The Making of PTFE Tubing and Its Properties: An Overview

April 23, 2020 by  
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Polytetrafluoroethylene, or better known as PTFE, is a synthetic polymer that you can find almost everywhere. From pots and pans in the kitchen to tubes and graft materials in the hospital, this substance is perfect for just about any application.

If you’ve been thinking about approaching a PTFE tubing manufacturer to get supplies for your project, here’s a guide that’ll help you. Read on to learn how PTFE is produced and the many properties that have made it a favorite among experts across various fields.

How It’s Made

PTFE was discovered by accident. In 1938, a young scientist named Roy Plunkett tried to create a new kind of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant with tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) and hydrochloric acid. These two were stored in pressurized metal cans for the duration of the product’s development, allowing Plunkett to monitor the amount of TFE that had already been used up. But, one day, no gas flowed out of the containers, even though they weren’t empty. Confused and curious, he sawed one of them in half and found that the gas had solidified into a white powder that looked flaky and felt slippery.

The process of manufacturing this polymer has since then been refined to create more specific products, like PTFE tubing or coating. There are two commonly used methods, which are:

Suspension Polymerization

In this method, liquid TFE is siphoned into a reaction chamber that contains purified water and a reaction agent, such as disuccinic acid peroxide or ammonium persulfate. The vessel is then mechanically rocked, and the chemicals inside interact to form solid white grains that resemble shredded coconut. Once the mixture reaches a certain weight, the machine stops moving and drains the water out.

The resulting desiccated coconut lookalike inside the chamber is PTFE. But, it’s not yet ready for use at this point. It still has to be dried and pulverized until its consistency becomes similar to that of wheat flour. To make it easier to work with, the fine powder will be agglomerated, or mixed with a solvent in a rotating container and clumped together to create pellets. These are then molded with a hydraulic press to take on a tube shape.

Dispersion Polymerization

This technique uses the same three ingredients: liquid TFE, purified water, and a reaction agent. But, in this process, the chamber is shaken gently, as opposed to the intense movement used in the first method, and the PTFE comes out in the form of tiny beads. To reduce the amount of water in the container, manufacturers either filter it out or add more chemicals to the mixture, leaving behind a milky, paste-like substance. This PTFE can be used to coat metal tubes.  

Its Properties

The reason PTFE is so popular among designers and engineers is because of its numerous properties. Unlike other polymers, it’s highly flexible and exceptionally resistant to chemicals, electricity, and extreme temperatures. In an environment that’s as cold as -320 degrees Fahrenheit or as hot as 500, it’ll be able to function without compromising its amazing features.

This material is also hydrophobic, so water and other similar substances won’t stick to it. In some cases, it can be modified to have a better chance of resisting contact damage, such as abrasion. The one thing PTFE can’t stand, though, is high-energy radiation. Exposure to this will lead to its disintegration.

Because of these characteristics, PTFE tubes are used to cover wires and sensors in computers, cars, and airplanes. Three-dimensional printer nozzles are also made of this polymer, as it can deal with the intense heat of the filaments. In hospitals, they’re used as catheters, sutures, arterial and vascular grafts, and reconstructive or cosmetic surgery materials.

Get in touch with Tef – Cap Industries Inc. to start your project now. You’ll find an array of PTFE products in their inventory, like heat-shrinkable probe covers and flexible or extrude tubing.

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