Insulation Materials for Electrical Applications: Properties and Selection Criteria
Electrical appliances operate on the fundamental basis of electric current, which helps power the various components and functionalities. This is why electric current flow, for the most part, is highly desirable. However, it is just as essential to have the option of preventing current flow. This is because, in some instances, we want to prevent current flow to specific components or ensure no leakage can hamper the delicate circuits and functionalities inside. Additionally, we want to ensure the safety of people around us to prevent them from getting shocked or an explosion occurring due to short circuits. This is where insulation materials come into play. A variety of them can be used for electrical applications. You will often see them in the form of different insulators. This article will discuss insulation materials, their properties, and selection criteria, among other vital things to know. Without further delay, let’s dive into it.
What are Insulating Materials?
Insulating materials are materials that can carry little to no amount of current. This is because of the lack of free electrons that are available in them. On the other hand, metals have plenty of free electrons, which act like small current carriers from one end of the metal to another. This is why they are used for wiring and current transmission. It is important to note that not all insulation materials are perfect. The presence of small current carriers can cause current leakage, especially if it gets high. Additionally, different materials will have different amounts of electrical carriers and other properties. This will dictate how useful it is for electrical applications.
Why are Insulation Materials important?
Insulation materials are essential because they provide great functionality for electrical applications. Their electrical resistance ensures that, in most cases, a current is prevented. Additionally, insulating materials are available in different forms, shapes, sizes, and properties that provide various uses. This makes them useful for different appliances. Most electrical systems cannot function effectively and safely without insulation materials. They help prevent electrical shocks, hazardous voltages, and short circuits that can cause harm and lethal situations for people. Furthermore, they also moderate electrical interferences ensuring that an electrical system operates cleanly and efficiently.
What are the types of Insulating Materials?
Insulating materials can be divided based on three criteria:
Based on state
Based on temperature
Based on the type.
Based on state
Insulating materials are available in all three states of matter, which are:
- Solids (Organic and Inorganic). Some examples are wood, glass, rubber, porcelain, and silk.
- Liquids (Oils and Varnishes). Some examples are spirit and mineral oils.
- Gasses. Some examples are dry air, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.
Based on temperature
Based on temperature, insulating materials are divided into classes. These are:
- Y (Previously O) Wood, cotton, silk 90
- A Class Y materials impregnated with natural resin and insulating oils. Laminated wool, natural resin 105
- E Resin enamels, cotton and paper laminated with formaldehyde bonding 120
- B Mica, glass fibers, asbestos paired with bonding substances 130
- F Class B materials with bonding materials that have higher thermal stability 155
- H Glass fiber and asbestos materials with silicon resins 180
- C Glass, quartz, mica without binders of high thermal stability Over 180
- Class Examples Limiting Insulating Temp. (℃)
Based on type
Regarding electrical applications, an insulating material is generally used and available in two types. These are:
Solid insulation refers to materials like rubber, plastic, and polymers that help prevent electrical conduction. They are generally available in bigger sizes and can even be carved and molded to fit the specific application they need. Solid insulation is used for larger equipment with high voltage requirements, like generators and transformers. They keep hazardous voltages within the electrical components in check. This ensures that people who maintain or use them are not shocked. For example, solid insulation is used on the primary windings of induction motors because of their high voltage.
Cable insulation protects conduction materials from the outside, like wires and cables. This ensures that anyone handling them does not accidentally touch the conducted part of the material. It also helps prevent short-circuiting, which can occur when the conductive elements of wires come into contact with each other and cause unwanted current flow. Usually, cable insulation consists of PVC, rubber, or plastic. However, more resistive insulating material may be required for higher voltage cables, like ceramic. Such insulation is also usually color-coded, as you may have likely seen with general home appliances. In this way, this insulation also plays a vital role in indicating the cable type.
What are the properties of insulation materials to look out for?
Insulation materials have a few fundamental properties that make them desirable for electrical applications.
These properties will help you decide which insulation material to select:
- Any insulation material you choose should have high resistivity. Resistivity is the property of materials that indicates how strongly they resist electric current.
- The insulation materials you choose should also have good dielectric strength, especially for constant currents. Dielectric strength means how much a material can tolerate electric stresses before cutting off.
- The insulation material must have high mechanical strength. This ensures that it can handle the tension and weight it will have to handle, especially for larger electrical systems.
- The material should be free of impurities and non-porous to ensure it functions appropriately.
- The material should be resistant to temperature. This is to ensure that it does not change the electrical and chemical properties of the material. Such changes can affect its functionality.
Examples of Insulation Materials
PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is a thermoplastic material used extensively for PVC wires and cables. This is because it has various properties that make it the best material for these applications. They are also available in multiple forms with some different added properties to be used for various situations.
Some of the ideal properties of PVC include:
- It is flame retardant. This means it protects the wire and ensures the cable does not catch fire easily.
- It is a tough and durable material. This makes PVC wires resistant to damage and abrasion.
- With additives, it can have a temperature resistance from as low as -40℃ to as high as 100℃.
- It has excellent dielectric strength. This means you can apply it efficiently on a cable.
- It has a high amount of resistance. This makes it ideal for sensitive environments with high currents, whether at home or in a factory.
- It is versatile and customizable. This means PVC wires can be easily shaped and recycled.
- It is easy to use because it can withstand rough usage. This means you will not have to replace and maintain it frequently.
Ceramics are highly effective electrical insulators. They are generally used for insulation purposes in highly demanding electrical systems. Because of their high resistance, they are used in the power and utilities sector, such as high voltage circuit breakers. They are also used in various automotive and transportation applications, such as LED lighting, motors, and heat exchangers. Finally, they are also used in the aerospace industry because of their stable dielectric constant and low electrical loss. This makes them suitable for GPS antenna components.
Some of the properties it has are:
It has many properties of standard insulation materials, like PVC, polymers, and rubber.
However, it has some additional properties that make it much better than these materials. This includes high resistance to heat, high strength, and high resistance to corrosive environments.
Additionally, the main feature of ceramics is the high dielectric strength and very low dielectric loss. This means that ceramics can maintain high levels of electromagnetic energy with bare energy dissipation.
Rubber sheets are also extensively used in the electrical industry because of their beneficial properties. Rubber sheets are used for surfacing floors and benches in the industry. They are also suitable as protective insulating floor mats. This is generally seen in the mining and industrial industries to protect workers in their electrical environments. Furthermore, it is also used as rubber gaskets and cushioning gaskets in the transportation industries.
The properties that make rubber sheets ideal are:
It has excellent resistance. This ensures it is not affected by high voltages.
It is very elastic, which means it will not break easily. As a result, it is ideal for flooring, where it handles a lot of force without being affected.
It is waterproof, which helps ensure no water and moisture penetration. This helps protect workers in environments where the interaction of water and current can lead to dangerous situations.
Rubber sheets can easily be adapted to the situation. This is because you can easily change their thickness levels. This means you can use different thickness rubber sheets for different voltage levels.
We have looked through the various properties, types, and examples of insulating materials. This is to ensure you understand which ones suit the applications. Therefore, knowing exactly what purpose you need the insulation material to fulfill when choosing one is ideal. For example, selecting cable insulation like PVC instead of solid insulation is perfect if you need cable insulation. On the other hand, ceramics are much more suitable for larger industrial applications.
Therefore, look at your requirements and situation from all angles. This includes considering factors like:
Rate of change in environmental factors
To sum up
The flow of electric current is essential when it comes to electrical appliances. However, it is also important to resist its flow to ensure safe and efficient electrical processes. Therefore, insulation materials play an important role in electrical applications, whether industrial or home. Insulation materials allow little to no current to flow through because of the lack of free electrons inside them. In this way, they can help ensure that the current flows as it should without interacting with other components in an undesired way. Furthermore, it provides safety by ensuring that anyone handling it is not shocked.
Various insulation materials are available that are categorized based on different criteria. Additionally, some properties need to be examined when choosing insulation materials. We have looked at some commonly used insulation materials so that you can understand how these materials are selected for practical applications. Additionally, we have touched upon the factors that you should consider before you make a selection based on the properties of the insulation materials. Examining your needs and situation thoroughly ensures you get the best one possible.
We hope this article has been informative and helps you understand insulation materials’ properties and selection criteria. Thank you for reading!