4 Key Factors for Long-Term Industrial Insulation System Performance

Designing an Industrial Insulation System That Lasts. When specifying an industrial insulation system, there are two primary priorities: optimized process control and personnel safety. Once designers have these two factors solidified, other insulation features like corrosion under insulation (CUI) control, cost, ROI, and lifecycle come into play. While it can often be tempting and easy to specify the insulation system with the lowest initial cost, this can be a short-sighted solution that has the potential to be more costly in the long-run.

When it comes to designing systems with long-term potential, there are several factors designers need to consider. Let’s take a look at four of the most common design considerations that are crucial to specifying systems with long-term performance.

  1. Compressive-Strength It’s simple, the stronger the insulation material, the better the product longevity. Why? Because stronger insulations are more durable and more resistant to impact damage. For example, calcium silicate is designed to withstand high-impact environments and tolerate the abuse often found in high-traffic areas. As a result, it can have a life-span of 20 years or more when installed and maintained properly. In contrast, insulations with lower compressive-strength, like mineral wool or fiber glass, can become damaged during installation or even in an everyday environment. Damaged insulation can cause a decrease in thermal performance or it can cause the jacketing to buckle, increasing the risk of CUI. Go-To Insulations for High Compressive Strength: Thermo-12® Gold calcium silicate, Sproule WR-1200® expanded perlite
  2. Application Environment: It is critical to specify an insulation material that is appropriate/specific to the application environment. For example, mineral wool would be an appropriate insulation for a vertical pipe or for a pipe that is 20 feet off the ground because the potential for foot traffic is very low. However, it would not be appropriate in an area where personnel are likely to be standing on it or using it as a ladder support, etc.In an environment where the applications are highly variable (elevated pipes, high-impact areas, vertical pipes, etc), designers can specify multiple insulations for unique purposes throughout the system. For example, mineral wool or thin, blanket insulations could be used to insulate vertical or elevated pipes, while calcium silicate or perlite could be used to insulate pipes at ground-level that are subject to impact and traffic. Go-To Insulations for High traffic: Thermo-12 Gold calcium silicate, Sproule WR-1200 expanded perlite Go-To Insulations for Tight spaces: InsulThin™ microporous blanket Go-To Insulations for Elevated pipes: Mineral wool
  3. Operating Temperature: Operating temperatures are often the first thing that specifiers look at when it comes to insulation selection; however some insulations can experience structural changes during operation within the manufacturer’s suggested temperature range. When the system hasn’t been designed to account for these changes, it can negatively impact the anticipated process temperature of the system and risk personnel protection.  An example of this is a recent study that revealed a structural breakdown that occurs in silica aerogel insulation called, thermal shift.  Silica aerogel insulation begins to breakdown after several hours of exposure to process temperatures of 300°F or more, causing the thermal performance of this insulation to permanently decrease by as much as 20%. Traditional insulations like calcium silicate, perlite microporous blankets, and mineral wool do not experience thermal shift. Fortunately, if designers are aware of thermal shift, they can design systems that can account for it by specifying additional layers. Another insulation that can experience a change at higher temperatures is mineral wool. The binder in mineral wool begins to breakdown when temperatures exceed 600° While this doesn’t affect the thermal performance of the insulation, it does affect the insulation’s compressive-strength because the binder is what holds the fibers together and gives the insulation its “loft.” Compromised compressive-strength leaves the insulation system more susceptible to impact damage, thus creating the opportunity for corrosion under insulation. Additionally, since the structural integrity of the mineral wool is compromised without the binder, the insulation can actually shift beneath the metal jacketing and begin to sag due to the effects of gravity and vibration. This decreases the thickness in some areas while increasing it in others, and it can affect the thermal performance and potentially hinder process control. Go-To Insulations for <0°F: Silica aerogel Go-To Insulations for 300°F - 600°F: Mineral Wool Go-To Insulations for 300°F -1200°F: Thermo-12 Gold calcium silicate, Sproule WR-1200 expanded perlite, InsulThin microporous blanket
  4. Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI): CUI is a major concern in the industrial insulation industry because it is both expensive and dangerous. For this reason, hydrophobic insulations have become a popular preventative method for addressing CUI. However, hydrophobic insulations are not a cure-all as they have one major drawback: at 600°F, the hydrophobic treatment burns off, leaving the insulation susceptible to water infiltration, which can lead to CUI. Fortunately, hydrophobic insulations are not the only method to help fight CUI. There are two insulations, Thermo-12® Gold calcium silicate and Sproule WR-1200® expanded perlite, that contain XOX™, an integral corrosion inhibitor. This proprietary corrosion inhibitor tackles corrosion with a two-pronged approach: first, it forms a passivation layer between the pipe and the insulation, and second, it maintains a pH level of around 10, well above acidic pH levels where corrosion typically occurs (pH7 and below).  In addition, XOX will not burn off at high temperatures, and it will not dissipate throughout the life of the insulation. When designing a system that has the potential for CUI exposure, it is critical to consider an insulation that can inhibit corrosion throughout the spectrum of its manufacturer-suggested temperature range, rather than within a limited range of operation.  By preemptively addressing CUI through sound insulation system design, specifiers can set an insulation system up for long-term success. Go-To Insulations for CUI Protection: Thermo-12 Gold calcium silicate with XOX, Sproule WR-1200 expanded perlite with XOX, InsulThin Microporous Hydrophobic Blanket.

While insulation may not always be the largest part of a facility, many engineers and owners rely on insulation systems to be efficiently designed in order to maintain process control and eliminate safety concerns for personnel. With that in mind, additional challenges for each application require special consideration to ensure that the most cost-effective insulation solution for the short-term is also the best long-term solution for the application. To help you compare insulation materials for varying applications, we have designed the Product Application Rating Tool (PART). This tool was created to become your go-to resource throughout the design and specification process so that you can rank various insulations based on the specific needs and design considerations of your application.