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Structure of a Vespel polymer

Vespel is the trademark of a range of durable high-performance polyimide-based plastics manufactured by DuPont. The one shown in the structure on the right was the first to be commercialized.[1]

Characteristics and applications[edit]

This high performance polymer is mostly used in aerospace, semiconductor and transportation technology. It combines heat resistance, lubricity, dimensional stability, chemical resistance, and creep resistance, to be used in hostile and extreme environmental conditions.

Unlike most plastics, it does not produce significant outgassing even at high temperatures, which makes it useful for lightweight heat shields and crucible support. It also performs well in vacuum applications, down to extremely low cryogenic temperatures. However, Vespel tends to absorb a small amount of water, resulting in longer pump time while placed in a vacuum.

Although there are polymers surpassing polyimide in all of these properties, the combination of them is the main advantage of Vespel.

Thermophysical properties[edit]

Vespel is commonly used as a thermal conductivity reference material for testing thermal insulators, because of high reproducibility and consistency of its thermophysical properties. For example, it can withstand repeated heating up to 300 °C without altering its thermal and mechanical properties.[2] Extensive tables of measured thermal diffusivity, specific heat capacity, and derived density, all as functions of temperature, have been published.[2]

Magnetic properties[edit]

Vespel is used in high-resolution probes for NMR spectroscopy because its volume magnetic susceptibility (−9.02 ± 0.25×10−6 for Vespel SP-1 at 21.8 °C[3]) is close to that of water at room temperature (−9.03×10−6 at 20 °C [4] Negative values indicate that both substances are diamagnetic. Matching volume magnetic susceptibilities of materials surrounding NMR sample to that of the solvent can reduce susceptibility broadening of magnetic resonance lines.

Processing for manufacturing applications[edit]

Vespel can be processed by direct forming (DF) and isostatic molding (basic shapes – plates, rods and tubes). For prototype quantities, basic shapes are typically used for cost efficiency since tooling is quite expensive for DF parts. For large scale CNC production, DF parts are often used to reduce per part costs, at the expense of material properties which are inferior to those of isostatically produced basic shapes.


For different applications, special formulations are blended / compounded. These shapes are produced by three standard processes: 1) Compression Molding (for plates and rings) 2) Isostatic Molded (for Rods) 3) Direct-Forming (for small size parts produced in large volumes) Keep in mind that direct formed parts have lower performance characteristics than parts that have been machined from compression-molded or isostatic shapes. Isostatic shapes have isotropic physical properties, whereas direct formed and compression molded shapes exhibit anisotropic physical properties.

Some examples of standard polyimide compounds are:

virgin polyimide
provides operating temperatures from cryogenic to 300 °C (570 °F), high plasma resistance, as well as a UL rating for minimal electrical and thermal conductivity. This is the unfilled base polyimide resin. It also provides high physical strength and maximal elongation, and the best electrical and thermal insulation values. Example: Vespel SP-1.
15% graphite by weight
added to the base resin for increased wear resistance and reduced friction in applications such as plain bearings, thrust washers, seal rings, slide blocks and other wear applications. This compound has the best mechanical properties of the graphite-filled grades, but lower than the virgin grade. Example: Vespel SP-21.
40% graphite by weight
for enhanced wear resistance, lower friction, improved dimensional stability (low coefficient of thermal expansion), and stability against oxidation. Example: Vespel SP-22.
10% PTFE and 15% graphite by weight
added to the base resin for the lowest coefficient of friction over a wide range of operating conditions. It also has excellent wear resistance up to 149 °C (300 °F). Typical applications include sliding or linear bearings as well as many wear and friction uses listed above. Example: Vespel SP-211.
15% moly-filled (molybdenum disulfide solid lubricant)
for wear and friction resistance in vacuum and other moisture-free environments where graphite actually becomes abrasive. Typical applications include seals, plain bearings, gears, and other wear surfaces in outer space, ultra-high vacuum or dry gas applications. Example: Vespel SP-3.

Material properties data[edit]

Material properties of Vespel[5] (produced by isostatic molding + machining)
Property Units Test condition SP-1 SP-21 SP-22 SP-211 SP-3
Filler material unfilled 15% graphite 40% graphite 10% PTFE, 15% graphite 15% molybdenum disulfide
specific gravity dimensionless 1.43 1.51 1.65 1.55 1.60
thermal expansion coefficient 10−6/K 211–296 K 45 34
296–573 K 54 49 38 54 52
thermal conductivity W/mK at 313 K 0.35 0.87 1.73 0.76 0.47
volume resistivity Ω m at 296 K 1014–1015 1012–1013
dielectric constant dimensionless at 100 Hz 3.62 13.53
at 10 kHz 3.64 13.28
at 1 MHz 3.55 13.41


  1. ^ DuPont Science of Vespel
  2. ^ a b Jacobs-Fedore, R. A.; Stroe, D. E. (2004). "Thermophysical properties of Vespel SP1". In Wang, Hsin; Porter, Wallace D.; Porter, Wally. Thermal Conductivity 27/Thermal Expansion 15. Knoxville, TN: DEStech Publications, Inc. pp. 231–238. ISBN 1-932078-34-7. 
  3. ^ P. T. Keyser & S. R. Jefferts (1989). "Magnetic Susceptibility of Some Materials Used for Apparatus Construction (at 295 K)". Rev. Sci. Instrum. 60 (8): 2711–2714. doi:10.1063/1.1140646. 
  4. ^ A. Carlsson, G. Starck, M. Ljungberg, S. Ekholm and E. Forssell-Aronsson (2006). "Accurate and sensitive measurements of magnetic susceptibility using echo planar imaging". Magn. Reson. Imaging. 24 (9): 1179–1185. doi:10.1016/j.mri.2006.07.005. PMID 17071340. 
  5. ^ Summary of typical properties standard SP polyimide resins. DuPont

Vespel SP Data Sheets

Further reading