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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is some truth here. Metal vial trays have spent decades, even centuries, serving the scientific, pharmaceutical, and food production sectors, and they could probably continue for centuries more. But are these products really the best candidates for the job?

Maybe not. There are plenty of advantages to using a metal vial tray over, say, a plastic one. But these trays have their fair share of disadvantages too. Read on as we examine this in more detail.

Advantages of Metal Vial Trays – Why Are these Trays in Use?

Metal vial trays are found in labs, production facilities, and testing centers across the country and the world, so these products must be doing something right for users. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages metal trays offer.

Fairly Sturdy

Metal vial trays are fairly sturdy and robust. They are designed to absorb some of the shock and impact of regular use, even if they are dropped or knocked against each other. In an industrial environment, this is critical.

Easy to Maintain

Trays constructed from metal tend to be easy to wipe down and keep clean. All American workplaces and learning institutions need to maintain a strict code of hygiene, and this is particularly important in the pharmaceutical industry and scientific study, where contamination can be a serious issue. Metal products help to achieve this aim.

Relatively Resistant to Environmental Conditions

Plastic vial trays can melt, warp, bend, or crack when environmental conditions change. Extremes of heat, cold, humidity, and other atmospheric factors can damage a plastic tray, but the metal option is relatively resistant to these.

Disadvantages of Metal Vial Trays – Why an Alternative Is Needed

There may be a number of valid reasons why facility managers choose metal vial trays for their projects, but these products are far from perfect. Below we’ll examine some of the disadvantages of using this type of equipment.

Weight Can Be an Issue

Metal trays tend to be heavier than their plastic or composite counterparts. While this difference may be almost unnoticeable when you are working with just one or two trays, it can quickly become problematic when the numbers increase. Facility staff may find themselves needing to lift large stacks of trays, which may put them in danger of injury. While there are no specific OSHA standards regarding the manual handling of weight in the workplace, employers do need to ensure their teams are working in an environment where health and safety are prioritized.

The increased weight can also have an impact on the machinery. When weight increases, so does wear and tear, and this may reduce the lifespan of the equipment.

Metal Vial Trays Are Expensive

Compared with plastic and composite trays, a metal vial tray tends to be a little more expensive. Again, this is not going to have too much of an effect if you are talking about just a couple of trays, but these items are generally ordered in bulk. This can lead to budgetary concerns when large numbers of trays are ordered at once.

Oxidation Results in Health Issues

Most metal vial trays will feature a protective layer to prevent oxidation and corrosion. However, if this layer is damaged or becomes ineffective, oxidation and corrosion can occur. This is a problem for many reasons – corroded vial trays lose their structural integrity, and oxidation can even cause a pathogen risk.

There is some debate as to whether oxidized metal is particularly hazardous when it comes to hygiene and sterility. Scientists now believe that the traditional “rusty nails cause tetanus” view is false and has come about simply because rust is more likely to occur in environments that feature large amounts of decaying organic matter. Meanwhile, studies into oxidized copper have found that oxidation does not impact copper’s antimicrobial attributes. However, oxidized metal is difficult to clean and leaves behind a surface that could be a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens.

Potential for Damage

The metal trays you use in your laboratory or facility are sturdy, but only up to a point. All materials have their limits, and this certainly includes metal vial trays. The rigors of repetitive work can quickly begin to take their toll on a metal vial tray, which can become cracked and dented. These issues might start out as cosmetic and may simply get ignored as a result, but damage can’t be ignored for long.

As dents worsen over time, trays may become unstable and difficult to stack. Cracked trays may also cause vials to tip or spill, and reliable vial serialization becomes difficult. Trays that have sustained more serious damage may need to be removed from rotation.

Limited Lifespan

As we’ve looked at above, metal vial trays are pretty robust and are designed to take a few knocks here and there. However, once damage begins to occur – which is an inevitability in a busy working environment – the trays can quickly become unusable and will need to be replaced.

From talking to our customers, we have found that metal trays typically need to be replaced every two or three years. This can be frustrating for businesses that are looking to keep costs down by extending the lifespan of the solutions they use.

What This Alternative Looks Like

Up to now, we’ve only touched on two forms of tray – metal and plastic. In fact, the choice is not so binary, and there is an alternative: composite. A composite material is simply a combination of two materials with different properties, like plastic and carbon fiber, for example. Composite trays can be very strong but still lighter than metal and can also be more resistant to impact, heat, and other factors. These trays can be engineered to achieve a longer lifespan, and there is no danger of oxidation or corrosion because there is no metal involved.

Take a look at our product catalog to discover more about some of the composite vial trays we stock here at Chemtech, or reach out to our team if you have any questions.