Kapton® IM30-FM is a versatile Polyimide Film material with many unique properties which make it suitable for use in many industries. In this episode, we are joined by two Goodfellow experts. Jo Oram has a background in set building and offers some unique perspectives into the materials world – she now works with Goodfellow materials daily. Paul Everitt is a technical expert who specialises in Polymers – his expertise is invaluable to Goodfellow and has even led him to write a book on Kapton. Paul is joined by series regular Adam Sells who bridges the gap between Paul's technical expertise, and Jo’s customer focused experience with materials.
Kapton has a range of properties that make it a versatile and highly desired material in many industries.
A thermoset material, able to resist temperatures up to 400°C – Kapton doesn’t soften or melt. These properties, along with Kapton’s radiation resistance, make it the ideal candidate for the space industry.
Back on earth, Kapton is also used in many electronic and automotive industries and can even create flexible circuits. Thanks to Kapton’s impressive longevity, it is seen as a greener option when compared with other polymers.
Thanks to Kapton, our smart phones use less energy than they would otherwise. So, although you may not know much about Kapton yet, it’s almost certain that you use it in your everyday life.
In this episode, we are joined by Goodfellow experts Jo Oram, Adam Sells, and Paul Everitt. Listen in for the full experience or read on for some of the key insights taken from the episode.
Paul, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your role at Goodfellow, and your interest in polymers?
It’s an unusual story. 19 years ago, I visited Goodfellow as a sales engineer looking to sell some products. I effectively walked away with a job the same day. Goodfellow needed someone to look after the polymers range and I came from a polymers background, so it was an ideal fit.
Interestingly, my grandfather worked on some of the very first industrial laminate materials as a carpenter, and I followed in his footsteps getting involved in materials.
Thinking of Kapton in particular – when did it become of interest to you, and what do you like about this material personally?
Going back 30 years, my first experience was when I was a product manager – I saw the potential in a product which can work at up to 400 °C, with its fantastic radiation resistance, strength, and excellent electrical properties – the material just stood out to me.
Adam, what experience have you had with Kapton?
Kapton is extremely versatile, so we get quite a range of requests and enquiries from many different industries. From circuit boards and electronics to space applications and aerospace applications because of its resistance to temperatures and radiation. You can also laminate it, metallise it, and it can also be made to be adhesive. For me, some of the more interesting ones are the space applications. But it is broad in terms of applications.
Can you take us through the technical properties of Kapton? What makes the material unique?
There are several key advantages. Kapton has a high temperature range capability from -269 to +400°C which is a phenomenal and unique range for a polymer. It also has good resistance to high energy radiation and has inherently low flammability. For a thermosetting material which usually is rigid, Kapton is a flexible product. That, coupled with superb electrical properties and very good insolation properties make it good for flexible circuits. Add on to that the really good corrosion resistance.
Kapton has been used by NASA in spacecraft for moon landings – what did NASA use the material for, and why is Kapton the best choice of material?
Kapton is a material with good radiation resistance and can operate under an extremely wide range of temperatures which makes it suitable for use in space. The low outgassing properties also make it ideal for working in a vacuum. If you put gold coatings onto the surface of Kapton, you have an incredibly good thermal blanket. It will reflect thermal radiation, and this is why it was used in the Apollo 11 moon lander. But it was also used within space suits, covering the command module, and in the flexible circuits within the lunar module. Kapton is ideal for use in space.
Kapton is one of our best-selling polymers. From all the applications that we just talked about – you can tell why. It is used globally, and there are multiple grades of Kapton as well. One of the most exciting things about Kapton is that we have been expanding our range of some of the different grades, and that gives Kapton even more versatility in terms of what people can do with it. It’s just down to the imaginations and innovations of the materials scientists and product engineers to use it to solve problems. Customers use Kapton in space, electronics, and aerospace. CERN use Kapton in the collider because of the low outgassing and radiation resistance. Kapton is a very versatile and very broad material.
Can Kapton really make bendable circuit boards? What does this mean for future technology?
Indeed, Kapton is an incredibly flexible material. Very strong, and as we’ve seen from the Apollo 11 mission, it can work in the extremes of space. It can be readily metallised and laminated to other substrates. With the ever-increasing demand for more energy efficient electronics, because of the proliferation of mobile devices and more compact devices, Kapton does have a huge role to play in the future of flexible electronics. Not just in devices but in things like remote sensing. So, you could have health sensors that monitor people’s vital signs. There is also an exciting future within the automotive industry - if you’ve got areas with high temperature and you want to sense what’s going on in that particular vehicle, then Kapton is ideal.
When comparing to similar materials, is Kapton often the most cost effective?
Kapton is cost effective. It offers you a lot. If you need a material which is flexible and can deal with a wide range of temperatures, then it is a cost effective material. If using Kapton in high quantities, it becomes even more cost effective. There are other materials which can provide some of the same properties, but I think Kapton is value for money.
Can Kapton be customised to a customer’s specific requirements, and is that something we can do at Goodfellow?
Yes, we can certainly offer it in various sizes. We can laser cut to any specific shapes a customer requires. We can have metal coatings, such as aluminium. It can come with adhesive coatings as well.
Can Kapton be recycled?
It can’t be thermally recycled, but it can be recycled. We can mechanically reduce and then chemically reduce the material before reproducing a film. Or we can also shred it and use it as a reinforcing material. So, there are various ways to re-use Kapton.
In which other ways could we consider Kapton to be a green material?
The definition of being green isn’t just about where a product is sourced – you also have to look at factors such as longevity. Kapton will last for many years. Kapton circuits for example will last much longer than traditionally made circuits. If you look at a PET water bottle vs. a flask – the flask costs more initially, but you have a flask for many years. So overall, Kapton will consume less energy by lasting much longer, and in that context, I would say Kapton is a green material.
Are there any common applications for Kapton which we haven’t talked about?
The automotive industry use it a lot in car parts. X-ray machines and radiation equipment often use Kapton. Consumer appliances too with Microwaves which also contain Kapton due to the radiation resistance the material provides. Kapton is all around us without you even realising it.
Kapton is known to have been used by NASA, but I know you have experience with materials in the theatre industry. It's interesting that these two industries could be linked by a particular material. What connection to you have personally to the space industry?
My dad works at the European Space Agency as a product assurance and safety manager. He's currently working on the Mars sample return the earth return orbiter. NASA have used Kapton to connect the harness to the structure and to bundle harness cables and proceeding multilayer installation. It's basically an industrial standard.
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