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issue: May 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Technology Report
Flexible Surface Heating Technology


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Thermion(R) heating elements from Thermion Systems International are based on a high-performance surface heating technology that has just been introduced to the consumer products market.

Thermion(R) heating elements are made of a thin, conductive textile consisting of nickel-coated carbon fibers formed into a non-woven fabric using a paper-making technology. Because of the random conductive paths inherent in the fabric, the heating elements are said to provide better uniformity than other heater products.

The technology was originally developed for the aerospace industry and was introduced to the consumer and international marketplace at the end of 2002, explains Michael Zak, director of Sales and Marketing, Thermion Systems International (Stratford, CT, U.S.).

"Thermion heaters are constructed using a process that was designed for high-volume production," Mr. Zak says. "The raw Thermion material is manufactured from nickel-plated carbon fibers that have been chopped into very small pieces and turned into a very lightweight, non-woven fabric using a specialized paper-making process. The fabric is then laminated between layers of thermoplastic materials to create flexible and repeatable heating elements." The fabric, he adds, can be laminated in a variety of thermoplastic, thermosetting, elastomeric, composite, or other sheet film materials, depending on the application.

"The main benefit of Thermion technology for design engineers is its design flexibility," Mr. Zak continues. "Thermion Systems only makes custom heaters to the exact size and power requirements of the application. Our technology works with a.c. or d.c. power from a few volts to 480 V. Heaters can be made as small as 1 x 2 inches to as large as 22 x 100 feet. We can also construct heaters in different colors to better match the color scheme of a particular appliance."

The technology is also said to offer performance benefits and increased reliability. According to Mr. Zak, Thermion heaters do not rely on a single conductor to carry all of the current and to generate the heat like a wire or foil heater. He explains: "Our heaters use an infinite number of conductive paths in the form of tiny random fibers evenly disbursed to carry the current and generate uniform heating profiles. This allows Thermion heaters to be temperature cycled and mechanically stressed over and over again without failure."

The heater's low thermal mass also reportedly makes it extremely responsive to heat-up and cool-down cycles. "The low profile allows the heaters to be used in almost any piece of equipment," Mr. Zak tells APPLIANCE "The low thermal mass means that the heaters achieve the desired temperature very quickly (within seconds) and cool down again when power is removed. This is very desirable in equipment that gets cycled frequently."

According to the company, the heating elements can often be used as a direct replacement for silicon rubber or Kapton foil heaters. Some potential appliance applications include defrost heaters used in refrigerators, ice machines, and coolers; hot plates that warm coffee pots and carafes; medical devices such as blood analyzers, dialysis machines, and ultrasonic cleaners; and heated display cabinets or shelves. They can also be used to prevent freezing and moisture build-up in outdoor ATMs, security cameras, and vending machines.

 

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