Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPEs)

News about thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) from What are thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs)? Are elastomers thermoset or thermoplastic? How is thermoplastic elastomer made? What are TPEs used for? Find answers here.

What does TPE stand for?

TPE stands for Thermoplastic Elastomer.

What are thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs)?

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are a type of plastic that can be processed like most other plastic, but which possess physical and aesthetic properties similar to rubber. They are usually compounds (i.e. a polymer that is compounded with another type of polymer).

Are thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) a thermoset or thermoplastic material?

The molecules in thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) do not exhibit tight cross-linking when they are heated, therefore they are a thermoplastic material. This means they can be processed using standard techniques (e.g. injection moulding), and can be re-used (via granulating and re-melting), as opposed to cross-linked thermoset plastics, which, once cured, cannot be re-melted.

How is thermoplastic elastomer made?

There are two main ways to make thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs): 

• The first way is to make the TPE in a chemical reactor. This involves the copolymerisation, in the reactor, of two different monomers, via block polymerisation. The end product is a single polymer with the properties of TPE.

• The second way is to start with two polymers, and compound them together (via heating and machine processing). One of the polymers will produce the elastic properties, whereas the other will produce the plastic properties (e.g. ease of processing).

What are TPEs used for? 

TPEs are especially useful for applications which require soft-touch elements, such as grips, phone cases, toys, components for baby products, etc.

They are also useful in certain medical applications as an alternative to silicone, though they do not possess the same impact resistance as silicone. 

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