No, UV Rays Don't Damage All Plastic Cable Carriers

May 21, 2020 Jason Freed

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this statement: “Yeah, but this system is outside...ya know, in the sun? We can’t use a polymer chain, it will degrade.”

It’s not the fault of the customer. Someone, somewhere, sometime ago told them this factoid and it has just stuck with them. Or, perhaps they had used a different plastic cable carrier in the past and had failures in an outdoor application. I’m not sure the reason, but I figured I would take some time and address this common misconception in respect to igus® energy chains in outdoor applications.

Additional UV Stabilizers for Better Protection

In outdoor applications, UV radiation strikes the surface of the energy chain and eventually degrades the surface materials, causing the chain to become brittle and easily damaged. However, igus® energy chains are composed of highly engineered composite plastics with additional UV stabilizers that reflect much of the radiation back into the atmosphere. Even with these stabilizers, though, the energy chain’s surface will start to appear chalky or a little bit reflective to the naked eye. Does this discoloration negatively impact the strength of the material? Will it fail? Of course not. 

The e-chain® pictured to the right has been exposed outdoors for more than 12 years. As you can see, the surface is slightly discolored, but by no means has the internal structure changed or become brittle and more likely to fail. The widely shared factoid that e-chains® are unsuitable for outdoor applications is just plain wrong.

How It All Works

Let us use some common sense and a grilled cheese sandwich to explain what happens to the energy chain when exposed to UV radiation. When cooking, heat is applied to the buttered bread and the surface browns, becomes brittle and the cheese begins to melt. Does the sandwich fall apart? Crumble into dust? No because the heat (Or UV radiation in the case of the energy chain) has only physically changed the surface area of the sandwich. The internal structure remains unchanged. The same thing happens in the energy chain where the majority to the UV radiation is reflected and what little is absorbed only effects the surface area.

Let me be 100% clear! The igus® energy chain needs to be sized properly from the beginning. During our initial design process, we take environment (outdoor, subzero temperatures, chemical exposure, vibration and abrasive debris) into account for our design. Only igus® has a fully dedicated engineering projects team, industry managers that understand the unique challenges, and fully trained in-market territory managers to meet your day-to-day interactions.

So, can igus® energy chains be used in outdoor applications? Of course they can! When the system is designed and installed properly, igus® energy chains will give you millions of worry-free cycles without issue.

Interested in learning more about our highly engineered composite plastic cable carriers? Visit our e-chain® webpage or browse through our engineer’s toolbox for industry-related application stories. You can also reach out to me directly at jfreed@igus.net with any questions.

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