When ordering trays for the pharmacological and medical industries, two of the most common material choices for these trays are stainless steel and plastic. In most respects, surgical stainless steel vastly outperforms plastic for medical trays in terms of durability, ease of sterilization, useful life, and resistance to absorption.
Plastic trays have one major advantage over stainless steel medical trays: initial cost. However, despite the difference in upfront expense, stainless steel trays are still the right choice over plastic trays for several reasons.
The Durability of Stainless Steel
Most plastics cannot take much in the way of stress compared to even the “softest” steel alloys. While high tensile strength is rarely an issue in most medical applications, impact tolerance, scratch resistance, and thermal tolerance are. And, in each of these areas, stainless steel trays far outperform their plastic equivalents.
Sharp scalpels and other tools can easily create gouges in plastic trays—gouges that become havens for stray fluids and bacteria that can cause infections. Steel trays are much more resistant to getting scratched.
Stainless Steel’s Ease of Sterilization
Because of their higher temperature tolerances and smooth surface finish (especially when electropolished), stainless steel trays are much easier to thoroughly sterilize than plastic trays. Sterilization operation temperatures that would melt plastic trays would cause no damage to a steel tray. This can help kill bacteria and viruses that are resistant to chemical-based sterilization methods.
The CDC generally prescribes steam sterilization temperatures between 121°C (250°F) and 132°C (270°F). These temperatures are significantly higher than the maximum use temperature for most polymers, which is around 74°C (165°F).
Also, the smooth surface of electropolished stainless steel make it incredibly difficult for fluids and other contaminants to adhere to the tray—which makes removing such contaminants much easier and more reliable.
Cost Benefits Over Time
Because plastics are susceptible to absorbing fluids over time, they’ll become discolored and contaminated over time. Also, their susceptibility to becoming scratched or cracked following an impact further limits their useful life. In fact, many plastic medical trays are designed as single-use items to be used once and thrown away because of these flaws.
Stainless steel medical trays, on the other hand, have a much longer useful life because of their general resistance to cracking, scratching, and fluid absorption. This expanded useful life leads to a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Even though the initial cost of plastic trays is lower than a stainless steel equivalent, the cost over time may be higher. Consider this: If a stainless steel tray costs $500 and lasts for ten years, that’s a cost of $50/year. But, if a plastic tray costs $5 and has to be thrown out after each use, and you average just one operation with it a week, that’s $260/year, or $2,600 TCO for the same 10 years—more than 5x the expense.
Corrosion-Resistant Properties of Stainless Steel
Stainless steel medical trays have a longer lifespan than plastic due to their corrosive-resistant properties as well. While stainless steel resists corrosion in atmospheric and pure water environments, high-alloyed steel grades also resist corrosion from most acids, alkaline solutions and chlorine environments. In contrast, most plastics cannot last long in caustic environments and have very limited corrosion resistance overall.
The ability to resist caustic solutions is essential for medical trays since body fluids and medical solvents are corrosives. While generic stainless steel can resist contact with corrosives such as body fluids, Grade 316 stainless steel is especially resistant to chlorides that would damage regular steel.
In comparison with plastic, or cheaper metals such as aluminum, steel trays are very strong and are more resistant to damage from an accidental drop.
Sustainability of Stainless Steel
More and more businesses and institutions have been adopting an environmentally-conscious perspective than ever before. Surveys indicate the average consumer’s growing support of sustainable practices. For instance, the Harvard Business Review reported that over the past five years, 90% of sustainability-marked products had grown faster than their conventional counterparts. The verdict is clear: consumers are voting for more sustainable practices and they’re voting with their dollars.
When compared to steel, plastic is a very unsustainable product. When plastic trays are disposed of, they are either thrown into the trash or sent to a recycling center (if the plastic is even reusable). However, there will always be some waste created by the recycling process. By using the same stainless steel trays for years, you can minimize the waste generated by your company, improving your reputation for eco-friendliness.
Additionally, steel is a more sustainable option due to plastic’s lesser longevity. Plastic breaks down much faster when compared to steel. Since most plastics come from petroleum, it’s also an often-imported and non-renewable resource.
Altogether, for cost over time, eco-friendliness, durability, sterility, and overall toughness, stainless steel medical makes for the most durable and efficient tray for the medical field. Whether you need an instrument tray for surgical equipment in the operating room, or a cart to hold dental tools, Marlin Steel can meet your needs.
Learn more about how you can benefit from using stainless steel medical trays by contacting the experts at Marlin Steel! We’re happy to help you find the perfect custom tray to meet your needs—and have years of experience in helping others in the medical industry.