Last Updated on April 29, 2021
The Start-Up Autoclave: What You’re Up Against
Let me start by describing a scenario that may sound familiar to you: You’re working at a biotech startup or small laboratory. You’ve been tasked with buying basic lab equipment. You’re looking at autoclaves and you’re not impressed with the options. Too big. Too small. Not enough throughput. Too much of a pain to maintain and deal with repairs. Too expensive…and way too expensive.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, I’ll be talking about how to find the ideal autoclave for startups and small labs. I will cover features to look for, as well as how to save money and time in the short and long term, which are both extremely important for startups.
As you embark on your autoclave search, you probably have many criteria, but it basically boils down to an autoclave that is:
- Large capacity
- Accommodates large items (large bottles, bioreactors, etc.)
- Easy to install
- Easy to maintain
- Won’t break the bank with maintenance, repairs, and other headaches
Let’s look at the options below and see how they hold up.
Option: The Bench-Top Autoclave
After you have your checklist, you look at your options- the first one that you’ll probably come across is the benchtop autoclave.
These look like a large microwave oven that sits on the benchtop with the door on the front. Compact and convenient, right? When you take a closer look, you’ll see that they come with many disadvantages.
For one, they don’t fit much inside. When you open one up, you’ll see that there’s a box-shaped area sitting in a sideways-facing cylinder, which creates a lot of unused areas that waste space from the start.
On top of that, the small clearance means that you’re not going to fit much in there. If you need to autoclave large flasks, you’ll be lucky to fit even one, and if you have a bioreactor or fermenter, good luck getting that thing in there.
The second major disadvantage is that they’re a benchtop autoclave. They sit, taking up valuable workspace or space that can be used for other valuable equipment. If space is already at a premium, why use this space if you have other options?
Conclusion: It’s best to look past front-loading bench-top autoclaves, because:
1) They’re too small for your equipment and limit throughput
2) They take up badly needed space
Option: The Large Front-Loading Autoclave
Another option is the large, front-loading autoclave. This is like the giant cousin of the benchtop autoclave. They basically take the same front-loading format, but instead of putting it on the benchtop, it’s designed to stand on the floor in some unused corner of your lab.
Some might say that this saves benchtop space, so it’s good, RIGHT? Well, this comes with the same disadvantages as benchtop autoclaves with its sideways-facing cylinder. These also have the box built inside the chamber, so you’re wasting idle space and you’re not getting much in there.
Doing some basic math, you’ll find that a 100L capacity autoclave, with a square box built into a sideway cylindrical chamber only, has at most 70 liters of autoclaving space, meaning that you’re wasting 30% right off of the bat.
You’ll also find that a cube is an awkward space to place mostly round items, meaning you’re wasting more, especially if you can’t effectively stack these items. On top of it all, you’ve got a bunch of idle, unused space below the autoclave. So in the end, even though you’ve moved the autoclave off of the bench, it’s taking up a lot of space that won’t be used for autoclaving.
Finally, if you’ve ever looked into a large, freestanding front-loading autoclave, you’ll know that they come with a hefty sticker price. There’s a lot of other costs associated with these large autoclaves as well, especially maintenance and repair costs.
Conclusion: Large front-loading autoclaves have the same problems as small bench-top autoclaves, including:
1) The sideways-facing cylinder is an ineffective use of space
2) Cube-spaced don’t accommodate lab media, which are mostly round
3) They’re huge and expensive (and a major headache to deal with)
Option: Top-Loading Autoclaves
So, we’ve covered benchtop and floor-standing front-loaders and we’ve found that they’re not that efficient in their use of space. If you’ve looked at prices, you’ll also find that they’re not all that cheap either, even considering that they’re not able to handle much. I’d like to now turn our attention to top-loading autoclaves.
So, to quickly summarize top-loading autoclaves, they are, as the name implies, completely different from front-loading autoclaves in their design. Take, for example, the TOMY SX-Series autoclaves.
In top-loading autoclaves, the cylinder is oriented not horizontally, but vertically. This confers many advantages.
For one, it won’t take up any space on your bench and hardly any space on the floor. This autoclave here takes up less than 3 square feet and can be placed anywhere it has a source of electricity. No plumbing or exhaust installations are involved.
Another thing that’s great about top-loading autoclaves is that you’re using the full cylinder to sterilize- because it’s vertical, there’s no need to have a box built into it or have trays that slide in, you’re really using the cylinder in its entirety.
Conclusion: Top-loading autoclaves confer many advantages for small start-up labs.
- They’re compact and won’t take up benchtop space
- The vertically oriented cylinder is a more efficient use of space
- They’re easy to install and can be placed virtually anywhere in the lab
There are a lot more advantages to top-loading autoclaves, let’s take a deeper dive below.
Top-Loading Autoclaves’ Loading System
If you’re new to top-loading autoclaves and wondering how to load items, they use a clever system of baskets and buckets to pre-load and place items into the chamber. Baskets and buckets come in various sizes and configurations for different media including small items such as glassware, liquid media, and large items such as bioreactors or fermenters.
For small to medium-size items, the TOMY SX-Series comes with stackable baskets. The SX-Series can stack up to 3 of these baskets inside, so with each of these baskets fully loaded, you’re able to pack quite a bit in each cycle. TOMY autoclaves can also accommodate up to 2 stainless buckets for autoclaving liquid media or slightly larger items like 5-liter bottles. There is also a tall solid-bottom basket that takes up the chamber in its entirety to autoclave the largest items, or use for sterilizing waste.
TOMY autoclaves are extremely handy for autoclaving large items such as fermentors or bioreactors because you can load and autoclave the entire cylinder using a tall solid-bottom basket.
With this one small autoclave, you can take care of a range of items, eliminating the need for an industrial-size autoclave that’s going to waste your operation’s valuable time and money.
Top-Loading Autoclaves’ Low Maintenance Costs
If you’re working at a biotech startup or small lab, you’ll know that funds are difficult to come by, so you’ll want to avoid spending on maintenance and repairs as much as possible. To put it another way, you’ll want to avoid purchasing an autoclave that’s going to cost you a lot down the road.
The most common type of autoclave maintenance is lid gasket replacement. Lid gasket replacement costs can be deceptively high, sometimes up to thousands of dollars a year. Because of their design, front-loading autoclaves use a very thin lid gasket that can require changing in as little as one month. At hundreds apiece, in a matter of a few years, your spending on these rubber bands will surpass the cost of the actual autoclave. Your investors will not be happy, and you will not be happy either if your autoclave is keeping your operation from turning a profit.
The lid gasket on TOMY Autoclaves is completely different. It requires changing once every 1,000 operating hours, which works out to be once every 1 – 3 years. Starting at under $600 a piece, these gaskets alone will keep maintenance costs as low as a couple of hundred dollars (USD) a year, compared to thousands, helping you to keep your operation’s balance sheets healthy and in the black.
Top-Loading Autoclaves Repair Costs
If you’ve ever dealt with an autoclave breaking down, you’ll know that repairs can leave a huge dent in your operation’s balance sheet, easily in the thousands each time. You probably also know that if something happens once, it’s likely to happen several times. To look at things from a larger perspective, it’s not only the monetary cost of the repair itself, but the cost of your entire operation grinding to a screeching halt.
If you have the option, you’ll probably want to avoid this altogether. The simplicity of design and few moving parts, combined with the sturdy gasket, will keep your TOMY autoclave from breaking down and bogging down your operation and balance sheets.
For a deeper look at both short- and long-term costs associated with autoclaves, check out the post “How Much Does an Autoclave Really Cost?”
In summary, if you’re a biotech startup or small lab, you’re looking to not only get your operation off the ground but to keep it running smoothly and at low cost until things really take off.
You’ll want to find that autoclave that’s compact and won’t take up tons of valuable space and can take care of everything, from small glassware to liquid media to bioreactors and other large items.
You’ll also want an autoclave that’s easy to install, easy to maintain, and won’t break the bank with gasket changes and repairs.
If you can take care of all the above, you and your hard-working co-workers are one step closer to cashing out on those stock options and relaxing on the beach on your private island in the South Pacific.
Thank you for visiting and I look forward to assisting you with questions that you may have!
Tomy SX-Series Autoclave Sterilizer
Saves You Lots