Introduction: What are thermoplastic elastomers?
Thermoplastic elastomers are an entirely new class of materials that appear to be ideally suited for both the manufacturing and the application of a wide range of high-performance plastics.
To establish what thermoplastic elastomers are, we must first describe them briefly. Thermoplastic elastomers are thermoset plastics (which means they do not melt or dissolve under heat or pressure). They are generally referred to as thermoplastics because they have been designed to have a very high level of mechanical properties, but they can be modified by physical forces at other than their melting points.
Thermoplastic elastomers can be classified into two main types: rigid and flexible. Rigid examples include vinyls, polyesters, polycarbonates, polypropylenes and polyethylenes. Flexible examples include thermoplastics known as thermoset resins and thermoplastics known as thermosetting resins.
The benefits of thermoplastic elastomers
In the plastics industry, thermoplastic elastomers have been a major driving force for growth in the last few years. That’s because they are so hard to make, and because they can be made with materials other than polymers. But why?
The answer is that thermoplastic elastomers are very useful in applications where polymeric films (such as films on windshields) don’t need to be as strong or flexible as needed. Often, when customers just need a product that is durable enough to withstand the test of time and abuse — but not too durable — thermoplastic elastomers can do it with minimal sacrifice of strength.
So what is tpe? It’s a blend of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and ethyl acrylate (EA). TPE has been around since the early 1970s (and before) when latex was being discovered and used in medical devices. It’s found its way into many products like safety glues and electrical insulators, but it wasn’t until recently that we saw a great deal of interest in tpe.
Why? Because it has great strength-to-weight ratio (1:6) which translates into higher prices due to the weight savings achieved by using less material in production. And there is no compromise on flexibility and durability compared to PMMA/EA blends (which are typically 1:5 or 1:4).
These results are excellent for reliability and safety reasons; choosing tpe over PMMA/EA was an easy decision for us given all these benefits.
The drawbacks of thermoplastic elastomers
There is a lot of hype about thermoplastic elastomer tpe (TPE) and its many benefits, as well as drawbacks. TPEs have been around for a long time, but they are still relatively unknown to most people. The main drawback is that TPEs are not strong enough to withstand high temperature. But that’s not the problem we’re looking at here; rather, it’s their performance in the cold.
The reason why thermoplastic elastomers are so popular with many industries is because they are heat resistant (can resist higher temperatures). However, due to the fact that they are made of silicone compounds, they do not hold the heat well in cold temperatures. While this may sound like a drawback for some industries, other applications of TPE will be able to use them with no problems (e.g., telecommunication equipment).