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Thermoplastic Elastomers: An Introduction

November 14, 2018

What is a Thermoplastic Elastomer?


A thermoplastic is a type of plastic that can be heated, formed, and cooled into shape. An elastomer is a natural or synthetic material with elastic properties, like rubber. Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are plastics that combine those elements. They are able to be heated, formed, and cooled into a shape; however, they retain their rubber like qualities after they cool.

Because they soften when heated, thermoplastic polymers are easy to mold into a variety of shapes, and still maintain the desired mechanical properties after cooling. Common uses for thermoplastic polymers include the fabrication of ropes, belts, different types of containers, insulation materials, and numerous medical devices. For example, we offer custom dropper bulbs made of TPE. Please visit our Material Resistance Comparison Chart to learn more.

TPEs are made by joining two or more monomers. One of the monomers provides the hard, or crystalline, segment that functions as a thermally stable component; the other monomer develops the soft, or amorphous segment, which contributes the “rubbery” characteristic. It’s physical and chemical properties can be controlled by varying the length of each hard or soft segment.

Thermoplastic Elastomers vs Thermoset Elastomers


Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) and Thermoset Elastomers (TSE) have one very important difference. A TSE, during formation, undergoes a chemical reaction called vulcanization, where strong chemical bonds are formed. Whereas TPEs are able to be reheated and reshaped, a TSE, due to vulcanization, once cooled, loses its ability to be heated and reprocessed into a different shape.

According to Laurence W. McKeen, in Fatigue and Tribological Properties of Plastics and Elastomers, TPEs have two big advantages over TSEs: ease and speed of processing. Other advantages of TPEs are recyclability of scrap and lower energy costs for processing. Additionally, TPEs are molded on standard plastics-processing equipment with considerably shorter cycle times than those required for molding of conventional rubbers.

In short, because of its ability to be reheated and thus recycled, TPEs are a more sustainable material compared to TSEs.

How we can help


From marketing to design, to engineering and manufacturing, our IDworks® team is always ready to work with you on all your custom plastic needs.

Learn more:

ScienceDirect is an excellent resource to learn more about Thermoplastic Elastomers.

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