Home cooks who enjoy conveniently sliding eggs out of a pan know all about Teflon’s non-stick properties. But Teflon’s applications go well beyond cookware, and growth in several industries is driving global demand for the material.
Teflon is the Chemours (Wilmington, DE) brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). The material offers resistance to solvents and flames, a high melting point, strength and the non-stick properties that home cooks know well. A 2016 Zion Research (Pune, India) report projected that the global PTFE market, valued at $4 billion in 2014, would grow to $6.5 billion by 2020.
PTFE demand is rising as consumers buy more electronic products that use the material, according to Zion. The Asia-Pacific region comprised the largest market for the material in 2014, followed by Europe. Besides electronics, PTFE is found in automotive parts, chemical processing, textiles and medical products.
Medical uses of PTFE are booming, according to Bruce Nesbitt, founder and Chairman of Orion Technologies, a Chicago-based applicator of Teflon coatings. PTFE can coat a range of materials, a versatility that makes it useful on many medical devices. PTFE is increasingly found on products that incorporate handles or attachments that help clinicians manipulate the device, Nesbitt said. Devices that use PTFE include dental drills, guidewires that steer devices through the body and medical tubing.
“Any two components that slide together, such as a metal tube and plastic housing, can benefit from the Teflon coating on either or both sliding surfaces,” Nesbitt said.
The growing medical applications of PTFE led Orion to spin off a separate company called Surface Solutions Group. The firm can apply medical-grade coatings that further reduce friction, as well as incorporate antimicrobials to meet the sterility requirements of medical device makers. The more critical the end use, such as applications in aircraft and medical devices, the more stringent the test requirements, Nesbitt said.
“Medical, by far, is the tightest,” he said. “Military and aircraft is somewhat behind that . . . automotive is quickly bringing up the rear.”