Industry 4.0 (part 2): The material performance challenge
Director Manufacturing & Engineering, Victrex
As Industry 4.0 is gaining momentum, a closer look at solutions beyond the software, i.e. at the
hardware material level, can be essential to achieve the best possible results regarding
reliability and productivity.
Organisations recognise the importance to propel manufacturing operations using the digitisation
benefits of Industry 4.0, as shown in a recent global survey that found 72% of companies expect to
achieve advanced levels of digitisation by 2020.1
In part 1 on Industry 4.0 we raised a crucial question: With the focus of Industry 4.0 typically on artificial
intelligence (AI) and software for automation and data exchange, is the challenge of whether the
hardware can keep up with the pace often neglected? A couple of examples show that it can be worth
to dig deeper.
Micro requirements to achieve the targets on the macro level
Materials used for components in sealing applications are a case in point, because they can function as
critical factors for success. Commonly there are two key needs that trigger material selection:
The requirement for greater efficiencies (regarding manufacturing and assembly, operational,
and overall cost reduction)
Improving performance (meeting reliability targets and reducing downtime)
A material that can contribute to meet these needs is VICTREX™ PEEK, a high-performing polymer,
already being adopted, for example in industrial, oil and gas and automotive sectors. Used in many
applications within harsh and demanding environments, it is proving its capability to push boundaries
further. The reason: PEEK can support multiple requirements, whilst alternative materials often can only
meet specific single needs. For example this light weight, high strength polymer is extremely durable,
providing high resistance to wear, operates in extreme temperatures and is also chemically resistant,
with purity essential for critical applications within the food and beverage industry.
Sealed to survive the extremes
Effective and efficient sealing is an essential part of almost every modern industrial process where
gases, liquids and solids are being transported. Seals are needed wherever the containment of these
commodities is completed (such as end-caps), measured (flowmeters), controlled (valves) or separated
from moving parts. The broad range of application possibilities requires an equally diverse range of
sealing technologies and products. One example is split-ring seals made with PEEK which are often
used for reciprocating motion, and in hydraulic swivel joints and transmissions. They have proved
extremely reliable due to the polymer’s inherent toughness and flexibility enabling the split-ring seal to
be installed without breakage, whilst high strength and creep resistance provide a long service life
under aggressive conditions.2
Ball valve seats for controlling a range of aggressive fluids and gases are another application for the
high-performance polymer. This versatile material can provide an excellent seal with the steel ball, plus
high resistance to steam means that it is also used in control valves in steam systems to provide
durable, effective seals, enabling tight shut off and long life – thereby reducing leaks and costly
downtime and maintenance.2
Many of these material attributes carry over into the use of PEEK in the food manufacturing industry,
with the advantage that many relevant polymer grades are compliant with EU, FDA, NSF, 3A, WRAS
regulations 3 . Stainless steel, for example, has typically been used for chains requiring high heat
resistance. However, in food processing conveyor belt chain applications, high heat resistance and
chemical resistance are essential requirements. Chains made with VICTREX™ PEEK polymer and its
compounds can withstand exposure to temperatures as high as 260°C (500°F) and offer notable long-
term resistance against detergents such as hydrogen peroxide and caustic soda.
Growth advantage accessed through both soft- and hardware
Companies are already planning advanced levels of digitisation to achieve lower costs and increased
efficiency as part of pursuing their Industry 4.0 strategy. Software and AI are key to automation.
However, there are also opportunities through hardware and material selection, in working with material
experts to understand how high-performing polymers can be used to solve specific needs to keep
automated environments moving. For several decades, VICTREX™ PEEK has been used across
industries in numerous applications and demonstrated its high performance capability to meet Industry
4.0’s hardware needs.
1) PwC: 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey, Industry 4.0: Building the digital enterprise https://www.pwc.com/
2) Small, Geoff: Sealing Technology, 2014, issn 1350-4789
3) Customers must naturally check for themselves that the PEEK they actually select is compliant with these
Steve Dougherty is Director Manufacturing & Engineering at Victrex. He joined Victrex in October 2011
as an experienced industrial marketer and strategist with extensive global marketing experience in B2B
markets. Prior to joining Victrex, Steve held positions in operations and marketing at Cabot Corporation,
Ineos & ICI.
Steve holds a BEng degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Surrey, England, and an
MBA from Manchester Business School.
From the invention of PEEK over 40 years ago, Victrex has continually pioneered new PAEK-based polymers, materials and solutions that have transformed markets, delivering global impact in the toughest environments.
We bring transformational & sustainable solutions that address world material challenges every day.