Modern Microbiology Lab Autoclaves: Safer and More Convenient
At one time the average “microbiology lab autoclave” wasn’t just similar to grandma’s pressure cooker—it was the exact same appliance. Even as they became their own specialized piece of lab gear, most autoclaves were little more than a pressure cooker with a built in heater and timer.
Modern research-grade microbiology lab autoclaves—with modern programmable control systems—have made huge performance improvements, which have brought with them huge leaps in efficiency, safety, and reliability.
Research-Optimized Microbiology Lab Autoclave Controllers Increase Productivity
Most microbiology research labs regularly run two types of cycles: growth culture media preparation and and waste processing. Our own experience, backed by industry data from several studies, indicate that the majority of microbiology labs run only a single cycle during any given work day. We’ve also found that many facilities share their microbiology lab autoclaves with several teams, which places scheduling and coordination at a premium.
Subsequently, we’ve designed our Tactrol programmable control system to make these primary tasks as easy as possible to schedule and complete:
- Delayed Start lets you set the time at which your sterilization program begins, up to 24 hours in advance. Load the autoclave, set the timer, push START, and come in the next morning to a cool autoclave ready to unload.
- Media Warming can be added to any program. Immediately after the sterilization cycle finishes, the autoclave cools to 45ºC, then cycles the chamber between 45ºC and 55ºC until the door is opened. This keeps nutrient media both sterile and ready-to-pour for hours (even over night), with no risk of a spoiled batch.
- Rapid Cooling is a standard feature. It can be added to any cycle, and has both Immediate and Delayed Start modes (the former reduces the chamber temperature as quickly as possible, while the latter permits the chamber to first gradually cool to 100ºC before rapid cooling begins, in order to minimize the possibility of evaporation or boil over of sensitive loads)
- An optional Post-Cycle Vacuum can be added to any Priorclave research autoclave. This makes it possible to add Vacuum Cooling or Vacuum Drying stages to any sterilization cycle. While not suitable for all tasks, the Post-Cycle Vacuum function can greatly shorten the cooling period following the sterilization stage and produce very dry loads. Call us for details.
Microbiology Lab Autoclaves: Slower is Safer
An occasional complaint is that today’s most advanced microbiology lab autoclave are slow—and that’s certainly the case on paper: Door closed to door open, research-grade autoclave cycles are longer than they’ve been in the past.
Although steam autoclaves harness high-pressure steam, a chamber rupture (which could easily prove deadly) is incredibly rare. But burns—often quite severe—can be extremely common, especially with older style autoclaves. This is why every Priorclave autoclave has long been outfitted with a permission-based door release system with both thermal and pressure interlocks. Under normal operating conditions it’s impossible to inadvertently open a Priorclave mid-cycle or under unsafe conditions.
Over the years, many regulatory agencies and bodies have created statutes and guidelines to help assure safe autoclave operation and decrease the possibility of dangerous operator error. The general trend has been to specify sterilizers that produce dry (or, at least, dryer) finished loads while lowering the maximum temperature at which the door will open (the cycle’s “completion temperature”). Although the actual sterilization dwell time has remained the same, the cooling period after the sterilization cycle is complete has continued to grow longer.
The upshot: Any autoclave you buy today will have a noticeably longer total cycle time than a comparable unit installed in the 1990s. It will also produce read-to-use loads, and be significantly safer to operate—even by less-trained lab techs. But few people notice the accidents that don’t occur, just the waiting they endure on a daily basis.
Addressing Slow Microbiology Lab Autoclaves Cycle Speeds
Although this seems like an annoyance (at best) and a huge time-suck (at worst), it’s important to underscore that scalding and steam burns can be quite severe—especially given how often autoclave doors are mounted at face, chest, or waist level. The increased safety that comes with lower completion temperatures without a doubt prevents injury.
Additionally, these increased total cycle times only rarely disrupt daily microbiology lab tasks: Both industry data and our own experience indicate that the majority of microbiology labs run only a single cycle during any given work day. Our anecdotal experience is that the primary source of microbiology lab slow-downs isn’t the total autoclave cycle length, but unscheduled down-time for maintenance and repairs (which is why we’ve gone out of our way to design and manufacture an autoclave that’s easy to maintain and service).
But what about that small percentage of labs that must run several cycles each day?
The good news: Properly programming a combination of Delayed Start, Media Warming, and Rapid Cooling—all standard features on every Priorclave research autoclave—can keep total cycle times reasonable for most microbiology labs. Don’t hesitate to contact us for advice on the best programming for your tasks; every Priorclave comes with free lifetime technical support.
Even better news: Priorclave’s thermal interlocks can be manually overridden at any time, during any program (see your Operating Manual for details). If you regularly need to shorten total cycle times, a trained Priorclave service technician can raise the completion temperature and lower completion time on a program-by-program basis (as allowed by local regulation). Contact us for details.