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The Importance of Flexible Heaters in the Medical Industry

Epec Engineered Technologies
Written by Epec Engineered Technologies
Posted on March 23, 2023 at 8:48 AM

Flexible heating elements have been used in various devices and applications for decades, but in recent years, flexible heaters have become increasingly used and relied upon in the medical industry. There are several reasons for this, but most importantly, they offer a wide range of benefits that other types of heaters simply cannot match.

Made from a variety of materials, such as silicone rubber, polyimide, and fluoropolymers, flexible heaters come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and watt densities. This is important in the medical field as devices range vastly in size and capacity. Being thin, reliable, and conformable makes them even more vital for use in a medical setting and a versatile rubber solution that is highly resistant to environmental conditions.

Flexible heaters can be custom designed to fit any shape, making them an ideal choice for many medical applications. They are also made of foil and provide superior protection against thermal radiation while offering maximum exposure temperature without compromising quality or durability. Rubber-etched foil heaters provide superior control of the temperature range when compared to other types of flexible heating solutions.

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The flexibility of the heaters allows for optimal heat transfer to the application surface and localized heating that is required in many applications. Polyimide/Kapton® flexible heaters offer a unique advantage by using thermal energy transfers from a heating element to create an efficient method of controlling particular components or objects. These miniature heating elements are incredibly efficient and can be customized in size to suit any application. The flexibility of these heaters allows for optimal surface-to-surface contact with the application, ensuring maximum efficiency of heat transfer.

Trays use flexible heaters to warm them and help sterilize equipment

Trays use flexible heaters to warm them and help sterilize equipment.

Medically Approved Flexible Heaters

Before we dive into how flexible heaters have revolutionized the medical industry, it is important to understand why medically approved flexible heaters are so important, dating back to the first recorded use of flexible heaters in medical devices.

Right before the turn of the 20th century, Dr. S. Salaghi developed oval-shaped flexible heaters to aid in a heating element for the chest, abdomen, and remainder of the body’s trunk. That is known as the first-ever use of flexible heaters in the medical industry. The technology really took off in the 1910s as flexible heaters were used in heated clothing and warming blankets for medical use. Fast forward more than 100 years, and similar technologies are used today. We will dig deeper into 21st-century applications later in this blog.

It's important to note there are many types of flexible heaters on the market, but not all of them are created equal. In order to be used in a medical setting here in the states, a heater must meet a specific set of standards set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, amongst others. There are only a handful of companies that manufacture medically approved flexible heaters, and when it comes to medical applications, it is important to use heaters that have been approved by the relevant regulators. This is to ensure that the heater will not pose any risks to the patient. They are also usually tested to a higher standard than other types of heaters, to ensure that they meet the specific needs of the medical industry.

Types of Flexible Heaters

There are a wide variety of flexible heaters available on the market. Some of the most popular types include:

  • Silicone rubber heaters: Silicone heaters are made from a thin layer of silicone rubber. They are very flexible and can be conformed to almost any shape. The silicone rubber provides reliable wear protection from mechanical damage and is more likely to be used in wet environments due to its rugged characteristics.
  • Polyimide/Kapton® heaters: Polyimide heaters are made from a thin layer of polyimide film (as low as 0.007”). The design offers dimensional stability, superior tensile strength, and overall improved resilience. Perhaps most importantly, polyimide is resistant to most chemicals.
  • Polyester heaters: Polyester heaters guarantee a fast and uniform heat transfer. This can result in faster warm-up cycles compared to other heaters. The polyester material can be transparent, which can be beneficial when the flexible heater is in a light-emitting environment (touchscreen panel or a light-backed user interface). Polyester heaters are also found in battery warmers and de-icing equipment.

Various Benefits of Using Flexible Heaters

Before we dive into the specifics of flexible heaters in the medical industry, let’s look at what benefits these heaters offer. There are a wide variety of benefits to using flexible heaters in medical applications, such as offering a more efficient way to deliver heat to a specific area of the body, being able to offer a wide range of temperature settings (as low as several hundred degrees below 0 to as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit), possessing a durability that surpasses other types of heaters. They offer a number of advantages, such as:

  • Low-cost: Heating elements are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and install, making them an economical choice.
  • High-efficiency: Heating elements are highly efficient, as they convert electrical energy into thermal energy with minimal losses.
  • Long lifespans: Heating elements have long lifespans and can often last for years without any maintenance.
  • Easy to install: Heating elements are relatively easy to install, making them a popular choice for many applications.

Some of the most important benefits of using flexible heaters include increased patient comfort, as well as better wound healing since they help increase blood flow to the area, which helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the cells. The use of flex heaters in medical applications can also provide a reduced risk of infection; they help to keep an area clean and free from bacteria as they resist moisture and fungi.

Additionally, flexible heaters offer a greater degree of flexibility than other types of heaters and can be easily contoured to the body. Another important benefit is increased safety. They do not emit harmful electromagnetic fields, which can be harmful to the body. Finally, flexible heaters are much more durable than other types of heaters. This is because they are made from materials that can withstand high temperatures and repeated use.

Flexible Heater Effects on the Medical Industry

Flexible heaters have changed the medical industry for the better over the years. Some of the most popular applications for flexible heaters include blood and fluid warming, patient warming, and wound care. This is particularly the case when using silicone and polyimide heaters as etched foil elements help distribute heat for CPAP machines as well as dialysis and sterilization applications. Flexible heaters have also found their way into a variety of other medical applications, such as:

  • Prescription drug delivery
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Cardiology
  • Ophthalmology
  • OB/GYN

Temperature control is one of the most vital uses when it comes to medical devices. Many blood and IV infusions need to be temperature-regulated so you avoid administering fluid that could send the patient into hypothermia. At the other end of the spectrum, flexible heaters are beneficial in keeping the temperature warm enough to aid in homeostasis.

Flexible heaters have also been used in wound care. In some instances, wounds heal if they are kept warm, and incorporating small flexible heaters into something like a bandage will provide the uniform heat needed to heal.

Sterility is arguably the most important factor to keeping patients and staff safe in the medical field, and flexible heaters help do just that. Oftentimes, trays or storage units are lined with flex heaters to keep equipment sterile.

These devices can be used to precisely target areas of the body without damaging surrounding tissue. They can also be used to provide consistent and uniform heat, making them ideal for medical applications such as wound healing and tissue regeneration.


Typical flexible heaters include foil heaters, wound heaters, and etched foil designs that utilize heating elements such as resistance wires to provide efficient and uniform heat transfer. Recent advances in nanotechnology have made it possible to incorporate ultra-thin heating elements into silicone rubber-based flexible heater designs. These types of designs offer certain distinct advantages when compared to traditional wire-based heater options as they allow for higher watt densities and improved thermal response times. Additionally, due to the increased surface area of the thin film design, these flexible heater options can provide more efficient and effective heat transfer when compared to traditional wire-based designs.

Flexible heaters are essential components of a wide range of products in the medical industry, from small to large applications. With the right technology and innovation, they can be used to revolutionize medical practices, and as technology advances, the possibilities down the road for the use of flexible heaters in medicine will become even more intriguing. Offering a wide range of benefits that other types of heaters simply cannot match flexible heaters are invaluable. Regardless of the application, manufacturers can get high-quality flexible heaters in a range of materials from Epec.

Topics: Flexible Heaters

Using Flexible Heaters In The Medical Industry

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