Around the world, different industries have applications and equipment where there will be changing temperatures, humidity, or moisture that can impact how a component operates or processes signals. There may also be instances where a product needs to be at a certain temperature so that it may be processed, such as a liquid chemical or food product that has to be at the right temperature, so that it will be fluid enough to be packaged into containers.
Controlling temperatures, humidity, and moisture can be accomplished using flexible heaters. These heaters are made from a range of materials, such as silicon rubber, polyimide, and polyester. The elements may be etched foil or wire wound. They can come in thicknesses from 0.007" to 0.056" and can provide temperatures of about 220°F (polyester), 395°F (polyimide), or 445-500°F (rubber silicone).
Let's look at the top 10 applications where a flexible heater would be required. These applications will have varying factors, such as the temperature range that is desired, the environment, the processes, placement, and space requirements that will dictate the type of flexible heater which should be used.
Example of a Polyimide / Kapton® flexible heater.
1. Controlling Thermal Expansion and Retraction
In certain industries, such as aerospace and aeronautical, equipment and machinery will experience extreme temperatures daily. Moving from a warm to cold environment can cause components and parts to physically retract or shrink. Then, when the application moves back into a warmer environment, the components and parts will expand. These fluctuation temperatures and physical changes to the items can cause stresses, cracking, and increased wear-and-tear to the point where there is a malfunction or irrevocably damage.
A flexible heater can provide greater thermal control in components that are hard to reach and repair when experiencing such extreme temperature fluctuations. These heaters help keep parts and components at a steady, warm temperature when the aircraft or sea vessel moves into colder temperatures, so there will not be extreme expansion and retraction issues when these crafts later move into warmer climates. By controlling thermal expansion and retraction, the thermal heater helps prolong the life cycle of the part by preventing premature fatigue and increased wear-and-tear.
2. Prevents Fogging and Moisture on Lens and Mirrors
A wide range of industries uses lens and sensors in both indoor and outdoor environments to perform certain functions. Military applications may use night vision and sightseeing equipment to spot enemy activity in hostile environments. Other uses of lens and mirrors involve security cameras, surveillance equipment, and car mirrors.
When these mirrors and lens encounter ranging humidity, moisture levels, and temperatures, fog and mist can form on the equipment's surface to prevent the application from working effectively. A flexible heater installed directly into the device can act as a defogger. It keeps the surface warm to dry off the moisture and to prevent the lens and sensor from fogging up. It can be placed in both stationary and moving components so the equipment will continue to operate within acceptable levels.
3. Eliminates Ice Buildup on Moving Parts
Some equipment that is placed outdoors will have moving parts. Vending machines that dispense beverages and snacks, ATMs, and other machines may be left permanently outside even during the winter. Whenever it rains or snows, moisture can get into the equipment where it freezes from dropping temperatures, forming ice that can clog up and stop moving parts from functioning. It can stop mechanisms from dispensing food, drinks, and even money to customers.
De-icing the equipment and preventing moisture from entering are key issues that a flexible heater can solve in outdoor machines. The flexible heater can be made thin and small enough so as not to get in the way of moving parts, while providing the right thermal temperatures to dry off the working components.
4. Helps Control Product Viscosity
Flexible heaters are used throughout manufacturing industries that process and transport liquids and fluids. Chemical manufacturers, food processors, cosmetic manufacturers, and oil companies require liquid products to flow freely through pipes and equipment or dispensed through pumps. However, fluids may change their viscosity based on a variety of environmental factors, production processes, and even because of its inherent characteristics.
To control the viscosity level of the product, a flexible heater can be used. The heater can control the liquid's thickness, so it has less viscosity. This lower viscosity can allow the liquid and product to flow better in processing pipes or liquid dispensing machines. So, processes can allow liquid ingredients, such as molasses, to flow into containers and jars before being labeled and shipped to grocery stores.
5. Maintaining Quality of the Product or Process
When products are processed, they may experience changes to their characteristics and texture that can impact the quality of the finished product, such as melted chocolate that will be made into candy bars or pastry batter, which will be turned into dough. If there are any changes to the texture, flow, or properties of the item, the final product creation could be of poor quality.
In other instances, a product may need to maintain a certain temperature to enhance or maintain its quality until it is consumed or used. Prepared foods must stay at a safe temperature to prevent bacteria growth in cafeteria, restaurant, and fast food settings. In other instances, such as medical or scientific laboratories, specimens and cultures need to stay at a constant temperature during testing and analysis.
A flexible heater may be used in medical, scientific, and food applications to keep a product at a steady temperature. This steady temperature can prevent the item from spoiling or acquiring unwanted properties that can impact the final product or process.
6. Allows Sensors and Screens to Operate
Flexible heaters can be found in a range of applications that have sensors and screens which will operate in outdoor or in cooler indoor environments. These heaters allow the screen or sensor to stay warm without reaching higher temperatures, which could cause the electronics to fail. By supplying a warm and constant steady temperature the sensor, such as credit card scanners and warehouse inventory scanners, can continue to read codes and magnetic stripes without signal failure.
In addition to sensors, touch screens can also have their operations impacted due to colder temperatures. ATM touchscreens in outdoor environments, PDAs, and laptop LCD touchscreens may fail to register a customer's or employee's actions when they press a finger against a cold screen. The placement of the flexible heater inside the equipment keeps the screen warm enough so that it keeps functioning.
7. Heat Sealing, Bonding, and Glue/Laminate Curing
When creating products, flexible heaters will be used in a range of applications when a manufacturer requires a way to finish a product that has a glue, sealant, laminate, or bonding agent that needs heat to seal or cure it into place.
Having the product sit while the glue, sealant, or resin dries isn't feasible when mass-producing a large batch of products. In addition, the heat sealing may have to come into physical contact with the product for the bonding and curing to occur. A flexible heater can maintain the same steady temperature with every produced product for a consistent curing and bonding process without the temperature dropping off and having to recover after each product application.
8. Proper Operating Temperature for Batteries and Electronics
One of the top uses for flexible heaters is to control the operation of electronics and batteries in sub-zero temperatures. Electronic internal elements can become damaged by cold temperatures even when there is no moisture penetration present. Semiconductors and circuits can have their signals interrupted by the cold temperatures, which can cause applications to fail.
Batteries also require certain temperatures to operate. While very hot temperatures can degrade batteries and cause them to prematurely fail as a cooler temperature is preferred, extremely cold temperatures can have the same negative impacts. The extreme coldness of the environment can make the battery chemistry unstable to the point where battery life and operation are shortened. A flexible heater ensures proper operating temperature in a wide range of applications including aircraft equipment, refrigeration equipment, medical equipment, and scientific spacecraft.
9. Thermal Transfer in Vacuum Environments
Some equipment and components must operate in vacuum environments, such as creating parts in clean-room vacuum chambers or having working components in spacecraft and satellites orbiting the Earth. However, since there is no air in vacuum environments, components and parts cannot experience desired temperature changes for safe and constant operation; a component may be too cold.
A flexible heater can provide heat transfer capabilities in vacuum environments. With the flexible heater attached directly to the component or work surface, the part can maintain the required temperature through more direct contact when convection heating methods cannot be attained.
10. Customer, Employee, and Patient Comfort
Some flexible heaters are designed to provide a more comfortable environment for people. These devices may be placed in heated car and airplane seats so that people can feel warm and relaxed during their trip. They may also be placed into products such as heating pads and blankets for therapeutic uses, personal comfort or to treat injuries.
In other applications, flexible heaters will be placed into incubators for newborns and premature babies. The steady, low warmth that is generated can help treat sick newborns by creating the appropriate environmental conditions for them to survive.
Obtaining Flexible Heaters for Your Application
When it comes to flexible heaters, these devices can be used in a broad range of applications. When designing products or processes that may experience cold environments or may require warmer temperatures to maintain operations, always take into consideration about how you want to heat the component or application, what materials will be suitable during the placement of the heater, space requirements, the environment, and operating temperature specifications. This strategy will help you decide on the size, thickness, maximum heating requirements, and materials for your flexible heater.