Plastic might be chosen over glass because it is less expensive. To the glass industry, this has had negative consequences: As demand drops, prices have had to increase. But, unlike disposable plastics, glass can be reused. And although greater than the price tag on a similar plastic item, the buying price of a reusable glass item is diminished with each use. “Convenience has a price,” says Nicoll. “Per-use cost is typically higher for a disposable in comparison to a reusable product, even with figuring in washing and preparation costs.”
Some companies have realized a niche market in the area of specialty glass. Scientists for whom a resident glassblower (see accompanying story) will not be available can change to specialty Centrifuge using their ideas for laboratory glassware. Cal-Glass’s Cheatley recalls once being motivated to make glass hearts–not pieces of jewelry, but true replicas of human hearts through which medical researchers could practice placing catheters.
Bellco also provides specialty glass items. Sometimes, says Nicoll, products which were created just for one scientist prove to possess universal appeal and make their way into Bellco’s catalog. “However,” says Nicoll, “it seems that when specialty markets grow to a certain level for the item, somebody comes along and helps to make the item from plastic.” Many of the more creative requests that Bellco has filled remain a secret–they arose from scientist customers in the pharmaceutical industry and therefore are proprietary.
Cheatley is looking for new markets to conquer your competition brought on by plastics and automation. The company recently introduced an all-glass photochemical treatment system known as the EcoStill, which extracts silver from spent photochemicals. Even though the stills are targeted primarily for use inside the photoprocessing industry, Cheatley expects these to prove valuable in biological labs as a substitute for evaporators. Unlike standard evaporators, the EcoStill, an enclosed system, does not produce fumes, says Cheatley. And, he adds, the glass EcoStill is impervious towards the chemicals that can damage standard steel photochemical processors.
But sometimes glass just can’t complete the task. By way of example, “you can’t squeeze glass,” says Bel-Art’s Nunziata, whose company’s product line includes safety labeled squeeze bottles. Also, jugs and bottles for storage are often manufactured from plastic since they are easier to handle.
Lately, plastics are already developed with many of the properties that glass is valued. As an example, polymethylpentene is a very clear plastic with optical qualities nearly equivalent to glass. Polymethylpentene is additionally autoclavable, and is also useful for beakers, graduated cylinders, funnels, flasks, and many other considerations traditionally made of glass. Another clear plastic resistant to high temperatures is polycarbonate. Bel-Art markets a polycarbonate vacuum desiccator, utilized to remove moisture from a sample. A plastic desiccator has several advantages across the traditional glass apparatus, says George McClure, an engineer and senior corporate vice president of the company. Glass desiccators needs to be quite heavy to avoid implosion from atmospheric air pressure, a potentially dangerous accident. The polycarbonate may be taken down to an entire vacuum without danger of implosion, and won’t crack or chip when it is dropped. The plastic desiccator is much less expensive than glass, McClure adds.
Plastic wasn’t always created to supplant glass, however. About four decades ago, the 1st product of Rochester, N.Y.-based Nalge Co. was really a plastic pipette jar. Nalge’s founder, Emanuel Goldberg, was actually a manufacturer’s representative selling pipettes, and a lot of of his customers complained that when they dropped their glass pipettes in to the stainless-steel storage jar, the tips broke.
A chemist by training, Goldberg welded plastic bottoms to lengths of plastic pipe. “So, ironically, the first plastic product that Nalge made was made to prevent glass pipettes from breaking,” says Gordon Hamnett, national accounts manager for Nalge. “Subsequently, the company developed plenty of products that were designed because glass products were breaking. We created a brand of beakers, graduated cylinders, and volumetric flasks, modeled very much right after the original glass benchware which had been available commercially.” Today, about 25 percent of Nalge’s plastic merchandise is disposable; the remainder are supposed to be reusable.
The need for Pipette tip from the life science market has grown over the last decade, as outlined by Hamnett. For uses in cell biology labs, some plastics have been created to be inert than glass, preventing cells from sticking to the surface. As well, plastic surfaces can be treated in order that cells will stick and form a confluent layer more rapidly than they would on glass. “You are able to type of choose the options in the several types of plastic resins to fulfill different demands from the life science lab, where glass lacks the flexibility,” says Hamnett.
And plastic technology is continuing to evolve, allowing manufacturers to produce products for specific needs offering advantages over glass and also over other kinds of plastic. Nalge includes a type of fluoropolymer (Teflon) beakers which can be used for handling hydrofluoric acid, which “basically eats glass,” says Hamnett. The corporation can also be testing exposing a very high-density polyethylene resin to fluorine gas to produce a micro-thin layer, or “skin,” of fluorine, causing a surface which has a chemical resistance similar to Teflon’s, but is less expensive. Nalge even offers just introduced a disposable bottle made the exact same material as plastic soda pop bottles–polyethylene terephthalate (PET). “PET is actually a resin which has gas barrier properties which are crucial in cell biology, where media should be saved in a container that may minimize CO2 exchange,” says Hamnett.
But even while plastic displaces glass, new lab procedures and a growing conservation ethic are cutting into the use of both materials. Automation and improved analytical instrumentation–often requiring really small samples–have reduced the demand for laboratory glassware, based on LaGrotte. “Previously, a scientist or possibly a technician would do a lot of things yourself, using various kinds of lab glassware,” he says. “Now there are many instruments that you just feed samples to, plus they do every one of the analysis or mixing or whatever could have been done by hand.”
While both glassware and Skeleton model now manufacture items, such as small sample vials, especially for automated use, Hamnett states that the reduction in the level of glassware utilized for classic wet chemistry continues to be so great that the rise in automation-related items is not enough to balance it. Despite the fact that glassware and plasticware items are now available in both reusable and disposable forms, Stanley Pine, professor of chemistry at California 36dexnpky University, L . A ., advocates reusing even disposable items. “I’m attempting to teach everybody that people don’t are now living in a disposable world anymore,” says Pine. “Plenty of this plastic things which was previously looked at as disposable probably must be cleaned and reused.”
“Cheap” used to mean “disposable,” Pine says. While a reusable glass pipette might cost $10, a pipette built to be disposable–made from thinner glass, with calibrations that are painted on instead of etched in–might sell for just $1. The manufacturer would reason that it’s cheaper to throw away the disposable items than to deal with them and wash them, he explains. “But most of us from the academic labs have realized the vast majority of items that was made to become disposable is really very good,” Pine says. “You can use it, by way of example, in a number of our undergraduate classes. Although it doesn’t continue for 20 years, it might last for 5yrs, and it’s probably economically advantageous.”