The Science Behind Insulation

The technology behind insulation is not well known, and it can often be relegated to a less important status on a building project. Far from being one-size-fits-all, each application calls for specific types of insulation based on the type of system, operating conditions, and goals desired. Physics is the basis of all insulation. Thermal dynamics, heat transfer/flow, fluid dynamics, wave theory, and acoustical dynamics, are critical science disciplines behind insulation. Insulation performs the functions of reducing energy transfer in the form of heat flow and reducing acoustical energy transmission. Understanding the physics behind these occurrences is critical in the development and design of insulation products and installation. Developing a finished insulation product also relies on the use of inorganic and organic chemistry, which are highly significant in the formulation of base materials for insulation products.

Polymer science plays a major role in the formation of elastomeric insulation, polyolefin insulation, polyisocyanurate insulation, polystyrene insulation, and melamine insulation. Polymer science is employed to create coatings and jacketings with many different desired properties, like durability in weather, high and low temperature durability, resistance to vapor transmission, and resistance to liquid penetration. Ceramic chemistry is used to produce formulations for alkaline earth silicate, calcium silicate, rock fiber, glass fiber, and refractory ceramic insulation materials. Metallurgical engineering is employed to produce jacketings and fasteners for insulation systems that can withstand mild to harsh conditions in chemical facilities, refining facilities, and food-production facilities for both outdoor and indoor environments.

Many of those who join the insulation industry in a research and development capacity hold a Masters or PhD in their areas of expertise. As an example, corrosion engineering is a growing field that looks at the mechanics and chemistry behind industrial corrosion, as well as the impact of insulation of corrosion. Some companies will even pay for their employees to obtain these higher degrees as a benefit of employment. If you’re a student and find yourself with an interest in these disciplines, you may want to consider a position in the insulation industry.

Similarly, those with an aptitude for math will find any number of applications in the insulation industry that can make use of those skills. As insulation is heavily dependent on science and engineering, math—the language of science—is naturally involved. Algebra, calculus, and geometry are all heavily employed in the development, production, and installation of insulation and insulation systems. Extensive calculations of many kinds go into all aspects of the insulation industry. Thermal savings calculations use heavy algebra to arrive at the best system design or economic thickness of insulation. Geometry is used every day in the estimating world when determining the amount of insulation needed in a project, or how an installer needs to cut the basic insulation material to form around a particular shape like a tank head, a large valve, or a pipe elbow. Calculus is also used in design of production lines or new facilities to calculated stresses to avoid failures.

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