Being in charge of setting up a laboratory is a daunting task, and involves tackling the demanding ordeal of sourcing the latest computers, the shiniest benches, the most advanced equipment, and a trusty autoclave. Autoclaves are an essential piece of equipment for the majority of biology laboratories, and choosing the incorrect one can be a costly decision. This process can be lengthy and confusing; autoclaves come in many shapes, sizes, capacities, and styles. So how exactly is a facilities manager supposed to make an informed decision while balancing all their other responsibilities? Easy; they can read this post which outlines autoclaves, their features, and how to choose one!

Determining your Sterilization needs; Autoclave Size.

When deciding on your sterilization needs, ask yourself and/or your users what types of objects will be sterilized. This could include glassware, tools, bioreactors, liquid media, fermentation devices, etc. It’s important to ensure that your largest items will be able to fit inside the autoclave chamber. Autoclave sizes are typically measured in liters, measuring the total volume of the inside of the chamber. Keep in mind, however, that effective chamber volume is usually lower than the described volume and should be a factor in your evaluation.

Another valid consideration is to measure the exact capacity per cycle of the autoclave to determine throughput. To determine this, simply consider the configuration of the autoclave you have in mind, the types, sizes, and quantities of the items being sterilized, and the effective volume. Be sure to double-check the number of items that will fit, as this a very important determinant of throughput. Once these three values are determined, you can understand the effective throughput; and then be able to decide on the size of the autoclave you need, should you require a different output.

It’s important to realize that the size and type of autoclave you choose can have a large effect on your lab’s efficiency. One must consider the frequency of loads, time per cycle, load size, and the number of users before making a decision. If your lab has a steady throughput requirement, you might benefit from having several medium-sized autoclaves, and by staggering use, you can ensure a high throughput. Having a large single autoclave might be appealing at first, but any malfunctions, breakdowns, or maintenance can cause a huge drop in efficiency.

Determining your Installation Utilities and Compatibility

Autoclaves can have varying voltage requirements, so your electricity source and input is an important consideration. Some autoclaves require up to 240V outlets, which aren’t as accessible as standard 120V outlets. Access to water and/or steam are also essential to an autoclave’s functionality. Traditional autoclaves require an external water main or steam main to work. Others, however, might not require a water intake and can simply function with water that is added into the chamber. If you have an autoclave in mind, be sure to check its installation requirements and compatibility with your water and electricity inputs.

In addition to ensuring compatibility, it’s crucial to determine installation needs. Outside of the cost of the actual unit, it can be costly in terms of the time and money it takes to install your autoclave. Should your autoclave require a steam intake, a water drainage solution, or a higher voltage to function, these can easily drive up your total costs. Aside from this, a large in-the-wall autoclave requires a fair amount of square footage to be functional at optimal output, making it a tough decision should your laboratory space be limited. Choosing the right autoclave that is compatible with your facility and is easy to install can save you a lot of time and space!

Determining your Total Costs Over Time

Finally, choosing an autoclave comes down to the total cost of ownership, not just the upfront costs of the unit itself. It’s important to mention that as a facilities manager, your costs don’t go away as soon as you’ve purchased your new autoclave. There are maintenance costs, breakdown costs, and replacement costs that will inevitably come up. Autoclaves are robust devices, but the combination of high usage and the elements, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your autoclave will need some maintenance every now and then. Regular upkeep involves replacing parts, paying a technician, and managing costs during downtime.

Typically, autoclave gaskets are the most commonly replaced item. The cost of replacing gaskets can run up to a few thousand dollars during ownership if gaskets need to be replaced often. Gaskets typically require changing due to the intense heat and pressure that develops during a cycle, subjecting gaskets to harsh conditions. Of course, gasket design and material quality determine the frequency of required changes, but gaskets that are changed often will only serve to drive up your costs, even though the per-part cost might initially seem cheap. A well functioning gasket ensures autoclave longevity and has a lower likelihood of breaking. Choosing an autoclave that is easy to maintain, and has low costs over time can save you a lot of time and money!

Conclusion

When choosing an autoclave, keeping in mind your costs over time, your facility’s utilities, and the throughput requirements can help you make an informed decision. One of our products, the TOMY SX Series autoclaves provides a lot of great benefits while keeping costs down. It features a top-loading autoclave, that requires just water to get up and running. The gaskets themselves are typically replaced once every three years, keeping costs over time to a minimal. With a minimal installation investment, easy to use, and a robust build, the TOMY SX Series autoclaves should be able to meet all of your needs with ease.

Should you need any more information regarding TOMY autoclaves, or just have some questions regarding features, repair and maintenance of autoclaves, please feel free to reach out to us at tomy@amuzainc.com. Alternatively, you can fill out this contact form as well, and we can get back to you shortly.