Steel is perhaps the most frequently used metal in the manufacturing of surgical instruments. However, recent times have witnessed an increasing trend of using Titanium as an alternative to steel. Since many sellers and marketers are promoting Titanium instruments over steel instruments, it is appropriate to learn more about the properties of both metals, to get a clearer picture of the situation.
Titanium is widely used in the aerospace, automobile and jewelry industry due to its low density coupled with high strength. Surgical instruments made of titanium are corrosion resistant and they have better biocompatibility to human tissues as compared to steel. Additionally, titanium is resistant to many chemicals like oxidizing acids, alkalis, chlorides, saline solutions, body fluids and salt water.
Steel is denser than titanium and hence it is heavy. Steel also has the potential to rust and corrode. If a cubic centimeter of steel weighs 7.85gm, the same volume of titanium will weigh 4.39gm only. This difference is significant and amounts to nearly 50% difference in weight. Steel surgical instruments are heavier than titanium instruments; hence their handling is comparatively difficult.
In situations where high strength and low weight is required, titanium becomes the metal of choice. In surgical instruments therefore, titanium is increasingly being regarded as superior to steel. Steel on the other is the preferred metal where weight is not an issue, but strength is required.
Another important use of titanium is in implants, since it is non-toxic and is biologically inert (does not initiate an immune response). Steel implants on the other hand have the potential to awaken an immune response and have pathological consequences.
Another important difference is the response of these metals to magnetic fields. Steel is responsive to magnetic field, and hence its implants carry a certain degree of risk when the person enters strong magnetic fields. Titanium on the other hand is nonmagnetic and hence no such issue arise.
Since surgical instruments have to endure intense heat during sterilization, heat tolerance is an important factor. Steel can tolerate around 1482 degrees Celsius, whereas titanium has the ability to bear 1815 degrees Celsius. Consequently, titanium instruments can be sterilized at higher temperatures without any problems. This provides additional benefits in patient care, since chances of transmitting infections are further minimized.