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Innovation

W.L. Gore: Taking a Successful Compound in New Directions

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For the employees at W.L. Gore & Associates, the linear polymer ePTFE is the ultimate difference-maker; one that has allowed the 62-year-old company to stretch and expand in unforeseen ways, just like the compound itself.

The genesis story for ePTFE — expanded polytetrafluorethy-lene — was that Bob Gore, son of company founders Bill and Vieve Gore, one night in 1969 was trying without success to expand PTFE under heat. Finally, in frustration, he yanked the material. Under pressure, the polymer expanded by incorporating air while maintaining its original diameter.

Bob Gore with ePTFE | Photo c/o W. L. Gore and AssociatesW

In the half-century since, ePTFE has been the primary building block for much of Gore’s large family of consumer and industrial products. “The monumental impact ePTFE continues to have, not just on Gore as an enterprise, but on thousands of other inventions across diverse industries, is truly revolutionary and immensely beneficial,” Gore CEO Jason Field said in a statement recognizing the 50th anniversary of the discovery. The material is lightweight, porous, strong and versatile.

One of the newest applications is one that Gore calls “the latest breakthrough for thermal management in mobile devices.” John Allen, technology leader for Gore’s thermal insulation team, explains that “we debuted the application at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in a Dell XPS laptop. Since then we’ve incorporated it into mobile handsets.”

Thin and flexible, Gore’s ePTFE provides a layer of thermal insulation that guarantees lower thermal conductivity than air, thus improving the heat blocking and thermal spreading that occurs with the higher-powered batteries needed for the increasing miniaturization of hand-held consumer devices. It is especially useful in combination with heat spreaders such as graphite and copper. Sold in continuous rolls, the insulation can be shaped by standard lamination and die-cutting processes.

The potential market worldwide, Allen notes, is huge, as the product can be used in many consumer electronic mobile devices such as laptops, mobile phones, wearables, camera modules, tablets and AR/VR devices.

“We have a lot of direct customer engagement,” Allen says, both in working with customer development teams “as well as keeping an eye on current trends such as miniaturization and the use of technologies such as 5G. When we go to trade shows, we ask, ‘How fast are trends picking up?’ and ‘What are the challenges that will lead to new applications?’” 

Additionally, Allen says that while it’s financially desirable to work with large corporations such as Dell, “lots of innovative ideas come from small companies and startups, because they have the time and flexibility that large companies do not.”

Using that approach to expanding the applications of ePTFE has led Gore to develop such well-known consumer products as “Gore-Tex” performance apparel, but also lesser-known industrial applications such as control systems for removing elemental and oxidized mercury from flue gas streams, undersea seismic cables, space and aerospace devices, and critical health care devices for the heart and lung.

For as long as possible, Allen wants to keep the ePTFE wheel spinning. “We have the flexibility to make product modifications,” Allen notes, “but for the most part, we like to leverage the same base technology unless we see a new need.”


—Roger Morris

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