5 Types of Thermoplastic Elastomer
Thermoplastic elastomers, or TPE, can be seen as a sort of bridge between plastics and rubbers, combining the best characteristics of both: the look, feel, and elasticity of conventional thermoset rubber, and the fast, efficient processability of plastics.
When it comes to industry applications, the possibilities for TPE are virtually endless. TPE can be highly customized depending on how the material is mixed and processed, and there are a variety of grades available:
TPE-S is simply another name for thermoplastic elastomers (TPE). TPE-S specifically refers to styrenic block copolymers, the largest and most popular category of thermoplastic elastomers.
The physical properties and performance characteristics of TPE are ideal for tubing. It’s easy to sterilize and chemically inert, with excellent cleanliness properties and low extractables, all of which are crucial in the medical industry. It’s also soft, flexible, and dimensionally stable—though different grades of TPE come in a wide variety of hardness levels.
Notably, all thermoplastic elastomers are latex free. For this reason, TPE can be an excellent choice for applications where risks associated with latex sensitivities and allergies must be considered, such as medical and healthcare fields.
Thermoplastic polyolefins are the product of blending EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer) and PP (polypropylene) rubbers, usually with a high-performance filler. TPO is stiff, with limited elastomeric properties, and is resistant to impact. It’s commonly used in dashboards, bumpers, and other tough automotive components. Because of its robust UV resistance properties, TPO is also used to make thermoplastic rubber sheets for heat-reflective membrane roofing.
Like TPO, thermoplastic vulcanizate is a compound of EPDM and PP rubbers. However, TPV undergoes dynamic vulcanization during compounding, making it extremely flexible. TPV offers excellent sealing performance, even under harsh conditions, and is used in a wide variety of sealing applications. These include weather seals in cars, houses, and other construction, pump seals in household appliances, high-heat seals in engine compartments and industrial piping, electrical insulation, and many different plumbing and water management applications.
Thermoplastic polyurethane has excellent mechanical properties and holds up well against abrasion and flex fatigue, making it a popular choice for ski boots and shoe soles. TPU is also waterproof and resistant to weathering, aging, and grease. Because TPU has a pleasant, rubbery feel, it’s often used for handheld products, such as phone cases and toothbrush handles. Additionally, TPU is resistant to bacteria, offers excellent clarity, and can be biocompatible, making it well suited to many medical applications, including medical and surgical tubing.
Thermoplastic copolyesters are known by a variety of acronyms: TPE-E, COPE, TEEE, and TPC-ET. TEEE offers good resistance to chemicals and high heat. TEEE also offers excellent dynamic properties, including fatigue resistance and tear strength. TEEE is commonly used in automotive applications, wires and cables, and industrial hoses.
Thermoplastic Elastomers FAQ
Which industries use TPE?
Because thermoplastic elastomers are so diverse, many industries have adopted them for various uses. The medical industry uses a lot of TPE due to its easy sterilization, versatile performance, and other important properties. Many consumer industries, including footwear, food, and beverage, also use TPE in their products and production. Certain grades of TPE can be quite tough and are well suited to a wide variety of industrial, automotive, and other heavy-duty applications. There are many more examples, and more industries are likely to start using TPE in the future.
Can TPE be colored?
Yes. Thermoplastic elastomers respond well to coloring and thus can be customized for many applications. Additionally, some TPE varieties offer excellent clarity for applications where transparency is vital. It’s worth noting that prolonged sun exposure can cause slight discoloration in certain grades of TPE, but coatings and other solutions can be used to prevent this.
Is TPE recyclable?
Yes. Unlike thermoset rubber, thermoplastic elastomers can be reclaimed and recycled. Sustainability is an increasingly important issue to consumers and companies alike, and TPE offers a sustainable alternative to conventional materials.
Which TPE is best for my product?
It depends. Each group of thermoplastic elastomers offer slightly different performance characteristics and material properties, so it’s important to choose the one that matches your needs. A materials expert can help you evaluate your needs and your budget so you can make a confident decision.
Kent Elastomer Compounds
KEP is a trusted and experienced manufacturer of top-quality elastomer products, including dip-molded tubing and other components for medical and surgical, food and beverage, and more industries. Our elastomer experts can help you choose the right elastomer material for your project and match a wide range of colors so you can get the look you want. KEP can also handle assembly, packaging, and labeling, so you don’t have to juggle communications with multiple vendors to get your product to market.
Learn more about our proprietary thermoplastic elastomer compounds >
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