Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and its Properties

What is TPE?

Thermoplastic elastomer is a type of thermoplastic polymer. They are a physical mix of polymers (usually a plastic and a rubber) that consists of materials with both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties.

There are various kinds of TPEs in the market, namely: thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV), polyurethane thermoplastic elastomer (TPU), thermoplastic polyether ester elastomer etc (TPEE). They behave like thermoset rubbers but are melt processable via thermoplastic processing methods and can be easily reprocessed and remoulded.

TPEs show advantages typical of both rubbery materials and plastic materials, hence allowing for design and fabrication freedom that thermoset rubber does not offer. It is able to elongate moderately and return to its near original shape, thus creating a longer life and better physical range than other materials. With the good physical properties and electrical insulating properties, it is still the popular and preferred material to be used in wide range of applications.

Advantages of using TPE

Good physical properties:

  • Pleasing appearance and feel, easy to add color, good stability.
  • The hardness range : SHORE 0A ~ SHORE 70D.
  • Good insulation and weather resistant.

Good chemical resistance:

  • Non-toxic, non-irritating, non-polluting in production processes, no harm to the environment or humans.
  • Resistant to common chemicals.

Mechanical stability:

  • It can be applied to injection molding machines (most common technique), extrusion molding, blowing and compression molding machines.
  • Simple production process, short processing time, high efficiency.
  • High tensile strength resistance and low compression deformed.
  • Good combined with the general plastic blending to be an extraordinary alloy material

TPEs have outstanding thermal properties and material stability when exposed to a broad range of temperatures. They consume less energy in production, can be coloured easily by most dyes, and allows for economical quality control. TPE materials have the potential to be recyclable since they can be moulded, extruded and reused like plastics, but they have typical elastic properties of rubbers which are not recyclable owing to their thermosetting characteristics.

Most common applications: Medical devices

One application commonly seen utilising TPE is the manufacturing of materials for medical equipment. Since TPE was first introduced to the medical industry, it has been applied in various important aspects due to their chemical inertness and cost effectiveness. It is also starting to gain traction in replacing latex, since latex can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Versatility is one reason for the increasing population of using TPEs in medical equipment. In addition, the hardness of TPE can range from ultra-soft or gel-like to semi-rigid. Optical properties can range from water clear to opaque. TPE can also be manufactured to meet most requirements for strength, low-temperature toughness, heat stability, chemical and UV resistance. In recent years, many equipment such as tubing, ventilator bags, syringe tips, gaskets etc have been made using TPE and have seen much success.

Also, the widespread use of TPE in medical equipment can be attributed to the fact that it has more advantages over alternative materials. Since TPEs are thermoplastics, they process more efficiently and economically than most thermoset rubber, which provides greater design freedom

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