By: Matthew Amy, Armacell Product Manager-Insulation

At Armacell, Innovation is at our core and is our way of life. As we continue to provide the mechanical insulation marketplace with future-forward solutions, we also find, it is worthwhile to take a look back at how far this industry has come.

Usage of mechanical insulation in 2020 is implied at Engineering, Contractor, and Building Owner-level to maintain efficiencies in mechanical systems and protect workers. Organizations such as the National Insulation Association (NIA) help push the importance of the insulation industry. NIA is dedicated to keeping the commercial and industrial insulation industry up-to-date on the latest industry trends and technologies. Recently, Ron King, prior President of NIA and current industry expert Consultant, discussed with us the evolution of energy efficiency and the importance of insulation going into the future. “We have come a long way from 1960s to 70s, from insulation being a required commodity, to now being a sought after technology, a technology that most people don’t yet fully understand. We still have lot of room for improvement when it comes to energy efficiency, and sometimes during the discussion, insulation is still not an important topic. Insulation tends to be the Rodney Dangerfield of building industry, we just don’t get any respect, but the benefits of properly designed, installed, and maintained mechanical insulation systems are well-documented and seen throughout our past.”

Make no mistake, insulation has been on the minds of humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Consider the fact that before we were sitting comfortably in our offices and homes, surrounded by artificial insulated foams, fibers, and ceramics, we were battling the elements with mud and moss! In the beginning of insulation usage, things were simple. If you were a prehistoric man or woman seeking shelter we may have constructed temporary lodgings from stones, animal skins, fur, wool, and plants that were readily available to you. These materials created physical walls and ultimately served as insulating materials. As nomadic cave-people began to settle in specific locations around the globe and adopt agricultural practices, shelters became more permanent and alternative materials were considered. However, it is naïve to think that wood, earth, and stone do not act as insulating barriers. Some of the oldest known shelters in the world are made entirely of earth and are still standing after nearly 5,000 years!

A Change Will Do You Good.

The changing human society has altered life styles throughout time, and with these alterations come new demands for a better life. While earthen homes are durable and simple, stone and timber became more common form of construction. New building materials began to appear over the centuries in the forms of iron, glass, concrete and steel–even synthetic composites. Ultimately these materials would drive significant changes of their own. While these materials are extremely useful in their own right, they expand and contract with temperature changes unlike the earth and stone materials used before them. The responsibility of protecting these new structures from swings in temperature would now fall steadily on the shoulders of a separate layer of insulation technology within the building envelope. Thermal insulation now in residential buildings, industrial architecture (chimneys, power plants, etc.) and commercial buildings to meet building code requirements as our cities grew.  

Throughout the early 1900’s insulating panels were made from reeds, bagasse, cork, flax, and even dried eelgrass and artificial materials were in their infancy. As societies around the world exploded through industrialization and subsequent expansion of regional and global economies, energy generation and consumption changed. At this point the demand for thermal management was so critical that investigations for artificial insulation materials began once the limitations of natural materials had been exceeded.

In 1860, Thomas M. Armstrong established a company to manufacturing bottle cork products and later in 1899, at the turn of the century, Armstrong produced the first cork insulation sheets. As with many other companies, economics is often the driving force behind innovations. At the time, Armstrong was focusing on an ongoing cork shortage and the cost of corkboard production, which kept getting more and more expensive. Artificial materials started debuting in the form of mineral wool, slag wool, and fiberglass while engineers at Armstrong World Industries, Inc., worked on insulation substitution products, trying different blends of rubber and plastic.

During 1940s and 1950s plastic foams would begin to appear in the form of polystyrene and polyurethane. It was in 1954, Armstrong World Industries Inc., engineers developed the first flexible closed-cell insulation product, known today as ArmaFlex. This breakthrough paved the way for further development and experimentation within the industry using heating technologies that eventually created cellular glass, perlite, and aerated concretes for high-temperature applications. Environmental concerns have driven the innovation further to create low halogen elastomeric pipe insulation and low VOC adhesives. In the 21st century with safety being at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Armacell continues to constantly look for ways to improve products and most recently launched ArmaFlex® Ultra with FlameDefense™ technology. This advanced product resists burning and reduces smoke development, meeting current IMC and IECC building codes. It is this commitment that has elevated ArmaFlex Ultra to become the first elastomeric insulation product that is UL Classified listed and labelled per UL 723 to 25/50. Leading the pack through history and now well into the future, Armacell’s Solutions Portfolio is the pioneer of insulation system package for today and tomorrow.

***Reference document:  “The historical development of thermal insulation materials”. David Bozsaky. Periodica Polytechnica; Architecture. 41/2, p49-56. 2010