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Selecting the Right Flexible Heater Type for Your Application

Epec Engineered Technologies
Written by Epec Engineered Technologies
Posted on June 18, 2024 at 9:09 AM

When working with flexible heaters, know that they are highly customized, and to successfully work in your application, they must be engineered to meet your specific requirements. These heaters are thin, bendable, and can be designed using the most complex shapes, geometries, and curves to fit almost any type of application.

And, when it comes to designing products or systems that require controlled heating, flexible heater types are a fundamental component in a wide range of industries, from aerospace to medical devices. Their ability to provide uniform heat distribution, flexibility, and durability makes them ideal for applications where traditional rigid heating types cannot be used. However, selecting the right flexible heater type requires a clear understanding of the application requirements, heater characteristics, and environmental factors.

In this blog post, we will guide you through the critical factors to consider when choosing the right flexible heater type for your specific needs.

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Understanding The Different Types of Flexible Heater

Flexible heaters are thin, bendable heating devices made from materials such as silicone rubber, polyester, or polyimide film. These heaters are designed to conform to the surfaces they heat, providing excellent thermal transfer. The most common types of flexible heaters include silicone rubber heaters and polyimide (Kapton) heaters.

Silicone Rubber Flex Heaters

Silicone rubber heaters are celebrated for their durability and versatility across various industrial settings. These heaters are composed of fiberglass-reinforced silicone rubber that encases a heating element, providing a unique blend of strength and flexibility. This construction allows the heaters to conform to irregular shapes, surfaces, or equipment, ensuring excellent heat transfer and coverage. Additionally, silicone rubber is inherently resistant to moisture and chemical corrosion, which makes these heaters ideal for harsh environments such as outdoor industrial equipment, food processing machinery, and processes involving oils and hydraulic fluids. The thermal stability of silicone rubber allows it to operate effectively over a wide temperature range, typically from -60°C to +230°C, making it suitable for applications from freezing to high-temperature processes.

Example of a silicone rubber flex heater

Example of a silicone rubber flex heater.

Polyimide Flex Heaters

Polyimide heaters, often referred to by the brand name Kapton®, offer a high degree of precision and efficiency in applications requiring sleek, low-profile designs. These heaters are made from a thin polyimide film that encloses etched foil or wire-wound types, allowing them to provide excellent thermal properties within a compact format. The strength-to-weight ratio of polyimide is a critical advantage, particularly in aerospace and electronic applications where additional weight can compromise performance and cost efficiency.

Polyimide's excellent dielectric strength also makes these heaters a safe choice for applications requiring electrical insulation and thermal conductivity simultaneously. Operating temperatures for polyimide heaters can range from -269°C to +400°C, which is ideal for environments subject to extreme cold or heat, such as satellite components, semiconductor equipment, and various medical diagnostic devices. The material's low outgassing properties make it especially suitable for vacuum environments and clean room settings, where contamination must be strictly controlled.

Example of a polyimide flex heater

Example of a polyimide flex heater.

Both silicone rubber and polyimide heaters can be designed with custom watt densities, integrated sensors, and specific power connections to meet unique requirements. This customization capability allows engineers to tailor heating solutions precisely to both the thermal and physical contours of their application, optimizing performance and reliability.

Key Factors to Consider

Application Requirements

Before selecting a flexible heater, it is crucial to define the application requirements clearly:

  • Temperature Range: Understand the minimum and maximum temperatures that the heater needs to operate within.
  • Heat Output: Determine the required wattage or thermal output. This is usually calculated based on the area to be heated and the ambient conditions.
  • Size and Shape: Flexible heaters can be custom-manufactured to fit specific dimensions and shapes. Knowing the exact size and geometry of the heating area is critical.
  • Voltage Requirements: Consider the available power supply and voltage requirements, as heaters can be designed to operate on various voltages.

Environmental Conditions

The environment in which the heater will operate significantly affects the choice of heater:

  • Exposure to Chemicals: If the heater is likely to be exposed to chemicals, silicone rubber heaters might be preferable due to their chemical resistance.
  • Humidity and Moisture: Environments with high moisture levels require heaters with adequate insulation and protection to prevent electrical failures.
  • Mechanical Stresses: Applications involving frequent flexing or vibration need heaters designed to withstand mechanical stress without failing.

Control and Safety Features

Incorporating control mechanisms can significantly enhance the performance and safety of flexible heaters:

  • Thermostats and Sensors: For precise temperature control, consider integrating thermostats or temperature sensors.
  • Fuses and Circuit Protection: Overcurrent protection can prevent damage to both the heater and the application in case of electrical faults.
  • Timers and Switches: Adding timers or switches can provide better control over the heating process, enhancing energy efficiency and safety.

Certification and Standards

Ensure that the flexible heater complies with industry-specific certifications and safety standards:

  • UL and CE Markings: Look for heaters that meet Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and/or CE standards to ensure they meet safety and quality guidelines.
  • RoHS Compliance: For applications in the European Union, heaters should comply with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

Customization Options

Most flexible heater manufacturers offer customization options to fit specific needs, including:

  • Custom Shapes and Sizes: Tailor the heater to fit unusual shapes or compact spaces.
  • Integrated Adhesives: Some applications may benefit from heaters with pre-applied adhesives for easy installation.
  • Multi-zone Heating: Design heaters with varying watt densities in different areas to provide uniform heating across complex geometries.


Selecting the right flexible heater type is a meticulous process that requires a thorough understanding of both the application and the heater’s characteristics. By considering factors such as application requirements, environmental conditions, and safety features, engineers can ensure they choose the most appropriate, efficient, and safe heating solution for their needs. Working with a knowledgeable manufacturer who can provide guidance and customization options can further streamline the selection process, leading to better performance and longevity of the heater in its application.

With the right approach, flexible heaters can significantly enhance the performance and reliability of a wide range of products and devices, ensuring optimal functionality even in the most demanding conditions.

Topics: Flexible Heaters

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