Understanding Steam Autoclave Ownership Costs

Understanding Steam Autoclave Ownership Costs: Acquisition Cost vs. Operating Cost

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Written by: Scott Mechler

BS Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineer

Whether you’re purchasing a small laboratory autoclave or one for your ambulatory surgery center, a steam autoclave is a significant investment. Beyond budgeting for upfront purchasing costs, it’s critical to understand the overall lifetime costs of owning a steam autoclave, as well.

In order to make the best purchasing decision, you need to consider both the initial price tag (the acquisition cost) and the long-term maintenance costs (the operating cost). By combining these costs, you can get the full picture of what it costs to own an autoclave over its entire lifespan. When in the market for your next steam autoclave, it’s important to carefully consider all associated costs — let’s break them down.

Autoclave Procurement Costs

Naturally, purchasing an autoclave requires a significant upfront investment. Prices will vary depending on a number of factors, including the autoclave model, whether it’s a new or used unit, its chamber size and configuration, its available feature set, customizations and more.

To get a better sense of autoclave procurement costs, let’s look at the pricing on some of the most popular models Consolidated Sterilizer Systems has to offer:

As you can see from the chart, a standard 3AV model, which boasts a volume of 8.8 cu. ft (249 liters), starts at $28,000, while a standard 26AV model with a volume of 15.25 cu. ft (430 liters) starts at $35,000.

Maintenance Costs

Even the most solidly constructed autoclave will, over time, naturally experience wear and tear from continued to use. That deterioration can take the form of spilled liquids in the chamber, worn down gaskets, mineral deposit buildups and more — and, if left unchecked, can affect your autoclave’s processing capability. Regularly scheduled maintenance not only ensures that your autoclave continues to run as intended — it also helps mitigate or eliminate costs associated with unexpected downtime or poor unit performance.

Proper autoclave maintenance requires a balance of self-service and professional service. On the self-service side, your facility personnel should perform consistent visual checks, daily drain strainer cleaning and weekly wipe-down of the autoclave chamber. On the professional service side, you should schedule routine inspections by factory-trained-and-authorized technicians. An authorized technician can protect your investment by providing maintenance as recommended by the manufacturer.

When shopping for a steam autoclave, look to manufacturers that will help you develop a preventative maintenance plan based on your usage and throughput requirements. Ask about maintenance kits, available warranties and other smart options to ensure peak performance for the long-run. The right manufacturer will also offer factory-training courses and technical support through multiple channels. Training courses can help prepare your in-house technicians for any potential issues that might crop up.

Preventative and proactive maintenance are the keys to reducing downtime and ensuring the longevity of your autoclave.

Some of the most common maintenance requests — and their corresponding prices — include:

*Estimates only

As shown in the chart, a basic maintenance visit (excluding parts replacement) can cost anywhere from $150 to $600, while the cost of a full maintenance inspection (including parts replacement) can range from $1,000 to $2,000. Out of warranty basic service requests typically cost anywhere from $150 to $2,000. Finally, after hours service requests or requests for immediate assistance — both of which are considered emergency services calls — can range in price from $225 to $1,500. Please note that these costs are approximate.

Replacement Parts Costs

Over the course of a steam autoclave’s life, various mechanical parts and electrical components will need repair and replacement.

Some of the most commonly replaced parts include:

*Approximate costs

As you can see from the chart, the price of different replacement parts can vary widely:

  • Door Switch: $45.55
  • Flat Door Rod Lock: $583.49
  • Door Gasket: $98.37–$248.33
  • Heating Element Gasket: $38.42
  • Generator Gasket O-Ring: $30.41–$73.77
  • Chamber Drain Strainer: $136.80–$143.58
  • Swing Check Valve: $120.92
  • Safety Valve: $335.71–$357.44
  • Solenoid Repair Valve: $140.30–$385.35
  • Contactor: $238.64–$526.96
  • High Limit Pressure Switch: 307.52–$322.43

To reduce the cost of replacement parts, look for a steam sterilizer that’s been manufactured with non-proprietary parts and components.

By investing in a sterilizer with non-proprietary parts, you ensure that future efforts to locate and replace these parts will be faster, less expensive and involve less risk than trying to do the same for an autoclave manufactured with proprietary parts.

If you purchase a steam autoclave manufactured with proprietary parts, you expose yourself to risks that could hamper your facility’s sterilization abilities and capacity. Issues such as spare parts lead-time, availability and price escalation should be taken into consideration.

Utilities Costs

Steam sterilizers require water, steam and electricity to operate — all of which can add up over the life of the unit. The cost of water alone can reach as high as $100,000. An autoclave with water- and energy-saving features can help reduce the cost of these utilities.

It’s also important to point out indirect utility consumption. When an autoclave is powered up, the jacket of the autoclave fills with steam; this is part of normal operation for a free-standing lab or medical autoclave. When the sterilizer is on and the jacket is filled with steam, the entire unit gets hot and some heat is lost to the room. This typically causes the room’s temperature to increase, which increases demand on the HVAC system. It’s in your best interest to look for an autoclave that not only minimizes water and steam consumption, but the HVAC load, as well, to reduce lifetime costs.

When shopping for a steam autoclave, consider purchasing one that not only has a water-saving system, but one that can monitor its own water consumption. An autoclave with built-in water consumption monitoring system enables you or your facilities personnel to proactively monitor water consumption through the sterilizer’s user interface. This feature offers visibility to sustainability team members, enabling them to better track sustainability goals.

Start-up & Training Costs

During the quoting process, make sure your sterilizer vendor includes equipment start-up and end user training in the cost of installation. It’s also in your best interest to ask your vendor to walk you through the installation, start-up and training process to ensure that it’s as straightforward as possible. Finally, you’ll want an autoclave that has an intuitive and easy-to-use interface for both users and technicians alike, so be sure to ask for a demo prior to purchase.

Once you’ve procured and installed your autoclave, your service or sales representative should perform an initial start-up followed by end user training.

In short, a qualified autoclave manufacturer should be able to:

  • Answer any of your installation or cycle questions during the user-training session
  • Offer intuitive and easy-to-use controller interfaces
  • Provide comprehensive training materials for facility personnel
  • Support parts and controller system upgrades, such as those designed to achieve water savings or foster LEED certification

Protect your facility’s investment, lower lifetime costs and increase your total ROI by understanding all of the costs that go into autoclave procurement and ownership.

What is the Total Cost of Owning An Autoclave?

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What is the Total Cost of Owning An Autoclave?