Autoclaves: Ask Questions and Consider All Alternatives Before You Buy

In today’s economic environment, it’s critical that facilities utilize resources and space as efficiently as possible. That being said, more practical solutions need to be available in order to help the facility achieve optimal operation.

Autoclaves are of critical importance in the facility and are used for sterilization of cages, racks, feed, bedding, water, etc. They provide sterilization of items entering a barrier or conversely decontamination of items exiting a BSL-3 or high containment BSL-4 area. Since the autoclave vessel can last >20 years, it’s important that the right long term choices are being made for the facility.

  • Small (left) and Large (right) Chamber Sections
  • Modular Segments Being Shipped
  • Segments Delivered to the Site
  • Unloading Segments on Site
  • Large Segment Arrives at the Elevator
  • It’s a Tight Fit
  • Large Segment Now on the Desired Floor
  • Navigating Door Ways
  • And Turns
  • Small Segment Maneuvered Into Place
  • Hinged Door Installed
  • Installed with Equipment Access Doors


Some questions that should be asked or addressed (early on in the process) for autoclaves intended for the new facility are:

  • What type of autoclave design will best utilize the facility space, provide functionality, offer features that support “Green Initiatives”, and provide the best return on investment?
  • Based upon total cycle time and the throughput requirements, has enough space been allocated for the right size autoclave? What about future growth considerations?
  • If needed, can a larger autoclave be provided to fit into the proposed footprint?
  • What will be the cost of ownership over the life cycle of the equipment, i.e. can autoclave replacement parts, components, control system hardware, be purchased from either the manufacturer or from local suppliers?
  • Is redundancy (back-up autoclave) needed to ensure continual processing capability, in the event the primary autoclave goes down? What are the consequences if the autoclave goes down? A back-up autoclave can be expensive. Is it really necessary? What other options are available to us?
  • If a back up autoclave is proposed, what will be the additional cost impact for maintenance, utilities, and space? If space is not available, is there another type of door design available that doesn’t require as much permanent space as the Horizontal Sliding Doors?
  • Have we done our due diligence and contacted several manufacturers to utilize their expertise?


Some Manufacturers of Bulk Autoclaves provide:

  • Flexibility in their designs that can save you space and money.
  • A multitude of different chamber cross sections. They can provide the exact size needed.
  • Different type of door configurations: Hinged Swinging Doors,, Horizontal Sliding Doors,, and Vertical Rising Doors. Each door type has a different space requirement.
  • Designs that promote “Green Initiatives”, i.e. water conservation, heat loss reduction, optimum cycle efficiency, etc.
  • Autoclaves/Sterilizers manufactured in “Sections”, to facilitate movement into and through a facility via existing doorways and corridors. Vessel sections are welded on site and certified to ASME Section VIII, Div. 1 Guidelines.


Bulk Autoclaves for Renovations:

Facility renovations are planned and the bulk autoclave is one of the items needing replacement. Unfortunately, it had been placed into the facility over 20 years ago and is landlocked. What are your options? Conventional approaches may be cost prohibitive and / or very disruptive to the facility. Are there other alternatives? Let’s take a look.

Conventional approach is to:

  • Open up exterior & interior facility walls, ceilings, doorways, etc. to allow for the old autoclave to be removed and a new unit brought in.
  • This could be cost prohibitive and disruptive to an operating facility.
  • If the autoclave is not on slab, floor loading weight limits may pose additional problems during removal and reinstallation of the bulk autoclave. Floor loading will need to be verified.
  • If the autoclave is on an upper level, is there room outside the facility to set up hoisting equipment, i.e. crane to remove and rig in the new autoclave?
  • Cut up the old autoclave and remove it in smaller pieces. One or two smaller autoclaves can be placed within the original space occupied by the bulk unit, without disrupting the facility.
  • Longer work hours or additional shifts may need to be considered with two smaller autoclaves to meet the same load throughputs that had been processed through the single bulk unit.
  • Additionally, life cycle maintenance costs will be higher with 2 or more units vs. 1 bulk unit.


Innovative approach is to:

Cut up the old autoclave and remove it in pieces. Manufacture the same size or larger unit (pressure vessel) in 2, 3, or more SECTIONS. Deliver the sections to the site and move them into the facility through normal openings. Fit up the sections, weld them together on site, and certify the vessel to ASME Section VIII, Div. 1 Guidelines.

Deliver a pressure vessel in “Modular Pieces” or “Sections”?

Yes. This is an alternative that is available. While the skeptics have been have been saying, “it can’t be done with a pressure vessel”, it has been and is continuing to be done successfully.

What’s most misunderstood is that the autoclave inner chambers are constructed at the factory from multiple stainless steel or clad plates. Although the chamber may appear to be a single piece, it is comprised of multiple plates that are welded together, the welds ground flush, and then finished to the required level, i.e. polished, glass beaded or matte. Provided that the welding, & certification is in accordance with ASME Section VIII, Div. 1 Guidelines, it doesn’t matter where the final welding is conducted.

To summarize, we hope that the information provided was both interesting and informative for future consideration. Hopefully, we have demonstrated that there numerous choices available to you for the installation of Bulk Size Autoclaves. Whether you are building a new facility, or renovating an older one… have options, no matter how difficult the footprint or location.