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What is ETFE Tubing? Meaning, Benefits, and Application


What is ETFE Tubing?

ETFE tubing is a product used in a large variety of industries, from the medical to construction and even aerospace. The material is a copolymer of ethylene and tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). The result is a material with high impact strength and abrasion resistance. It may not be as flexible as other materials like PTFE, PFA or FEP, but it remains crack resistant under pressure and keeps its mechanical properties under temperatures of around 150ºC. Although ETFE is not as flexible as other known materials, it still could be extruded into flexible tubing, which has so many benefits and properties that it is hard to miss out on them.

Engineers not only use this valuable ETFE material for tubing. It is possible to build with panels made out of it and create an ETFE structure that will let enough daylight inside and it rarely has to be cleaned. Among the famous installations where such copolymer is used is the Eden Project in Cornwall. The spheres located there are built out of ETFE and serve as greenhouses for various plants from different climates. This structure is a testament of what is possible with this material and we advise to look into other gorgeous buildings in existence today, made a reality thanks to ETFE and human ingenuity.

What are the Benefits of ETFE

ETFE has many benefits as a material. Let’s look at some of its main perks, making it a desirable option in specific applications.

Chemical inertness – ETFE is basically chemically inert, making it resistant to solvents including acids, bases, or hydrocarbons which would typically affect other Fluoropolymers.

Mechanical toughness – ETFE has high tensile strength, making it endure mechanical stress better than other polymers

Flame Resistant – ETFE tubing can withstand temperatures up to 150°C. The panels used in construction are self-extinguishing and could be designed to drop out of their mounting points to let toxic fumes, smoke and heat out of the building faster.

Nonstick surface – The surface of ETFE does not allow for dust particles and other pollutants to build-up. This is why ETFE constructions have little to none maintenance at all. The material is considered to be self-cleaning, thus making it a good candidate for glass replacement, at least for windows. (Plus other benefits, of course.)

Abrasion and impact resistance – The toughness of the material gives it a good tolerance towards abrasion and impact damages. Those benefits also tilt the scale towards using ETFE for visors or windows. The scratch resistance of the material can really prolong the life of the product, especially when it is used in industrial or other harsh conditions.

Sterilizable – ETFE tubing can pass several sterilization methods, like gamma irradiation protocols or electron beam sterilization. It’s tolerance towards higher temperatures also makes it autoclavable. (An autoclave is a machine that uses steam under high pressure to sterilize materials.)

The above-mentioned beneficial properties of this material make it hard to look away from. The options that professional have while building and creating elements out ETFE are still not revealed entirely.

Application of ETFE

Engineers, designers and architects are constantly finding new applications for ETFE, but it is already used quite often. The building industry is putting the material in good use, creating protection tubes for fragile telecommunication wires. The smooth surface of ETFE tubing makes it easier to feed a wire through. The mechanical toughness of it gives a good level of protection to, otherwise, fragile materials like optic-fibre cables for instance.

The dielectric properties of ETFE is another perk, making it ideal for an isolation layer of power lines. The material is also used as a replacement for glass in windows and even entire ETFE roofs were built in several landmarks. We have already mentioned the Eden project in the UK. Other ETFE structures are the US Bank Stadium, the Allianz Arena and the Watercube National Swimming Centre in Beijing.

The ETFE panels in those structures are built from layers of ETFE foil with a pocket between them. This pocket is filled with air and provides insulation and sound deadening. Each individual panel could be illuminated in different colour via LED lights, giving the structure a bizarre appearance and options for customization during different events. In theory, a panel could represent a pixel, giving the option of streaming images and maybe a video, not on a building, but with it.

Thanks to the options we have with sterilizing ETFE elements and its biocompatibility, there are numerous applications for the material in medical practice. Medical equipment, tools, gasbags, small bore tubing, fluid containment bags, self-supporting structures for water and blood purification and more.

Holscot is taking advantage of the properties of materials like ETFE and using their experience and skill in working with them to create solutions for various industries. From medical to architectural, offshore and even aerospace industries. Get in touch with Holscot at sales@holscot.com or giving us a call at +44 (0) 1476 574771