Tungsten carbide the material for surgical instruments
Surgical equipment production has been long dominated by stainless steel because of its excellent corrosion resistance. Stainless steel is a special alloy of Iron, Carbon, Chromium, Nickel, and a little percentage of molybdenum. The constituent elements in stainless steel can be varied to produce various steel products for different applications where hardness, strength, and corrosion resistance is important, and this is why the healthcare sector is largely dominated by stainless steel. However, this dominance is being threatened daily by a new material that boasts of superior properties than steel; Tungsten Carbide. The amazing property of Tungsten Carbide is wooing biomedical engineers to select it ahead of stainless steel as the material of choice in the production of surgical equipment. This decision is largely influenced by the factors that we explain below.
Tungsten Carbide (WC) is an alloy of Tungsten and Carbon (in the form of carbide) where tungsten holds or ‘cements’ the carbide in place. In this structural alloy arrangement, the tungsten supplies the high strength, corrosion-resistance, chemical resistance, while the carbide is responsible for the high hardness, which earns Tungsten Carbide a top position on the list of the hardest materials known. The material is mostly referred to as ‘man-made diamond’ because of the comparison of its hardness to that of the diamond. The fact that Tungsten Carbide is almost 3 times as hard as stainless steel makes it more appropriate in the fabrication of clinical cutting equipment like the scalpel and scissors.
Not only that, but Tungsten Carbide also performs fairly in terms of corrosion resistance and biocompatibility. It doesn’t rust or corrode and it rarely reacts with body fluids to cause any unwanted chemical reaction in the body. Stainless steel is sometimes dumped in some surgical applications because the nickel in its microstructure can react with some body fluids and can lead to health complications, in that case, surgeons simply turn to the savior of the day; Tungsten Carbide.
Yes! A special process enables tungsten carbide to be simply laid and glued to exactly where it is needed. For instance, the only part of the scissors that do the ‘cutting’ is the two sharp edges facing each other, while the sharp edge knife does the ‘cutting’ in the scalpel, and only these parts are coated with Tungsten carbide. The whole of the scissors can be fabricated from stainless steel, while the part that does the cutting is micro bonded with Tungsten carbide to utilize the superior properties of the material. This process known as grafting enables engineers to combine the lightweight of stainless steel (or other materials) with the hardness of tungsten carbide to produce surgical equipment with better performances.Surgical equipment such as scalpels, forceps and needle holders, bone rasps and scissors, surgical pin and wire cutters, and butterfly probes, which have their edge coated with Tungsten Carbide (known as tipping), lends the surgeons firmer grips and better cuts, this is due to the density and extreme hardness of Tungsten Carbide. A greater precise cut which can be achieved by Tungsten Carbide tipped surgical equipment is because the cutting edge can be sharpened to a finer point because of its phenomenal hardness.
You may be amazed that tungsten carbide surgical equipment can be used for years without any sharpening! They retain their cutting edge for years even when they are put to use daily. Tungsten Carbide is only behind cubic boron nitrides and diamond in terms of hardness, its microstructure is so strongly bonded that they don’t break easily. The advantage of this is in time and cost-saving, as they required less sharpening compared to stainless steel. Who doesn’t like to save time and money? Well, time is a vital factor in the health sector, so tungsten carbide is an easy pick here.
Tungsten Carbide is also a material of choice when it comes to shielding of both body tissues and equipment from exposure to unwanted radiation, it is even superior to the all-time almighty Lead in this wise. The carbide can be used to create an impenetrable barrier for the protection of syringe and other surgical equipment from radiation. Moreover, due to this property, it is being extensively used to increase the efficiency of x-ray and chemotherapy operations. Also, Tungsten carbide is a completely recyclable material, there are several organizations scattered all over the United States that are dedicated to the noble job of recycling this material and they even pay you for the WC equipment that have outlived their service life, no matter how small this may be, it is a minus on the cost for the new equipment; so it is a plus for Tungsten carbide.
In conclusion, Tungsten Carbide is revolutionizing the surgical equipment industry with its unique properties that make it superior to stainless steel and other materials. The area of application is increasing daily as more and more surgical equipment manufacturers are discovering new ways the material could be of help, and this is evident by the increase in the demand for Tungsten Carbide by biomedical equipment producers.