Project story

POREFLON Microfiltration Membrane Module

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01. POREFLON, Sumitomo Electric's proprietary material with a history stretching back for almost 50 years

POREFLON is an innovative porous material made by Sumitomo Electric from 100% polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). The material has a long development history since the Company patented its PTFE drawing technology in 1962. POREFLON has the following four features.
First, POREFLON offers excellent chemical resistance. It is more chemically stable than polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and polyethylene (PE), and remains unaffected by virtually any acids, alkalis or solvents.
Second, the material is very strong and has a long service life.
Third, POREFLON has a high porosity, the highest among general-purpose plastics, and is highly permeable to water.
Lastly, the product has a high heat resistance. In membrane filtration applications, POREFLON will function up to 200oC.
Taking advantages of these features, the Company has processed the material into flat membrane products that have been used for chemical analysis and reagent applications, as well as in obtaining high-purity chemical solutions used in semiconductor and liquid crystal production processes. It is also used to produce electrical wire sheaths. Another characteristic of POREFLON is its high value added, as it can be used in special applications including artificial vessels.

02. Project on the verge of closing down—our engineers' anguish

In 1987, a new employee joined the POREFLON research team, which had already been transferred to the Production Group. His name was Toru Morita. He had taken a postgraduate course in process engineering and would later be responsible for the commercialization of water treatment membrane modules. Two years later, Kiyoshi Ida joined the Company. Ida would later become a core member of the project. The next ten years were hard work as the two gritted their teeth to make progress. Looking back on those days, Morita says:
"We positioned POREFLON strategically as a high value added product for niche markets. However, our sales were only a tiny fraction of the Company's overall sales, and after the project was transferred to the Production Group, sales leveled off. I even heard that the project would be closed down, due in part to the poor efficiency of our niche production."
Having studied materials as a student, Morita joined Sumitomo Electric, one of the leading companies in the field.
He compared himself with employees of other divisions, which were exploiting their engineering process as a foundation for expanding their business on a huge scale in the global market.
"'Things can't stay as they are. I must make POREFLON a huge success.' I always focused my mind on this goal."

03. Water is the key to the future of POREFLON.

Both Morita and Ida were absolutely confident that POREFLON could perform as anticipated. However, the growth of their existing business was far lower than for their rivals. In the then-current business framework, they had no chance to win contracts for existing applications for porous PTFE materials. They pondered on what to do. The solution was to find an innovative use for POREFLON in which the unique potential of the material would be exploited to the full.
In the meantime, Morita had read a technical journal which contained a report on water treatment using PE membrane membrane modules. The report mentioned the challenges presented by the strength and chemical resistance of the materials used.
Morita had a sudden realization: "This is it!" Strength and chemical resistance are the very characteristics that POREFLON excels in. At that time, there were fast-rising concerns over water shortages and pollution, indicating the presence of a highly promising market. If they could achieve further cost reductions, POREFLON would become more competitive. At last, the project members had found a unique application for POREFLON in the field of water treatment.

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