Your Guide to Heater Elements and How They Affect Your Industry

Heating elements are the essential components that give heaters their function. Without them, a heater can’t heat anything. But not all heating elements are made equal; different types of heating elements can have different effects. This post will examine differences in various heater elements and which may work best for specific applications.

Types of heating elements

Heating elements all serve the same purpose – to heat a liquid, vapour or gas to reach a specific temperature. However, the similarities often end there. Heating elements can vary considerably in terms of their material properties and the applications they’re best suited for. However, the materials used in heating elements often differentiate them from each other most.

Typical material composition of heating elements

  • Metallic compounds – The most common materials used for heating elements are metals. They typically form a coil, ribbon, or wire strip. You can find them in various commonly used machinery, from industrial furnaces to roof heating systems. Common metals in heating elements include stainless steel, copper, nickel-chrome, and iron-chromium aluminum alloys.
  • Semiconductors and ceramics– Semiconductors are materials between metals and insulators in terms of conductivity. Ceramics are non-metallic and inorganic materials that have varying levels of electrical conductivity. Some ceramics can be semiconductors. Common materials in this category include Molybdenum disilicide (MoSi2) and silicon carbide.
  • Thick film – Some heating elements use thick film printed on a thin substrate. The film offers some advantages over metal, such as higher power density, a wider range of voltage compatibility and lower energy consumption. You can find the thick film in devices ranging from 3D printers and heat exchangers to laboratory equipment.

In addition to the type of material, there is the shape and form of the heating element itself. Like the materials in the heating element, some forms can work better than others.

Tubular heater elements

These heater elements are bent (often customized in bending) and come with an outer sheath to protect the heater from stress. They usually contain a blend of alloys that help increase the heat transfer from the resistance coil to the heating medium. Tubular heater elements can serve a wide range of applications ranging from industrial heating to the heating of potentially acidic compounds. Here at Wattco, we offer variations of tubular heater elements such as finned tubular heater elements and open coil elements.

Radiative heater elements 

These heater elements typically assume the form of incandescent lamps that radiate primarily infrared radiation. They run below maximum power. A typical application of these heater elements includes food warmers and space heaters.

Screen-printed heater elements

As their name implies, they are screen-printed onto ceramic metal plates. These heater elements have been a staple for kitchen appliances from the mid-1990s onward.

How to choose heaters with superior heating elements

Selecting the most suitable heater element boils down to understanding the demands of your business application. Every industrial process is maximized when you can produce the perfect temperatures and conditions for that process to happen.

Once you know those conditions, you want to choose a heater element that can meet those requirements. With that said, some factors frequently determine whether a heater element is suitable or not.

Determining a heater element’s suitability

  • Power supply – For staters, verify the ideal voltage rating for your application. Fortunately, it is relatively simple to determine because voltage ratings since they’re typically 120V or 240V.
  • Fluid flow – Consider the flow and viscosity of your target liquid (or gas). Stagnant compounds take less effort to heat than flowing ones. Apply this principle to gases, too, since they’re low density and don’t absorb heat quickly. For example, a finned tubular heater element would be a good choice for such applications.
  • Watt density – Watt density refers to the heat delivered by a heating element per unit area. It’s essential to match the watt density of your heater element with the desired amount of heat for your application. In most cases, you can find the watt density of the heater element by reading the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Temperature – It’s crucial to determine to require temperature for your application early on. Additionally, it’s essential to choose a heater element that strikes a balance between ideal watt density and temperature.
  • Sensor location – Temperature settings placed at poor locations on a heater can present an inaccurate reading of a liquid or gas. The sensor only measures the temperature of the fluid. If set incorrectly, it might not capture the actual temperature of the heating element, which can lead to its burning.
  • Corrosion – Lastly, the heater element must withstand corrosive liquids. That is where material choice can matter. Metals such as stainless steel and Incoloy are often used for heater elements that will get submerged in corrosive liquids.

Choose heater elements for your industry

Choosing the right heater element is a process. However, making an intelligent choice early on will help prevent issues such as premature wear-and-tear, low efficiency, high energy consumption and more. Generally speaking, you want to find the best settings to conduct your application and the heater element that provides those settings.

In some cases, this will be more straightforward or sophisticated. With that said, you might need guidance. Our representatives at Wattco are trained to understand your industrial needs and the heater elements that will suit them best. We also offer a selection of heater elements that can overcome various industrial challenges, regardless of your sector.

Get in touch with a Wattco representative to help you determine the best heater element for your application.