Did you know that a mid-sized chemical plant can have more than sixty-one miles of insulated piping? A medium-scale oil refinery can contain more than 1.44 million square feet of insulated equipment, tanks, and vessels. That’s about the area of 32 football fields!
There’s no doubt that insulation plays a big role in the operation of various industries. It keeps temperatures stable in different processes. It saves you money by protecting your products and keeping energy loss at a minimum.
That said, successful insulation depends chiefly on picking the right insulation material.
It’s not just about adding layers upon layers of insulation. The material has to conform to the requirements of the application. Their properties influence the choice of whether to use mineral wool, mica, ceramic fiber, etc. The quality of material also affects the level of fireproofing of the building.
How do you choose the best insulation material for your equipment and facility? Here are some important considerations.
1. Service Temperature
This is the max temperature that the material can handle and still perform reliably in the long term. The material is expected to meet or surpass the standard operating temperature highs. Not only that, but it should also account for potential extremes.
2. Thermal Conductivity (K)
Good insulation materials would exhibit good thermal conductivity. This is the ability of the material to resist the flow of heat. In other words, it’s the measurement of the insulating power.
Materials with lower K factors or lower thermal conductivity are better insulators.
3. Compressive Strength
This is the property of the material to resist deformation when subjected to a compressive load. It’s important to note that most types of insulation material lose compressive strength as the temperature increases. Therefore, the measurement of compressive resistance should be done at the service temperature.
4. Water Absorption and Water Vapor Permeability
When water gets absorbed into an insulating material, it increases conductivity. The material, in effect, becomes a less effective insulator. Also, most materials swell when they absorb water.
Choose materials with low permeability if operating in humid or moisture-rich environments. You should also look into materials with resistance to fungal growth.
5. Thickness Tolerance
Space is a limiting factor for most systems. Through good engineering, you may be able to get around space limitations, such as by using CAD-designed steam heat kits. However, the thickness and flexibility of the material become more significant the less space you have to work with.
6. Thermal Expansion or Contraction
In addition to the thickness tolerance, you should keep an eye on the thermal expansion/contraction. As the temperature increases or decreases, a material may expand or contract which may affect your system’s performance.
7. Defensive Properties of the Insulation Material
Depending on the application, you may want a material that can withstand specific threats to its integrity.
For example, if insulating an outdoor area, make sure that the material has protection against the weather. It should be able to handle rain, wind, and UV radiation.
When working with chemicals, the material could use some degree of corrosion resistance. Fire resistance is necessary if the insulation is gonna be exposed to open flame.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into choosing the right insulation material. It requires a detailed analysis of the processes, equipment, and environment that the material is subject to.
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Andrea Parker is a reporter for Zobuz. She previously worked at Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Andrea is based in NYC and covers issues affecting her city. In addition to her severe coffee addiction, she’s a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.