December 20, 2017
Nickel-containing materials, including stainless steels, are recognised as safe, easy to clean and hygienic. Because of these properties they are widely employed in the medical sector, whether for instruments used in operations, implants, equipment in hospitals or further up the supply chain in pharmaceutical processing equipment that produces the life-saving drugs we rely on. And their effectiveness has a long history. Stainless steel has been used for scalpels, dental extraction forceps and implants since the 1920s.
Hygiene is the number one priority of the health care industry and the universal use of stainless steel in hospitals for fixtures and fittings is testament to their ease of cleaning. As shown in a recent study by Manchester Metropolitan University and AgroParisTech, featured on page 15, stainless steel can withstand repeated sanitisation with harsh chemicals.
Nickel can also provide other properties that find their use in critical applications. For example, Nitinol (nickel-titanium) shape-memory alloys exhibit a combination of properties that make them particularly suited for self-expanding stents used to alleviate vascular conditions. Or in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which provides unrivalled imaging of soft tissues e.g. brain, muscle, heart, tumours, without subjecting patients to ionising radiation. At the core of every MRI system is a powerful magnet (up to 300,000 times more powerful than the earth’s magnetic field), which depends heavily on the nickel-containing stainless steel used in its construction.
But it’s not just the corrosion resistance of nickel-containing austenitic stainless steel that makes it vital in a medical environment. Its ability to withstand ultra-low temperatures (-269°C) make it indispensable for containing liquid nitrogen used in cryosurgery for the removal of abnormal tissue. And its non-magnetic characteristics make it an ideal structural material for the fabrication of life-saving technology.