PTFE is polytetrafluoroethylene, a tough, weather-resistance substance with an extremely low coefficient of static and dynamic friction. In plain terms, it is a very slippery material.
These properties make PTFE extremely versatile in many different applications, in the chemical and steel industries for example, but also in many products we use in everyday life.
In fact, PTFE is already familiar to many people under a specific brand name, Teflon.
Dr Roy Plunkett, a chemist at the DuPont company, discovered the polytetrafluoroethylene resin by accident in 1938, while attempting to invent a new coolant gas.
What Plunkett found was that the gas he had left overnight had polymerised spontaneously into a solid and slippery waxy material.
DuPont realised that this extreme slipperiness meant PTFE had a lot of potential.
During World War II, PTFE provided components such as gaskets, and lining material, for the first atomic bomb, and it helped protect the building where the bomb was being put together.
In 1958, the French government approved its use in food processing, and by 1961, it had become the coating on one million non-stick pans being sold per month in the USA.
Further experimentation with PTFE in 1969 led to the discovery that it could become a strong, porous material through stretching. This material was given the name Gore-tex.
As an industrial coating, PTFE is highly resistant to corrosive acids and chemicals.
It maintains an excellent level of performance in extremes of high or low temperatures, and it has very good dielectric properties.
Along with its high thermal resistance, this makes PTFE a good choice of insulation material.
It is weatherproof, and resistant to ageing.
It can achieve very smooth finished surfaces and it is both frictionless and non-stick.
It is also compliant for use with food, either in production or packaging.
Although PTFE is described as an industrial coating, it has applications and uses that are very much a part of people’s everyday lives.
Many people will immediately associate its non-stick properties with cookware, used on pots and pans to prevent food sticking to them. This also means you can cook using less oil.
PTFE is used in the beauty industry, in nail polish and for coating hair-styling tools such as hair straighteners and curlers.
In the automotive industry, PTFE coats windscreen wiper blades to ensure they glide across the windscreen smoothly.
It is used in shoes and insoles to reduce friction for the wearer and in sealing tape for plumbing.
PTFE is used as a protective coating for carpets and fabrics, to help them be more stain-resistant.
It industrial applications include hoses and machine parts for continuous processing industries, including the chemical and steel industries, where corrosive substances and high temperatures are involved.
PTFE helps drive innovation in manufacturing, in areas such as performance clothing, electronics, and in the aerospace, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors.