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When a metal — typically iron — reacts with oxygen, it corrodes. This can cause all kinds of problems and is something your business needs to avoid if you use vial trays within your production lines. Read on to learn more about the dangers of vial tray oxidization.

Problems Associated With Vial Tray Oxidization

You don’t use trays made out of pure iron, but you might be using trays that contain iron in your vial serialization, filling, and sealing processes. Steel and stainless steel vial trays are manufactured using iron alloys, which can be susceptible to oxidization and corrosion. But why is this such a problem?

Structural Damage

Oxidization is a chemical reaction — therefore, the chemical structure of the tray material changes during the oxidization process. One of the most recognizable forms of oxidization is rusting, which is the reaction that occurs when iron comes into contact with oxygen in the air to form iron oxide. Steel materials are made from an alloy of iron and carbon, which makes them very strong, but the oxidization reaction can reduce this strength.

Over time, the oxidized tray may become unusable as the steel corrodes into iron oxide. This process may be accelerated if the trays come into contact with saline solutions or saltwater or if no protective coating forms a barrier between the steel and the oxygen in the air. This protective coating may become scratched or damaged, leading to weak points where corrosion can occur.

Potential Pathogen Breeding Grounds

There is some debate as to the relationship between oxidized and corroded metals and increased levels of harmful pathogens. While it is a myth that iron oxide directly causes tetanus, there is still the risk that tetanus-causing bacteria — Clostridium tetani — can build up in corroded areas. If left unchecked, this can cause contamination and serious disease.

Even if we take Clostridium tetani out of the equation, there are other considerations here. Corroded metals lose their smooth, easy-to-clean surface and are instead pockmarked, flaky, and irregular. It’s tough to properly clean these surfaces, which makes it hard to guarantee proper levels of hygiene and sterility. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other organizations that may be using vial trays, need to meet high standards of regulatory compliance, and they may fail to meet these standards if they work with corroded trays.

Risk to Personnel and Equipment

The rough and irregular corroded surface can abrade other surfaces it comes into contact with. First and foremost, this is a risk to personnel. In a fast-paced production environment — even one that is largely automated — abrasive surfaces can cause cuts and injuries to team members when they need to handle these trays. As noted above, this could result in an infection — or a painful wound if no bacteria are present.

Abrasive surfaces can also cause damage to machinery, particularly the sensitive internal components of vial filling machines and similar solutions. Oxidization can alter the form and shape of the vial tray, which can result in the tray catching and sticking within the mechanism.

Loss of Stability

As mentioned above, corroded surfaces become irregular and malformed. This, in turn, means there is no flat surface to sit the vials, which can result in severe instability. If vials are knocked out of line, spilled, or improperly filled, this can lead to expensive wastage within the system.

When trays become malformed like this, they are no longer fit for purpose. This means they need to be replaced — replacing one or two trays might not be such a drain on resources. However, if this happens regularly, it becomes a significant issue for businesses as they balance their budgets.

Preventing Vial Tray Oxidization

You can take steps to prevent vial tray oxidization, although there are other aspects to consider here — such as cost, feasibility, and efficacy.

Carefully Controlled Environments

Controlling the environment in which vial loading trays are used can prevent oxidization. This may involve utilizing automated systems with carefully monitored and calibrated atmospheric conditions. However, this can be expensive and does not consider the instances when trays will be removed from this closed system, which is almost inevitable.

Limiting the use of saline and saltwater within the production environment may be easier. Salt water acts as a catalyst for the oxidization reaction, supporting swift electron transfer and accelerating the reaction. However, limiting the use of saline will not eliminate corrosion altogether and will only slow the reaction down.

Application and Monitoring of Protective Coatings

Protective coatings are highly effective in preventing corrosion. These coatings create a physical separation between the metal tray and sources of oxygen, such as air or water, within the production line. With the coating acting as a barrier, there is no way for corrosive elements to make contact with the iron.

Except, there is a way. A physical barrier is only effective if there is no weak point — as we’ve touched on above, coatings can become chipped and scratched. After this, they need to be re-applied or repaired without delay, which makes close monitoring of tray condition vital.

Using Alternative Materials

Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant compared to standard steel, but it is not immune from oxidization and corrosion. Aluminum will not oxidize but may be susceptible to other forms of corrosion — what’s more, aluminum is an expensive material. Metal trays of all kinds can become dented and malformed if they are dropped or if something impacts them. Plastic trays are cheap and will not rust, but they can become warped with repeated use and are easily damaged.

Polycarbonate trays, on the other hand, are a genuine alternative. These trays are made from a synthesized resin with a dense structure of connected polymer chains. Lightweight in design and construction, these tough and hard-wearing trays will not corrode.

HURST Polycarbonate Vial Trays From Chemtech

At Chemtech, we provide vial tray solutions designed to help business owners improve their production processes — whether they are operating in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry or another important sector. To achieve this, we are now offering our customers HURST’s patented polycarbonate vial trays. Lightweight, robust, and available in various sizes and specifications, these trays represent the next step in vial tray development — and they are completely immune to corrosion.

Reach out to our team to learn more about our HURST products and how they can benefit you, or take a look at our vial tray product pages and place your order.