Stainless Steel and the Production of Pharmaceuticals

One of the major underlying issues to come along with the Coronavirus pandemic is that of the United States’ dependence on foreign countries for the supply of pharmaceutical drugs. Over the past few decades, the production of medicines for the U.S. population has gradually moved overseas. In fact, as of this past April, less than 30% of the manufacturing facilities for medicines are domestic. Now the Federal Government is stating that the U.S. is going to take back the pharmaceutical industry as large corporations such as Johnson & Johnson are opening back up manufacturing facilities on American soil. Like many other processing industries, stainless steel is a key material used in the production of pharmaceuticals.

Material Requirements for Pharmaceuticals


As you can imagine, the production of medicines and their ingredients is a very stringent process. The environment in which this
manufacturing takes place includes such factors as very high-temperatures, chloride and chemical abundance, high-pressure, water and acidic washes, aggressive cleaning methods and many others. All of these dynamics are harsh on equipment and machinery and can lead to corrosion without the proper precautions. In pharmaceuticals, any type of corrosion can lead to contamination and if found, complete batches of drugs will be discarded and in some cases, plants will be shut down for cleanings and refurbishments. As one can imagine, this is a heavily regulated industry. The regulations even have specific requirements for the materials used which must meet demanding performance imperatives. In fact, federal regulations require that materials used for this process must be highly corrosion-resistant, easily manufactured as well as easily cleaned. They also require that pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment be made of materials that should not react with the active material or excipients used in the processes. These are just some of the many benefits of using stainless steel in such settings.

Applications and Types of Stainless Steel in Pharmaceutical Production


Several grades of stainless steel are used in pharmaceutical production but how and where they are used is contingent on the specific application. By far the most common alloy specified is 316/L, followed by 304/L. Other alloys such as 317/L, 904/L and even some of the duplex grades like 2205 can also serve certain purposes in the manufacturing process. The increase of the nickel and molybdenum content in 316/L provides for enhanced corrosion resistance and pitting resistance; two factors that are essential in pharmaceutical production. 316/L is also more resistant to acid and base attacks on the materials. Because of this increased corrosion and pitting resistance, 316/L is used for any equipment that comes in direct contact with the pharmaceutical products. This includes equipment such as storage tanks, pipelines, conveyor supports, and cleansing and drying racks. Another benefit of 316/L is its increased high-temperature tolerance. 304/L is also used in pharmaceuticals but generally in non-contact parts. This could include structural supports for equipment or for areas not as exposed to any harsh conditions. 304/L is easy to clean and it will not corrode from general parts washing and exposure. However, it is susceptible to pitting and corrosion caused by chlorides, which is why 316/L is the best choice where there is contact.

Benefits of Using Stainless Steel

With its exceptional corrosion resistance, prevention of pitting, temperature resistance and ease of cleaning, stainless steel is the best choice in pharmaceutical production. These same qualities are what make stainless steel the best choice for many other industries as well. Our stainless steel profiles are not restricted to corrosive environments but in any appropriate application. Laser fusion technology produces a sharp-cornered profile that can be used in many architectural applications, sculptures, memorials and more. Contact us today to find out how Stainless Structurals can assist with your next project.

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