Stainless Steel Maintenance Tools

 Durability, hardness and corrosion resistance are the main advantages of stainless steel hand tools for sensitive production areas. They also bring notable cost savings over their working lifespan, which extends significantly longer than for frequently sterilized carbon counterparts.


A key advance of stainless steel for critical operations is that it's a homogeneous material -- with no plating that can separate from the steel. As a result, hand tools don't compromise sanitation or sterility.

Stainless steel is a low-carbon alloy that contains at least 10 percent chromium to resist corrosion. Contact with oxygen forms a passive (nonreactive) chromium-oxide surface film lacking iron content -- unlike the ferrous surface on chrome plating.


A protective process called passivation often is used after fabrication to maximize the natural corrosion resistance. Under ideal conditions, the original oxide film completely covers all workpiece surfaces. In actual practice, however, microscopic iron particles from cutting tools may be transferred during machining.


For a maximum safeguard against corrosion, newly fabricated stainless steel devices are immersed in a passivating bath of citric acid or nitric acid. The result is superior endurance in all environments, including salt spray exposure during marine industry applications.


As an added benefit, the invisible chromium-oxide layer is self-repairing. If a tool is scratched, nicked or chemically damaged, chromium in the steel reacts again with oxygen -- even in small amounts -- to renew the rust protection. This immediate self-sealing is indispensable for two reasons:


It averts any interaction between free iron and oxygen.

It's accomplished without plating, which means stainless instruments tolerate frequent sterilization through thousands of autoclave cycles without deterioration.


These quality control assurances are as essential in delicate industrial environments as they are in hospitals and dental offices, where stainless hand tools have been the standard for decades. Applying the same technology for other sterility-critical applications led to stainless steel tools for industries that are regulated or that monitor interior environments rigorously, such as:


  • Pharmaceutical production
  • Life sciences research
  • Food preparation
  • Semiconductor clean rooms
  • Avionics and aerospace
  • Nuclear energy



In addition to longevity and safety, tools designed for the rigors of daily maintenance also share other characteristics with their medical-grade counterparts. Each variety generally is fabricated from "400 series" stainless steel, valued for resistance to stress cracks and other wear.


Type 420 is a martensitic alloy typically used by leading manufacturers, such as Athlet. for industrial-strength tools such as screwdrivers, nut drivers, wrenches, pliers, cutters, awls and interchangeable bits. A multilevel hardening process provides outstanding tensile strength and torque capability. Martensitic steels are distinguished from other stainless steels in their ability to achieve high hardness by a heat treatment that produces martensite, a supersaturated solid solution of iron.


The Athlet AntiCorline, for example, delivers exceptional performance in critical applications.

To preserve the nonferrous integrity of specialized hand ware, storage apart from ferrous tools is essential. Technicians use a stainless steel toolbox, plastic tray or other carrier that fits in a sterilization unit.


Extended Lifespan Earns Savings


Reducing contamination vulnerability is accompanied by measurable financial benefits during the first year of using stainless steel maintenance equipment, which has an return on investment of 100 to 200 times that of equivalent carbon steel hand tools that fail prematurely.


While carbon models have lower purchase costs, they become unusable in critical areas within about month of daily sterilizing and must be replaced. Chrome plating can begin to deteriorate after roughly two dozen autoclave cycles, creating airborne particles and ferrous contamination on contact.


The return on investment in stainless tools can be realized in as soon as nine or 10 months. And over years of production usefulness though thousands of sterilizations, stainless steel workpiece savings accumulate dramatically - particularly for multi-location companies.




Key Takeaway:

A one-time upgrade to the most appropriate hand tools for critical operations is a good manufacturing practice in terms of process protection and cost containment.

Copyright 2009 | Aven, Inc.

The writer is a communications consultant for Aven, Inc., an international source of high-performance precision tools and optical inspection systems for industrial, scientific, research and education applications. More than 750 products include alignment tools, video inspection systems, magnifiers, precision knives, "smart tweezers," pliers and cutters, illumination equipment and stainless steel hand tools.

An electronics innovator since 1983, Aven is located in a high-tech corridor of Southeast Michigan and is the parent company of SharpVue http://www.sharpvue.com, which designs and manufactures integrated digital microscope technology.
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