is good for high-traffic conditions."

Ms. Moran said there is growing consumer demand for hygienic products, partly in response to some disturbing studies about hygiene in public places. There will always be skeptics, she said, "but there will also be people who believe that if we can eliminate one more location where bacteria breeds, that's an improvement."


Mr. Quittner, a former American Banker reporter, is a freelance writer in New York.

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