October 28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of a groundbreaking material by Newark-based W. L. Gore & Associates.
Expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) is a material central to products that include implantable medical devices such as sutures and vascular grafts. EPTFE is considered one of the top 200 patents issued in the US.
Grafts and other products using the material have been a major driver in the growth of the medical side of privately held Gore.
Other uses include protective apparel, data transmission cables aboard the International Space Station, automotive fuel cells, guitar strings, and mobile phone vents.
While best known for Gore-Tex material used in apparel, ePTFE is used in thousands of other products produced daily for consumer, industrial and medical applications.
Bob Gore, former president and chairman of W. L. Gore & Associates and son of foundersBill and Vieve Gore, discovered ePTFE in 1969 while attempting to fulfill a large order for a less expensive PTFE tape.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) was a polymer already used extensively by Gore, and Bob thought that by heating PTFE it could be stretched to yield more product with less material.
Repeated attempts to stretch the material failed. Late one night in the lab as he was about to give up, Bob yanked in frustration on the material and it unexpectedly expanded the full length of his outstretched arms while retaining its original diameter.
Bob soon realized that his sudden yank at high temperature put air into the PTFE’s structure allowing it to expand. This new material, which came to be known as expanded polytetrafluoroethylene or ePTFE, possessed additional properties that offered the potential for use in a vast array of applications.
The original patent awarded to Gore for this development is designated as one of the U.S. Patent Office’s top 200 patents (out of more than 10 million patents issued). The original ePTFE patent is cited even more often than the patent for GPS technology or inkjet printing.
“It has been 50 years sinceBob Gorediscovered these new properties and effectively began the sequence of ePTFE innovation we now know and continue today,” said W. L. Gore & Associates CEOJason Field. “The monumental impact ePTFE continues to have, not just on Gore as an enterprise, but on thousands of other inventions across diverse industries, is truly revolutionary and immensely beneficial.”.
Since ePTFE’s discovery, Gore has further developed its expertise in utilizing the material for a wide range of applications. Today, Gore engineers can alter specific attributes of ePTFE, such as structure, shape, and thickness in order to achieve desired performance in a variety of applications.
Such work by Gore Associates reflects the culture established by foundersBill and Vieve Gore.
Just asBob Goredid in 1969, Gore associates are still experimenting with innumerable applications of ePTFE and other advanced materials.
W.L. Gore & Associates is a global material science company. With more than 10,500 Associates and team-oriented culture, Gore generates annual revenues of$3.7 billion.