Teflon Coating: Pros and Cons and Industrial Applications
There’s no such thing as a wonder spray, but that’s not what the 50s would have had you believe. Teflon is an amazing compound with many uses in the industrial world as we know it, and we really wouldn’t be where we are today, technologically speaking, without the help of this marvel of chemical technology. Still, not many people know exactly what Teflon or teflon coating is, why it isn’t used much by consumers anymore, or what it’s used for in industrial applications. Hopefully, we can pull back the veil and uncover what exactly Teflon can do.
What Is Teflon?
To start, it’s best to clarify what Teflon is, exactly. Teflon is a trademarked name for the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is chemically inert and regarded as the most frictionless material on the planet, making it one of the most useful and adaptable technologies ever devised. PTFE is responsible for important advancements in a variety of areas, including aerospace, communications, electronics, industrial processes, and architecture. There have even been efforts to use it in the medical field to create medicated nanofibers.
PTFE was created in something of a lab accident. On April 6th, 1938, Dr. Roy J. Plunkett was working with refrigerant gases. After inspecting a frozen, compressed sample of tetrafluoroethylene, he and his colleagues discovered something unexpected: the sample had spontaneously polymerized into a white, waxy material. This material would later come to be known as PTFE, with the brand name Teflon registered sometime in 1945.
PTFE isn’t just super slippery; it also has a battery of other helpful properties. Namely, it’s incredibly heat-resistant. PTFE can withstand temperatures ranging from 250 degrees Fahrenheit up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit without sustaining damage. Combine this with its slickness, and you have the perfect combination for a non-stick pan. In fact, this is how it was first marketed: towards housewives who didn’t want to spend hours scrubbing a pan full of burnt food. Similarly, PTFE is also utilized as a grease repellent in food wrap, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags.
Beyond that, it’s also incredibly hydrophobic. This doesn’t mean that your pan will suddenly fear water once treated with Teflon, but it may appear that way. This is because a hydrophobic substance will repel water so effectively that it will never actually get wet, similar to pouring water on the back of a duck. This has made it a popular choice for waterproof clothing, as well as stain-resistant clothing used in many different workplaces. It should be noted though, that PTFE-treated objects will begin to degrade if soaked for long periods of time, so use caution and moderation.
Unfortunately, for all of its utilities, PTFE has a major drawback: toxicity. Both airborne particles and fumes originating from this material have proven to be highly toxic when inhaled, with a proven link being found between PTFE and chronic lung disease. Granted, you would likely never experience PTFE poisoning, as it would require you to either exceed the heat limit of the material or have a job in manufacturing spraying it onto objects. However, the temperature at which it begins to release these toxic fumes is just over 500° Fahrenheit. Though this is well above the range for most cooking jobs, many consumer ovens can reach 550°. Ergo, it’s always best to make sure what you’re doing won’t potentially exceed the limits of your Teflon pan.
Additionally, there are some functional drawbacks as well. Teflon coatings are very easy to scratch with metal and other abrasive cleaning utensils, and once it’s scratched, you can no longer use them in cooking as the integrity of the material has been compromised. Delicate cleaning of any and all Teflon-treated materials is paramount to ensure their longevity and continued functionality.
To an extent, we’ve already discussed the utilities of Teflon in cooking, and we’ve also given mention to its utilities in waterproofing and stain resistance. However, what about more specific industrial use? It has recently seen a rise in usage in the production of electronics, and more specifically, in the manufacturing of chipsets. PTFE fluoropolymers, being chemically inert, enable the equipment to deliver high-performance output while also producing contamination-free gases and chemicals during the chip manufacturing process. It sees usage in a variety of ways here, from bulk chemical distribution to wet etch and planarization procedures.
They’re also used in almost every aspect of the automotive industry as well. In this industry, Teflon is used for its low-friction properties, as well as for its tendency to hold up well in harsh weather. It’s used in nearly every major portion of a vehicle’s design: fuel systems, power trains, electrical systems, brake systems, the interior and exterior; every single one of these areas incorporates Teflon into its design one way or another. It’s even used as a means of protecting the fabric on your seats from spills and stains.
With that said, it goes without question that they’re also used in the manufacturing process itself for very similar reasons—not just for automobiles, but for all things. This means that everything in your life has likely been made with the help or direct inclusion of Teflon at some point or another.
Is It Worth It?
For now, yes. PTFE is one of the most revolutionary materials of our modern time, and for all of its drawbacks, we can’t help but be somewhat in awe at its range of uses. It seems like modern witchcraft, in a sense. Just imagine going back in time and telling your ancestors that one day, we would have a material capable of repelling all water, one that you could hardly even touch due to it being so slippery. It would certainly feel like magic to them. However, it’s all science, and we can put that science into your hands with our many products involving Teflon coating. No matter what you’re doing, I assure you, PTFE is probably involved already on a much larger scale.