2022 – Igus: making sustainable polymers for maximum efficiency
Designing components and coatings made from high performance active polymers is the core competency of Igus, a company founded by engineer Günter Blase in 1964. Headquartered in Cologne, Germany, the company generated 961 million in turnover last year and has been delivering innovations in the field of polymers since its creation.
These flexible plastics, also known as “tribo-polymers”, have a wide range of applications and play an essential role in production and efficacy for many industries.
What is the meaning of tribo-polymers?
Tribology is the science of friction and wear between surfaces. Plastics which have been tribologically optimised have low levels of friction and low wear rates compared to other metallic materials.
Base polymers, solid lubricants and strengthening agents can therefore be combined to make bearings and coatings which do not require any additional greasing and offer desirable characteristics, with low levels of friction from heat or wear from other parts.
Materials which are part of a circular economy
These polymers have an excellent ecological balance sheet compared to metallic materials, right from the design phase. Therefore their production requires 50% less oil than similar steel products and 70% less than aluminium products. Igus has even recently developed a range of standard universal biopolymer plain bearings made with 54% of fully renewable materials.
But sustainability isn’t only in the production of these polymers, but also in their everyday use. In addition to them being less expensive to purchase, the fact that they are optimised and self-lubricating enables substantial savings on maintenance and significant gain in productivity. These tribo-polymers wont corrode or get dirty from grease or dirt, and therefore do not need to be replaced as often as metallic plain bearings. This long-life translates into a significant reduction in costs and amount of time saved.
The environmental benefits are therefore multiple. In addition to limiting wear on other components, using these polymers reduces water contamination from oil, with 27 tonnes of grease being directly discharged into the environment by industries every year. Finally, they are far less energy-intensive due to the absence of friction and their weight, which is much lower than other materials.
Applications from a packaging point of view
Igus has developed polymer solutions that are adapted to different industrial sectors, some of which comply with FDA requirements and European regulation CE10/2011 in terms of food safety. These polymers are therefore approved for direct contact with edible products and meet the needs of the food and beverage packaging industry.
As well as the Iglidur FC180, which quickly detects plastic debris among foodstuffs during the packaging process, Igus has recently developed the high performance polymer IC-05. This has been designed as a coating for metal parts, offering much better friction resistance and guide plate wear, as well as runners and other metal parts used in dosing systems, on conveyor belts, in beverage packaging, or in labelling machines.
With the intention of improving food safety and increasing the life of coated equipment, this polymer is specifically used in areas which are too small or cramped to accommodate smooth bearings, exposed to high temperatures or need to be highly resistant to chemical agents.