Thursday, July 19, 2012

Applications and Considerations for PTFE Seals


As a sealing element, PTFE has proven itself many times over. PTFE is used in seals because it encompasses all the properties essential for a good sealing element, mainly:
  • High wear resistance
  • Low coefficient of friction
  • Moderate hardness (allowing for better overall mating with metal parts)
  • Durability – both with temperature as well as corrosion
While these properties are not new to us, every material has a limit to how much it can withstand. Furthermore, every grade of PTFE offers something different to the sealing application. Understanding these limits and differences gives us a better understanding into choosing and applying PTFE seals to best suit the requirement.
Sealing is vital to almost any mechanical assembly. It serves to both retain fluid within the assembly and allows the assembly to function freely. A good sealing material – such as PTFE, needs to be elastic enough to close gaps and assist with the fluid retention while strong enough to take the wear load applied on in by (usually) metal mating parts. Still, within any assembly, there is likely to be some trade off between fluid retention and durability, and this is where the choice of grade becomes important. Typically, the following metrics needs to be studied:
Surface Finish
PTFE wears off in layers, and will usually deposit a coating on the mating surface. In general, it is easy to attain a surface finish of as high as Ra < 0.4 on a virgin PTFE part. However, once we introduce other materials such as glass, carbon, graphite or bronze into the mix, there is a huge drop in the finish. We have successfully attained a finish of Ra < 1.2 on PTFE+15% Glass seals – but going below this is always a challenge.
For the mating part, the surface finish is somewhat more important – as it is usually a metal can wear the PTFE out significantly faster if not properly finished. When the metal surface is rough, more wear occurs until the crevices and valleys within the metal are filled with PTFE. PTFE will wear in direct proportion to the surface finish. Testing shows that the life of the seal is doubled when the finish is improved from 16rms to 8rms.
Surface finish also affects the sealing ability of PTFE. A rough finish creates a microscopic “line of sight” channels allowing a flow path through mating parts. Hence, when sealing gases with small molecules, such as, hydrogen, helium, or oxygen, a 2-4 RMS is highly recommended.
Hardness
When the mating part is hardened (via heat treatment or plating), there is a significant improvement in the life of the seal. Typically, when a hard and soft surface are in contact, there is an exchange of ions, which can lead to adhesion. This reduces the effectiveness of the seal. Improving the surface hardness of the metal part can control the adhesion.
PV Value
PV is an often-quoted metric for all PTFE grades. It offers a trade-off between the pressure that the PTFE can take, against the speed at which the mating part is sliding against the PTFE.  Understanding PV is key to understating whether the PTFE grade being considered at would be able to withstand the combination of load and RPM involved.
Disregarding PV values would almost certainly lead to a failure in the seal to perform. We have received many requests to look into the replacement of standard phosphor-bronze bushings, bearings and seal with PTFE grades. In most cases, PTFE looks to be a perfect substitute along most metrics. However, when we look at the pressure it can withstand under high RPMs, PTFE is not always suitable.
Types of seals
Given the diversity in automotive and mechanical applications, a number of different PTFE seal dimensions have been developed – each with it’s own unique property. When we cross these dimensions with the different PTFE grades, we end up with potentially hundreds of seals. Thus, choosing the right seal is important and a lot of thought needs to go into the same, before a decision is made.
The spring-energised seal is a sealing device consisting of a PTFE ‘energized’ by a corrosion resistant metal spring.  Put simply – as PTFE is a soft material, it can be easily deformed by the metal parts surrounding it. The spring acts as a strengthening medium – allowing the PTFE to take loads while also applying force on the sealing surfaces to create a tighter fit and ensure no leakages. The spring also provides resiliency to compensate for seal wear, gland misalignment or eccentricity.
Types of such spring energised seals include:
Finger Spring:
This is mainly used in dynamic applications, has good sealing and a low coefficient of friction. It is recommended for surface speeds up to 250ft/min.
Coil Spring:
This is designed for more static or slow dynamic applications. It is not as flexible as the finger design – owing to the fact that the spring is coiled and more rigid as a result. However, it is significantly better than the finger design in sealing – due to the uniform pressure applied on all sides by the coil spring.
Double Coil Spring:
A more augmented version of the single coil – this is designed for purely static applications, such as cryogenics. The increased load applied by the double coil significantly improves sealing ability.
O-ring Energised:
This can be used in both static and dynamic applications and offers a good balance between the seal-ability of the coil energised seal and the flexibility of the finger spring. It is typically incorporated in areas where metallic springs cannot be used due to compatibility issues.
Lip seals are used primarily to seal rotary elements such as shafts and bores. They provide a self-lubricating medium between (usually) two metal elements – allowing for both smooth rotation and good sealing. Common examples include strut seals, hydraulic pump seals, axle seals, power steering seals, and valve stem seals.
Lip seals may be designed with or without springs – depending on the application.
The examples shown above are merely indicative of the basic designs available in PTFE seals. In truth, each of the above types of seals may be expanded into many variants, depending on the exact requirements of the mating elements involved in the OEM designs. Furthermore, each may be provided in any of a number of grades of PTFE compounds available.
The grade of PTFE is a critical choice in the design of the seal. We have touched elsewhere on the variants and properties offered by the commonly used fillers in PTFE. In a nutshell – glass offers stiffness and creep resistance; bronze and molybdenum di sulphide offer wear resistance, but increase the coefficient of friction; carbon and graphite offer wear resistance and dimensional stability.
In our experience, a mixture of glass and molybdenum di sulphide offers the ideal sealing properties for most applications. However – the exact grade is usually a choice made by the OEM, based on what information we are able to provide.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Many Chemical Applications of PTFE


PTFE is known to be among the most chemically resistant materials known to man. While this property is well known and often quoted in manuals and our own blog articles, we would like to touch upon some of the common applications that this property leads to.
PTFE Labwares
PTFE has been a mainstay in lab-ware items for a number of years. Lab-ware items include stopcocks, beakers, pipes, test tubes, stirrers, petri dishes and stands. In most labs, glass is the commonly used material for these items, but as we know, glass has a tendency to break. Furthermore, when dealing with harsh chemicals at elevated temperatures and pressures, PTFE becomes a viable option for a number of reasons.
  1. PTFE is chemically inert – barring certain alkalis at elevated temperatures
  2. PTFE does not break easily: Under loads, virgin PTFE would tend to deform rather than break. This makes it useful in applications involving high centrifugal forces – where a glass test tube might break under extreme loads
  3. PTFE is stable across temperature fluctuations: Even toughened glass would have a limit on how suddenly it can be cooled down when under high temperatures. PTFE is able to cool down rapidly from elevated temperatures without cracking
  4. PTFE is a great sealing material: Especially for stopcocks, PTFE forms a much better seal than glass equipment owing to the fact that it is soft and will easily seal gaps which may arise due to minor variations in taper between the pipe and the stopcock.
  5. PTFE is flexible: PTFE tubes can be used in place of glass and be bent to accommodate the layout of the apparatus
  6. PTFE can be moulded with a magnetic core: PTFE stirrers are used because they can be moulded with a magnet at the core and used in magnetic mixers
PTFE Stirrers and Shafts
Stirrers and shafts are used primarily in highly corrosive applications including biotech, pharma and refineries. The ability of the PTFE to be constantly immersed in a chemical and neither modify nor be modified by the chemical makes it an invaluable component in many mixing arrangement.
More often than not, the shaft or stirrer needs to be custom moulded and machined to suit the mixing assembly. This makes it an expensive component and therefore only sparingly used. In some cases, a stainless steel core can be used over which the PTFE is moulded/ lined. In other cases, the stainless steel shaft can simply be coated with PTFE. However, this latter case only works where there is little or no abrasion expected on the shaft – since PTFE coating will peel off if the shaft is subjected to wear.
PTFE umbilical cords
Although the name sounds strange – the umbilical cord is a well-known arrangement of PTFE tubes used in the refinery industry. The purpose is simple – the refinery process yields a number of different gasses, which need to be analysed in a lab to gauge whether the right chemical reactions are taking place in the chamber. Taking these gasses to the lab (which needs to be a minimum of 200-250 meters from the reaction chamber) is a difficult process, as the gasses are corrosive and highly reactive – which may mean that they change composition during transit if not kept in a chemically inert environment.
An assembly of 12-15 tubes is bunched together using a PVC coating and each tube has a length of 250 meters and transports a single gas to the lab, where it is collected and analysed.
The complication in this design is that the PTFE tube needs to be continuous for the entire length of 250 meters. Any bonding or jointing leads to a foreign chemical in the tube and this affects the gas passing through it. After extensive trials, we find that using a welded joint comprised of PTFE is able to create an effective solution for the tubes.
Filtration
Many chemical applications involve multiple substances, which often need to be separated from one another. In such cases, PTFE becomes the preferred medium for filtration.
PTFE is used in 2 forms here:
  1. Porous PTFE sheet: This is a standard PTFE sheet skived from a porous PTFE billet. The billet is made porous by adding certain substances in the PTFE compound, which sublimate during the sinter cycle, leaving voids. These voids form the pores which aid in filtration. This type of membrane is not used extensively due to the inexact nature of the pores. However, the membrane can be made as thick as 5mm – which makes it useful in corrosive applications where a liquid needs to be separated from large solid particles.
  2. Expanded PTFE membrane: This is also called breathable PTFE membrane owing to the fact that you can pass gas through it, but not liquids. Expanded PTFE is more commonly used that porous PTFE as the pore size can be easily defined to within a few microns. It finds multiple applications in automotives, pharma and biotech.
PTFE Valves and Ball Valve Seats
Although valves and ball valves form an industry unto themselves and use a variety of materials other than PTFE, certain applications involving the flow of chemicals need PTFE valves to withstand the corrosion otherwise caused to non-PTFE valves.
Our own experience with PTFE valves sees it being used in piping systems in chemical plants and in equipments such as paint dispersion machines.
In paint dispersion, the equipment is used by retailers to mix different colours of paint to form a batch of a new colour as chosen by the customer. The paint passing through the PTFE valve needs to remain un-changed. Any reaction due to, say, using a nylon or PVC valve can alter the colour to the extent that the colour being chosen by the customer does not match the actual colour of the final paint. Thus PTFE is an invaluable component within this assembly.
Reprocessed PTFE and chemical applications
We had earlier done an article on reprocessed PTFE and the various issues it presents with regards to the base properties of the material. One of the issues we have observed is that when using reprocessed PTFE, the scrap is seen to change colour when using a coolant during machining. This came as a huge shock to us – as common opinion suggests that it is only in mechanical properties that the material suffers when reprocessed.
The finding leads us to believe that a number of things may be happening to cause this:
  1. There may be foreign substances used in making the reprocessed PTFE. Titanium Di-Oxide for example is a known additive in making PTFE appear whiter. Similarly – cheaper, un-tested additives may be added to improve appearance, which may not have the chemical inertness that PTFE has.
  2. Micro-impurities may be present in the material that cannot be seen by the naked eye. These may be reacting with the coolant causing the colour change
  3. The basic chemical structure may be altered on a microscopic level. PTFE is chemically inert because of its molecular structure, which involves a carbon atom, shielded by 2 atoms of fluorine. When we chemically etch PTFE, we effectively remove 1 flourine atom and expose the carbon atom, making it bondable. A similar transformation may be happening in parts of the material due to reprocessing – which cause a degradation in the chemical resistance of the material.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

PEEK: The Superman of Polymers


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If you deal in polymers and have not come across PEEK – it’s probably because its one of those materials which does not surface unless really needed. When it is needed – there’s little else that can be used in it’s place and this often confuses OEMs; because even among expensive, high-end engineering polymers PEEK sits at a price point that causes the client no small amount of shock.

It is important to talk about the price of PEEK before all it’s other characteristics, as this is usually the first thing the client want to discuss. Invariably, they come knowing that they need this polymer (PEEK), but knowing little else. They expect the price to be similar to Polyacetal or, at the very worst PTFE. When they find out that it is close to 10 times the price of PTFE, it comes as a huge surprise.

Why PEEK is expensive is not fully known. Perhaps it is because it has not yet reached the global scale of manufacture of more commoditized polymers, or perhaps the technology is so unique that it allows resin suppliers to charge a huge premium – knowing that alternatives are not available. As processors, we know only so much:

  • The resin is 5-8 times more expensive than PTFE
  • Processing PEEK is time consuming and expensive in comparison to PTFE
  • Machining PEEK is tricky in comparison to other polymers


Since the resin prices are not in our control, we would like to look at points 2 and 3 and discuss them in more depth. But first, let’s get a better idea of what PEEK offers.

High tensile strength

In the polymer space, it would be tough to find something tougher than PEEK. It is so strong, in fact, that machining guidelines for PEEK need to follow the same as those for metals.

This strength allows PEEK to be used in applications such as gasketing and auto components – especially where metals cannot be used, but a metal-like durability is required

High temperature resistance

PEEK melts at about 400 Degrees Celsius and is capable of running in environments of 300-325 Degrees without deforming. While PTFE can withstand up to 250 Degrees, any pressure/ load on PTFE at this temperature will invariably cause deformation. In the case of PEEK, its hardness allows it to be in a high-load-high-temperature environment without loss of dimensional properties.

High wear resistance

Again, while both PTFE and UHMWPE can take a significant amount of wear, PEEK exhibits a high PV value and can withstand wear effects even under harsh physical and chemical conditions.

Chemical resistance

While not on the same level as PTFE for pure chemical inertness, PEEK exhibits resistance to many harsh chemicals, allowing it to be used in corrosive environments, under heavy loads


In a nutshell, PEEK’s ability to stay dimensionally stable under harsh environments makes it a highly sought after polymer. OEMs who use PEEK do so knowing well that for the properties offered, PEEK is unique and therefore expensive.

Processing PEEK

We will not delve very deep into the processing of PEEK (as this is a proprietary process unique to each processor), but we will point out the key differences between PEEK and PTFE processing (which has been looked at earlier). It should be noted that here we are referring only to compression moulding, and not injection moulding.

The main difference is that while PTFE is cold compression moulded and then loaded in batches into a sintering oven, PEEK needs to be sintered during compression itself.  Furthermore, post sintering, PEEK needs to go through an annealing process, which is time consuming. This leads to a few complications:

  • Batch processing is difficult. Since the total heating cycle for a single piece can take up to 8 hours, and since heaters are expensive, PEEK is normally moulded a few pieces at a time. So unlike PTFE, where a batch of 8-10 large pieces can be moulded in series and then put in the oven for a single cycle, PEEK will offer only a few pieces in the same amount of time
  • Since PEEK is heated under pressure, issues of flash can arise as the resin becomes molten, but has pressure being applied on it. Furthermore, the pressure and temperature have to be balanced very carefully, since the temperature makes the PEEK molten, allowing it to reach its desired shape, but the pressure is responsible for vacating air bubbles from the material, so that there is no porosity.
  • Batch processing the PEEK parts for annealing is possible, but takes about 24 hours


So overall, the productivity in moulding PEEK is far below that of PTFE. This does answer, in part, the question of why the price of the finished material is so expensive.

Machining PEEK

As discussed above PEEK machines more like a metal than like a polymer. It is hard and has a significant impact on the tool. The same tool that might churn out 3000-4000 PTFE parts may struggle to churn out a few hundred PEEK parts. Again – this adds to the cost of the finished product significantly.

More importantly for machining though is that if the PEEK is not annealed properly, the part will behave erratically during machining as different areas within the material react differently to the stress being placed by the tool. Thus, cracks can develop during machining and the dimensional stability across a batch of components can vary significantly.

As a result, PEEK machining is a difficult process and there are few who are willing to take on the risks of machining such an expensive item, knowing that the rate of rejection could be very high.

In conclusion – PEEK has remained a largely niche polymer mainly due to its prohibitively high price. If it were cheaper – say around the price of PTFE – there are chances that it could steal a significant chunk of the PTFE market. PTFE still rates much higher than PEEK on characteristics like coefficient of friction and dielectric strength, but where it is a question of sheer strength, PEEK stands unmatched amongst polymers.

Monday, March 19, 2012

PTFE Prices – taking a step back to leap forward?

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So we’re back to pricing – because until they fully stabilize, we need to be on our guard. Considering the data below, one might be allowed to assume that things are finally easing out and that the sector is slowing reaching an equilibrium of sorts, coming off the highs seen in mid-2011 to rest at about US$24/Kg. But we would rather still be wary.



Since prices spiked in July 2011, there has been a decrease of about 13% in prices – which has been gradual. There are a number of reasons one can point to for this decrease – most of which we have already touched upon in our last article on pricing. To list them out:
  1. Re-entering of China and Russia into European and Indian markets at competitive rates
  2. Easing out of Fluorspar supplies due to opening of new mines and reduction in China’s domestic consumption

However we remain wary for 2 very specific reasons:

  1. China’s summer approaches.

    In our very first article on pricing, we specifically highlighted the impact that the Chinese summer was having on PTFE prices. Summer months spike domestic demand for refrigerators and air conditioning and consequently cause R22 to be diverted from PTFE and into these products. This creates the shortage in R22 and was one of the root causes for the price escalations seen last year. However, we also postulated that once summer passes, the prices would ease out – which they have. But what now? Summer is about 2 months away and there is nothing to suggest that the rest of the world’s fluorspar mines can support the industry as yet. Our own sources indicated that it would be at least 2 years before the re-opening of mines in Mexico and South America eased the supply side constraints on fluorspar.

  2. The PTFE industry is far from efficient
    In finance, we always assume that if an event (like China’s summer) is imminent and the effects of that event are known – then the prices of goods linked to the event should already reflect this information. In other words, if processors were aware that prices are going to spike during the Chinese summer, they would already have stockpiled raw materials to avoid against it, implying that there would be less demand during the summer and prices would not escalate again. However, this is unlikely to have happened since, (1) there are mixed opinions on whether the prices will go up or keep going down and (2) processors have already had to triple their working capital in order to keep up with the price increase in raw materials and it is unlikely that too many would have funds to stockpile materials for a full quarter. Therefore we remain nearly as exposed as we were last year.

But the news may not be all that bad. For one, China has been seriously implementing the R22 phase-out and as of August 2011 was even awarded a grant to speed up the efforts. Whether this phase-out sees any immediate impact on domestic demand remains to be seen and would possibly define the price of PTFE for the next few years. Secondly, there would be good reason to believe that PTFE resin manufacturers have hedged against such a scenario – even if the processors themselves are unable to do so. In India, our local producer has not only augmented PTFE resin capacities, but also become one of the foremost global producers of R22.

In a nutshell, the state of the future depends largely on the balancing of the Chinese summer against the precautions taken by resin manufacturers to safeguard against a further spike. I do not believe processors have any real part to play in all this – we remain, for the most part, price takers. If there is a fluctuation in prices, we would need to absorb it much the same as we did last year. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

PTFE machining considerations – tapping


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Machining PTFE, as we have touched upon before, is never a straightforward process. Most machining handbooks will suggest that PTFE should be treated much like wood when it comes to machining, as this is the material it most closely behaves like when machined. And while this is a good starting point for tool selection and CNC programme settings, as we delve deeper into the aspects of machining PTFE, we see that it behaves much like it’s own material. So learning by doing becomes the only option – since PTFE is a niche product (when compared with other known polymers).

Recently, we faced an interesting issue when creating a rather complex part. The part is approximately 200 Grams in weight and machining it involved multiple operations including CNC turning, CNC milling, drilling and finally tapping. All in all, the drawing highlighted over 28 dimensions that needed to be within a strict tolerance and it took us the better part of a week to just get 10 prototypes ready.

We were pretty happy with the result: everything measured, as it should. We almost didn’t check the tapping – which called for an M3 tap in two places. The M3 taps used were brand new and the first tap was done on the VMC as part of the programme – so there was no way it could be an issue, we thought. But we were wrong.

The no-go gauge entered in the hole all too easily and we were pretty shocked to realise that even an M3 bolt was sitting loose in the hole. At first we though we had the wrong tap – which we didn’t. We then argued that the gauge would always enter – as it was designed mainly for harder materials and PTFE would yield all too easily, since it was much softer. To check this we used the same taps on a mild steel plate and confirmed that the no-go did not enter. But this still did not answer why the bolt itself was loose.

We searched extensively for an answer online, but there was very little information on tapping and even less on the issue we in particular were facing. We then decided to start experimenting with different combinations of taps and drill holes.

On the part, we had used a 2.2mm drill with all 3 taps. The first tap was done on our VMC, while the next 2 were done by hand. We tried the following combinations:

Drill Hole
Tap 1
Tap 2
Tap 3
Result
Remark
1.5
Y
Y
Y
Reject
Bolt loose
1.5
Y


Reject
Bolt loose
1.5


Y
Reject
Bolt tight
2
 Y
Y
Reject
Bolt tight
2


Y
Reject
Bolt loose
2.2
Y
Y
Y
Reject
Bolt loose
2.2


Y
Reject
Bolt loose

In a couple of cases – where we used only the 3rd (finest) tap, the bolt was tight. However, none of the holes were answering to the no-go gauge, which passed equally easily in all the holes. We once again argued that this was a PTFE related issue and that as long as the bolt was tight, it should not be a problem. But many of the consultants and experts I spoke with said that they had come across parts in PTFE that answered to the no-go gauge, and hence there must be a way to machine such a part.

The problem was finally solved when an engineer in our client’s side suggested we use a “Form Tap”. I had never heard of a form tap and when I searched it, it seemed to apply mainly to tapping soft metals (such a aluminium). There was no mention of applications to PTFE. Nonetheless, it was our last shot, so we tried it and were pleasantly surprised.

We eventually went with a 2.0mm drill and an M3 form tap to get a result that was both functionally good and which answered to the gauge.

The reason the form tap works, is because unlike a regular tap, it does not bore into the PTFE, taking out material as it does. Instead, it merely forms the tap profile within the drilled hole and as PTFE is soft, it yields quite easily. The result is that the tapped hole is much fuller than when a normal M3 tap is used – making it tighter and ensuring the pitch profile does not yield to the no-go gauge.

Surprisingly, this does again strengthen the PTFE-Wood similarity in machining. Tapping is unheard of in wood; a screw can be passed through a drilled hole and sit tight forever! In many ways, a form tap is nothing more than passing a screw/bolt into the PTFE to imprint its profile within the hole. Only that the form tap is possibly more exact and can ensure that the resulting tap is accepted when inspected with the correct gauges!

Friday, January 13, 2012

UHMWPE - the unknown polymer


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One of the few good things to happen due to the unprecedented escalation of PTFE prices globally was that it allowed us to look at alternate materials and seriously gauge the feasibility of manufacturing them.

In an earlier post, we looked at the various properties of PTFE and compared them to the other polymers. And although the key takeaway from that exercise was that PTFE was an immensely versatile material which was difficult to replace, we did make mention of possible alternatives, provided the user was willing to compromise on some parameters.

A key polymer which struck us then and continues to feature prominently in our product offering today is UHMWPE. We would like to take a more detailed look at UHMWPE for 2 reasons:



  1. It does measure up against PTFE as a low-cost substitute (with certain limitations)
  2. It’s properties do not seem to be as widely known to end-users, resulting in limited use in many applications where it would otherwise be ideal

What is UHMWPE?

Sometimes referred to as just “UHMW”, UHMWPE or Ultra High Molecular Weight Poly Ethylene is an off-white polymer that exhibits superior strength while being both light-weight and possessing a low coefficient of friction.

While it is not entirely accurate to refer to it as an “unknown” polymer – our own analysis of search terms within Google tells us that a total of ~62,000 searches per month are done globally for UHMWPE and/or UHMW. This is tiny in comparison to searches for PTFE/Teflon (1,300,000 per month) or for Nylon (5,500,000 per month).


Comparison with PTFE

So how does UHMWPE compare with PTFE? In our own opinion – it compares rather well. In fact, if you take all the applications involving PTFE and remove the ones that call for heat resistance, UHMWPE is a very workable substitute.

Although a full comparison chart is given at the end of this article, we would like to look at some specific properties more subjectively.



  1. Temperature resistance
    Let’s get this one out of the way, since we know that it is UHMWPE’s weakness. Having an operating temperature of only about 80°C compared with 260°C for PTFE,
    UHMWPE is automatically disqualified in a range of industrial applications where the temperatures surrounding the material are expected to be well in excess of it’s upper limit.
  2. Wear resistance
    Before we were familiar with
    UHMWPE, we were asked to advice a cement plant on whether they could use Lubring sheets (PTFE+Bronze) in a wear application. We were confident that it would work and when they mentioned that they had tried UHMWPE and it had failed, we did not think it was worth looking into. But when we did compare the materials, we realized that if UHMWPE had failed, there was little chance PTFE would work – since the gap between the two materials on this parameter is quite wide.
    Keep in mind that
    PTFE+Bronze is the most wear resistance grade of PTFE available. So if we compare UHMWPE with plain PTFE, the rift is even wider.
  3. Coefficient of friction
    It is difficult to beat PTFE on this parameter, although
    UHMWPE comes fairly close. While it remains true that the coefficient of friction between PTFE and polished stainless steel is the lowest between two known solids (0.03-0.05), UHMWPE is able to reach a somewhat respectable 0.1-0.15 on this metric. While this does put it out of range for many applications where the recommended coefficient cannot exceed 0.1 (eg: sliding bearings) – it is a useful substitute in components where smooth movement between parts is the only requirement.
  4. Dielectric strength
    Both materials are pretty much neck and neck on dielectric strength. Where
    UHMWPE loses out is on its ability to be skived into thin tapes. While we regularly skive PTFE down to 0.04-0.05mm thicknesses, the same is more challenging with UHMWPE, since it lends a much higher wear on to the skiving blade, making it difficult to achieve long lengths of tape before the blade dulls out and breaks the tape. Nonetheless, thicknesses of 0.1mm and above are more than feasible, meaning that as an insulating pad or even a component used in high voltage applications, UHMWPE is more that suitable.
  5. Chemical inertness
    PTFE is well known for it’s inertness and this allows it to lend itself to applications ranging from biotechnology to medical devices and chemical linings. While UHMWPE does not have quite the same extreme inertness as PTFE, it does find use in medical applications (it is used in parts for joint replacements) and can easily be used in both biotech and chemical applications, provided the exact nature of chemicals is known and compared against it’s capabilities.
  6. Weight
    While weight has never been a consideration for
    PTFE in any of it’s applications, we would still like to highlight that UHMWPE is less than half the weight of PTFE (specific gravity of 0.95 vs. 2.15 for PTFE). The key difference this adds is in their respective cost cacluations. Not only is UHMWPE cheaper in resin form (roughly 1/4th the cost per Kg), the fact that you consume only half the weight to get the same volume part implies that the effective cost is 1/8th the cost of PTFE. This represents a significant saving.
So where can we use UHMWPE?

There are a range of applications where UHMWPE could and should be used. In many cases, we have tried to suggest to the end-user that we can offer them UHMWPE in stead of PTFE, but due to restrictions on standards and because changing specifications can be time consuming, very few have opted for the change.

Strangely, in many cases, clients have opted for suppliers offering reprocessed PTFE, but not UHMWPE. Given the highly diminished properties of reprocessed PTFE, this is functionally not a great trade-off in the medium to long term.

Automotives

Most automotive applications use PTFE in high temperature environments, so UHMWPE does not fit the requirement. However, there are a number of applications where the parts operate at room temperature eg: car doors, seats, hand levers etc. and here UHMWPE can find a lot of use. We are aware that the wear strip used inside car doors employs UHMWPE.

In general, UHMWPE wear strips offer a low cost and effective alternative to PTFE wear strips.

Valves and seals

Typically, valves and seals require a low coefficient of friction with a good wear resistance.  UHMWPE is an excellent replacement for PTFE in these areas.

Medical

UHMWPE is widely used in joint replacements due to its chemical inertness and light-weight.

Infrastructure

Although regulatory restrictions prevent materials other than PTFE to be used POT bearings, there are many sliding bearing applications which do not fall under the government codes and are therefore potential areas where UHMWPE can be used. UHMWPE could be employed successfully in sliding bearings and as plain sliding pads.

Electronics

Many components used in electronics have traditionally employed PTFE components for insulation. In a number of cases, we have successfully tested UHMWPE for these applications and convinced the client to shift.


Overall, there continues to be a resistance to employ a material like UHMWPE. Part of this is regulatory – drawings and specifications that call for PTFE cannot be changed over night. But mostly there is a genuine dearth of awareness about the material – which is equally difficult to change. While it is true that UHMWPE is a substitute for PTFE – we see it as more of a partner in application – allowing many end-users to find a competitive, low-cost solution where they would otherwise be unable to proceed with their development or manufacturing.


Comparison chart between PTFE and UHMWPE


UHMWPE
PTFE
Units
Colour
Off-white
White

Specific Gravity, 73°F
0.944
2.25

Tensile Strength @ Yield, 73°F
3250
4000
psi
Tensile Modulus of Elasticity, 73°F
155,900
150,000
psi
Tensile Elongation (at break), 73°F
330
350
%
Flexural Modulus of Elasticity
107,900
145,000
psi
Compressive Strength at 2% deformation
400
1650
psi
Compressive Strength 10% Deformation
1200
2200
psi
Deformation Under Load
6-8%
2.5-5%
%
Compressive Modulus of Elasticity, 73°F
69,650
79,750
psi
Hardness, Durometer (Shore "D" scale)
69
55-65

Izod Impact, Notched @ 73°F
30
161
ft.lbs./in. of notch
Coefficient of Friction (Dry vs Steel) Static
0.17
.06-0.12

Coefficient of Friction (Dry vs Steel) Dynamic
0.14
0.12

Sand Wheel Wear/Abrasion Test
95
90
UHMW=100
Coefficient of Linear Thermal Expansion
11
6-7.2
in/in/°F x 10-5
Melting Point (Crystalline Peak)
135-145
380
°C
Maximum Service Temperature
80
260
°C
Volume Resistivity
>1015
NA
ohm-cm
Surface Resistivity
>1015
NA
ohm-cm
Water Absorption, Immersion 24 Hours
Nil
Nil
%
Water Absorption, Immersion Saturation
Nil
Nil
%
Machine-ability Rating
5
3
1 = easy, 10 = difficult