There’s a one-question test to see if the autoclave supplier you’re talking to is doing right by you:
“Can you send me a quote for your 150 liter front loading autoclave?”
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, if he or she answers with a “Yes”–that’s a bad sign. If there are no follow-up questions–or, Heaven forbid, he or she launches right into a sales pitch for their “service contract”–run!
Have a Long Talk With Your Autoclave Supplier
As a rule, a quick sales call with an autoclave supplier is not a good thing. A proper Requirements Analysis takes more than a few minutes, and should consist of questions that address both the equipment and the environment in which it will operate.
Although there are many tasks for which autoclaves are basically interchangeable, when the wrong equipment is specified, the initial purchase cost of the autoclave can be dwarfed by its maintenance costs.
For example, a responsible sterilizer supplier will always ask about your water source and quality. While the greater Chicago area has excellent city water (as well as excellent research institutions and hospitals), much of central Illinois’s water is high in mineral content (so called “hard water”). For many applications this is totally inconsequential, but a hard water supply can be very damaging to an autoclave’s plumbing and seals. On the other hand, a poorly maintained water softener can introduce enough chloride into the water to cause chloride stress corrosion in the 304 or 316L stainless steel pressure vessels used in steam autoclaves. A “standard” autoclave being fed hard water will likely need to be rebuilt quarterly–by a supplier-certified technician.
Avoid Entering a “Service Relationship” with Your Autoclave Supplier
The unfortunate truth is that if you don’t get the right product to begin with, you’ll likely end up in a “service relationship” that, over the lifetime of the autoclave, will cost many times the unit’s purchase price. Such long-term service relationships can be great for the sterilizer supplier–who will be selling you service and parts for your sterilizer well into the next decade–but aren’t necessarily what’s best for your research or lab.
Your autoclave isn’t an off-the-shelf item; any issue–from hard water in a metropolitan suburb to unreliable power supplies at a remote research camp–should be fully explored with your autoclave supplier long before anyone asks you to issue a purchase order.