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Metals Commonly Used for Surgical Instruments?

four doctors performing surgery in operation theatre with scissors and forceps

Metals Commonly Used for Surgical Instruments?

There are many different considerations when choosing a material to use in the medical industry. 

The most common metals used for surgical instruments are:

  1. Stainless steel
  2. Titanium
  3. Tantalum
  4. Platinum
  5. Palladium

Read on to learn why these metals were chosen. The metals used for surgical instruments have to adhere to strict criteria.

Firstly, Depending on the instrument, the metal used may also need to be fairly ductile, as many surgical instruments are long and thin, e.g. scalpels, forceps, scissors, etc.

The surface of the metal needs to be tough and needs to have a satin finish, so the instruments are easy to clean and won’t harbour bacteria, helping to prevent the spread of infection. Finally, the metal needs to be inert with the human body, so it won’t cause any metal contamination when used internally.

When it comes to biomedical instruments, not all metals are up to the job, especially base metals.  Stainless steel has traditionally been the metal alloy of choice, but there are alternatives when necessary.

Stainless steel grades for surgical instruments

This is because it is a tough metal that is very resistant to corrosion. It gains mechanical strength when cold-worked, but loses corrosion resistance.

Interested in stainless steel? Then read this article – everything about stainless steel, its composition, categories, and applications.

Titanium in surgical tools

The most obvious benefit of titanium is its superior strength. Its tensile strength is almost the same as carbon steel and it is 100% corrosion resistant. Despite its overall strength, it is more flexible than stainless steel and is approximately 40% lighter.

Titanium is perfect for both surgical instruments and implants, as it is biocompatible and has the intrinsic quality that it fuses well with human bones. For this reason, it has become the metal of choice for orthopaedic rods, pins, plates, and dental implants.

Titanium is more resistant to heat than stainless steel, withstanding up to 430°C, and it expands and contracts less when heated and cooled.

Overall, titanium is a tough, durable metal that has become a common material used for all kinds of medical purposes.

Tantalum in orthopaedics

It, a refractory metal, is strong, ductile and has a very high melting point (3017°C). But for the medical industry, its most attractive benefit is its high biocompatibility.

Its ductility is also an attractive property, as it can be drawn into thin wire, while its malleability allows it to be easily fabricated into various shapes

Platinum and palladium in medicine

Although platinum and palladium are expensive precious metals. They have similar properties that make them uniquely suited to certain surgical applications.

Firstly, they can both be easily formed into a variety of shapes as they are highly malleable and ductile. Meaning you can easily make rolls, sheets, tubes, wires, etc. They are especially useful for intricate parts, ideal for precision surgical instruments.

Both platinum and palladium are highly corrosion resistant and inert, so they won’t cause problems when in contact with the body or internal organs.

One of the major uses in recent years has been creating ultra-thin wires that surgeons use to guide and position implants such as catheters and stents.

Another advantage is that both platinum and palladium show up very clearly on X-ray making them ideal to be used as markers on implants.

They are both strong, durable metals. The only real differences between the two are density, mass, melting points, and price, with palladium being the cheaper of the two.

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