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How does an Autoclave Machine work?

Posted on 19 Dec 2016 in Blog | 0 comments


What is an Autoclave?

An Autoclave is a big steel vessel which has cylindrical compartments which allow steam or any other gas to be circulated at higher pressures and temperatures. So basically, it can be thought of as an enlarged, advanced version of a pressure cooker. Most common materials cured in an autoclave are advanced composites such as carbon fiber and epoxy resins.

When concerning the history which led to the formation of the modern day Autoclave, there are some specific developments throughout history that are worth mentioning. Although at the time these discoveries or inventions were made, they had no idea that it would lead to the invention of the Autoclave, they have included few of the basic principles behind the Autoclave.

  • The usage of boiling water for the sterilization of medical tools by the ancient Greeks.
  • This was a strong evidence for the fact that they had the knowledge that heat could destroy germs or microorganisms which is the basic principle in the usage of the Autoclave as a sterilizer.
  • The invention of the steam pressure cooker in 1679 by Denis Papin, a French engineer.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Autoclave can be thought of as an enlarged pressure cooker, and the principles behind the two are similar.
  • Confirmation of the germ theory of disease in 1860s by Louis Pasteur, a French biologist.
  • His finding that heating instruments to eradicate germs can prevent thee catching of diseases, which is a usage of the Autoclave.
  • Finally, the invention of the autoclave by Charles Chamberland in 1880, who was a collaborator of Louis Pasteur.

The main industrial use of the Autoclave comes from, its usage in the process of killing germs in reusable material. Ever wonder what happens to all those surgical instruments such as the surgical knives and scissors after a surgery? Well, the answer is that they are simply reused. There may be a doubt in some, that will all the equipment be fully cleansed with the more commonly known methods such as using sanitizers.

The answer is No, but you do not have to worry since, that is when the role of the autoclave plays its part, all those surgical instruments are put inside the autoclave and are cleansed free of all those microorganisms or more commonly known as germs. Not only is it used to kill germs in fields such as medicine, but also it is used to sanitize equipment in places such as nail salons.

The ability for the salons to reuse the same equipment to clean things such as toe nails of different people with the same equipment without passing on those disgusting fungi from one person to another is all due to the Autoclave, after each treatment all those equipment are put inside the Autoclave and sanitized.

Apart from the main sanitization usage, industrially, the Autoclave has many other usages too. It can be utilized to carry out various types of industrial processors and scientific experiments. Though, in most of these cases, unlike in sterilizing, where steam is used, various other sorts of gasses are passed through the Autoclave to achieve different outcomes, whether it be catalyzing a reaction or curing a metal. Some such examples for these are,

  • The vulcanization of rubber, where it is first then toughened and then hardened with sulfur.
  • Aiding in the synthesis of nylon by encouraging the condensation polymerization reaction.
  • Production of polythene by circulating organic peroxide or air to aid with the polymerization of ethylene.
  • Production of materials for airplanes which are typically done by curing, which is to apply heat to encourage the forming of long chained polymer molecules.

How does it Work?

As mentioned twice earlier, the Autoclave can be thought of as an enlarged pressure cooker, and the process behind the pressure cooker is, water inside the pan is heated up which causes some of those molecules to form steam which is not allowed to escape, increasing the pressure inside. And as the theory states, the increase in pressure causes the boiling point of water to increase, giving the ability to cook food inside a pressure cooker faster.

Similarly, within an Autoclave, steam is or any other gas is allowed to pass through the compartments situated inside, which in medical cases contain the instruments needed to be sterilized. With time as the steam continuously goes in, the temperature and pressure within those compartments increase, and then those factors are maintained at those elevated levels long enough for all the microorganisms or germs which are living on the equipment to be eradicated.

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