PTFE Wear Plates: Misconceptions and Applications for Heavy Equipments
Although PTFE is used extensively for its wear resistant properties in a range of different products, its application as a wear resistant plate remains restricted and not widely known in certain areas where it would be ideal.
In most cases, the preferred composition for PTFE wear resistant material is PTFE with bronze (along with some friction reducing additives). As discussed in our earlier article (see: PTFE Compounds and their effects), this composition improves the PV value and wear rate for the material and although the coefficient of friction does increase, over-all it performs superbly as a replacement to metal bearing parts that require frequent lubrication.
Currently, some of the main applications for PTFE as a wear resistant material for which we supply include:
- Slideway bearings: Commonly referred to by the brand name “Turcite” (Poly Fluoro brand name: Lubring), PTFE slideway bearings are used widely in the machine tool industry, where they serve to either replace or reinforce standard phosphor-bronze LM guideways. The material was earlier used primarily to recondition old machines in which the guideways had worn out. However, increasingly it is incorporated in new machines as well – owing to the higher life and lower maintenance required in comparison to metal guideways
- Wear strips: PTFE wear strips are used either in running lengths or punched into flat components, which are used in sub-assemblies, like shock absorber struts and pistons. Usually the tolerance on thickness for such wear strips is very low – implying the requirement of a high precision skiving machine. In most case, where we supply these items, a tolerance of +/-0.02mm is maintained on thickness.
- Piston rings: Here, thin bands of PTFE wear material are machined and fitted on the piston shaft to absorb the wear resulting from a constant back-forth movement. As this process is wasteful (and therefore expensive) due to the machining involved, sometimes customers prefer to buy wear strips and bond them around the shaft. However, bonding PTFE is usually only recommended when there is minimal shear force being applied on the item – so this method is usually unsuccessful.
- Bushings: PTFE can either be machined into a solid bush, or be used as a layer on a metallic bushing (commonly called DU bushings). Again – the idea here is to create a self-lubricating bush, which can be installed within a sub-assembly and allowed to run without the constant need for lubricants.
- Wear plates: Used in more heavy duty applications, wear plates are usually employed in thicknesses exceeding 10mm and often require milling on the surface to create oil-grooves and holes for bolting. In most cases, their function is similar to that of a slideway bearing, however we have noticed that many OEMs remain apprehensive to employ PTFE wear plates into their equipments. In an attempt to clarify certain points regarding PTFE wear plates, we are going to be looking at 2 aspects of their usage:
1) The common pitfalls clients experience when using these bearings and misinformation regarding the same
2) Our own experience in the Die Casting Industry, where the success of these plates has led us to aggressively recommend it to OEMs
Issues hindering the adoption of PTFE wear plates
- Installation: We find that most people adopting PTFE wear plates do so because they have some prior experience with installing slideway bearings. Consequently, they assume the installation methods would also be the same. However, as slideway bearings are much thinner (going up to no more than 5-6mm) and because following installation, they remain subjected to very little shear loads, they can be bonded to the metal bed and this bond is likely to survive over a long period of time.In the case of wear plates, bonding is not an option as it is likely that there is some shear load which will get applied which, when coupled with the thickness of the plate would weaken the bonding and cause the plate to come loose in the medium to long term.
The correct method of installation is bolting – although valid apprehensions exist with regards to this. For one: the plate needs to be milled with a stepped hole to allow the bolt to rest within the piece. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the bolt head does not rest above the surface of the PTFE plate. As an added measure, PTFE discs can be bonded to the head of the bolt to ensure that in the event that any extra pressure squeezes the PTFE plate, the contact between the bolt and the moving plate is not damaging. Furthermore, tightening the bolt too much can cause the PTFE plate to get crushed (a common reason cited by OEMs for not using a soft material like PTFE). Hence the correct method would be to use a metal bush to ensure the bolt is not tightened beyond a point (see below).
The purpose of the bolt is to ensure the PTFE wear plate does not slide away during operation. As long as this is ensured, the plate will perform properly.
- Load bearingA common misconception relating to the load bearing capacity of PTFE leads many machine tool builders to write-off PTFE as a wear pad material. The assumption is that phosphor-bronze, being a metallic material, is the only option strong enough to take the load of heavy moving parts.
In truth – PTFE has a compressive strength of at least 135-140Kg per square cm. This implies that a 100mm x 100mm plate would be able to withstand 13.5-14 Tonnes of vertical load. In most heavy-duty equipments, maximum loads of 5-6 Tonnes are present, meaning that the load bearing is not an issue at all. Furthermore, the coefficient of friction of PTFE against another surface only reduces with the application of pressure – implying that apart from taking the load, the effectiveness of the wear plate in ensuring a smooth functioning of parts is greatly enhances.
- MachiningClients who are looking to convert to PTFE wear pads frequently express two concerns pertaining to machining.
The first is on tolerance: as the thickness on phosphor-bronze wear pads can be grond to within a few microns. In the case of PTFE – a maximum tolerance of 50 micros is possible – which we have found is acceptable in most industries.
The other concern is around specific grooves and the exact positioning of holes. As PTFE can be milled (we use a CNC vertical milling centre) – any groove pattern and hole dimensions can be machined on to the surface of the wear plate.
- EnvironmentFinally – we have heard concerns over the conditions in which the equipment is used and whether PTFE will be able to withstand the same in the long term.
Firstly – PTFE has the ability to withstand temperatures of up to 250 Degrees Celsius. In most industries we know, the actual heat generation never causes the surrounding temperature to go about 80 Degrees, so clearly there is no issue in using PTFE.
The other concern is on the build up of dirt and whether grit and other hard particles will damage the surface of the PTFE plate. While the recommended option here would be to make a seal around the PTFE to ensure that dirt does not get accumulated between the PTFE and the other moving plate, it should also be noted that in case a particle does get lodged between the plates, PTFE has the unique ability to absorb the same so that it does not hinder the movement of the assembly.
Case Study: PTFE wear plates in the Die-casting industry
A client who was consulting on technical metrics with various companies engaged in aluminum die-casting approached us, a while back. The problem they were facing was that the wear plates that had been installed on as bearings between the platens was wearing out every 2-3 months, with the result that there was significant down time on the machines every time these plates needed to be replaced.
The plates being used were a fiber enforced resin plates and it was easy to see that a few months of usage had significantly worn out the plates leading to deformation and even cracks.
We offered them PTFE wear plates and these were installed on a few machines as a trial. The machines were run normally for a period of 3 months and the PTFE plates were analyzed with the following results:
- Wear out was minimal: In fact, the PTFE wear plates were much the same dimension as when they were installed. The customer felt that the load of 2.5 Tonnes being applied on the plate would compress the plate and lead to a deformation on thickness – but this was not the case.
- Lubricity was greatly enhanced overall: The plates had become completely smooth due to the constant sliding across its surface and this smoothness translated into the more efficient operation of the equipment. The customer also reported that while earlier there was some amount of “jerkiness” in the motion of the platens was no longer an issue.
- Improved cycle time: Apart from the fact that the down-time of the machine was no longer an issue as the plates were not worn out, the overall cycle time of the machine during production was also improved. This was mainly because there was no longer a need to continuously monitor the level of lubrication on the wear plate.
Following the successful trial of the PTFE wear plates, the material was adopted in all machines of the client and we are now working with a number of clients in the die-casting industry to replace their resin plates with PTFE plates.