Short answer: stainless steel. There are many different applications for stainless steel in the pharmaceutical industry: sanitary product handling, sample incineration, and many others, not the least of which being product-processing containers. Stainless steel drums are favored in the pharmaceutical industry for their durability, corrosive resistance and ease to thoroughly sanitize.
But just as there are numerous applications for stainless steel in the pharmaceutical industry, there are also numerous grades of stainless steel at work in the pharmaceutical industry.
The most popular stainless steels for pharmaceutical applications are grade 304, 316 and 316L
Stainless steel type 304 is widely popular in almost every industry due to its high resistance to chemical corrosion and oxidation. It is also often referred to as “surgical stainless steel,” so you could say it’s pretty important to the pharmaceutical industry. The largest downside to grade 304 is it’s susceptibility to chlorides.
The next friend to pharmaceuticals is grade 316 stainless steel. This type contains more nickel and molybdenum than 304, which helps rectify the chloride corrosion problem. Type 316 is incredibly heat tolerant, it has a maximum continuous use temperature of around 800°C (1,472°F). As such, it’s preferred for sample and materials handling and any other application that requires high-temperature sanitization to kill microbes. As popular as this stainless steel is in the pharmaceutical industry, it is also the go-to stainless steel for the food and cookware industry and is a favorite for navy applications.
A close cousin to 316 is type 316L, a low-carbon version of 316 that is even more corrosion resistant, weldable and stronger.
Stainless steel is easy to sanitize, difficult to damage, and holds up to harsh chemicals. It is no wonder that the pharmaceutical industry turns to stainless steel drums when it needs a durable, reliable and safe container for the storage or transport of samples and other medical grade materials.