October 09, 2012, Accutek Engineering Team
By: Michael Graham, Project Engineer
Are your medical devices prepared to withstand the intense heat of a pressure cooker? That’s the question that Accutek engineers have answered for many of our customers with the use of our in-house autoclave.
What is an autoclave and why is it awesome?
An autoclave is essentially a pressure cooker. Except instead of cooking hotdogs, the autoclave is used to sterilize medical instruments. The pressure vessel inside is an airtight container that traps steam from boiling water. The steam increases the pressure and the intense heat and pressure leaves no survivors… (no bacteria survivors, that is).
You will typically find these machines in dentist offices, tattoo parlors, or hospitals where surgical tool sterilization occurs on a daily basis. Autoclaves are also commonly used for pre-disposal treatment and sterilization of waste material, such as pathogenic hospital waste.
When testing implants or other client parts with an autoclave, some specimens are enfolded in one or more layers of sterilization wrap. The wrap is a highly permeable cloth, similar in texture to a thick paper towel. Special tape, which is used to seal the package shut, changes color to indicate that the parts have been cleaned. Sterilization wrap acts as a bacterial barrier to both airborne and waterborne contamination; so medical professionals can clean their tools and transport or store them afterwards without fear of contamination. Interestingly, the sterilization wrap does nothing to protect the microorganisms inside during the cleaning cycle because the sterilization is accomplished by the heat, and not by contact with the steam.
Our autoclave’s pressure chamber reaches nearly two times the pressure of our atmosphere, and temperatures over 120°C. Note that no toxic or reactive chemicals are necessary for the cleaning process!
Why should I have my product tested in an autoclave?
Customers whose products are intended for use in a sterile environment, namely medical devices, are usually the most interested in finding out how their product fares in an autoclave. Medical devices will ideally only be run through an autoclave once in their entire working life, except for instances where new devices are sterilized, but not used for surgery and may repeat the process later. However, surgical tools will often be autoclaved dozens, if not hundreds of times over the life of the tool. To determine exactly how the specimen reacts in the hot and steamy environment, the specimen is typically run through many autoclave cleaning cycles to amplify the effects. After multiple cycles, it’s easy to see if the specimen is deforming, changing colors, or otherwise being altered mechanically.
Accutek has automated the sterilization process so that cleaning cycles can be run one after another without human intervention. This translates into quicker test results for our customers!