Advantages of Using Thermoplastic Elastomer as an Alternative
Nearly everyone is familiar with natural rubber latex. From car tires to pencil erasers, natural rubber latex can be found all throughout our daily lives. It’s a popular material choice due to its elongation properties, strength, and resistance to wear and tear.
Natural rubber latex isn’t the only material to offer these desirable qualities. Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) combine the material advantages of rubber, such as elasticity and versatility, with the excellent processability of plastics. Thermoplastic elastomers are flexible, stable, and easy to sterilize, making this material an excellent choice for high-performance tubing in the medical, food and beverage, and other industries.
What makes it a thermoplastic elastomer?
Thermoplastic elastomers are qualified by three essential characteristics:
- The material must have the ability to be stretched to moderate elongations. Once the stress is removed, the material must return to close to its original shape.
- The material must have no significant creep, which is to say that the material must not move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of mechanical stress.
- The material must be processable as a melt at elevated temperatures.
Advantages of thermoplastic elastomers
Versatile compounds and sizing
Thermoplastic elastomers are extremely versatile, making it easy to customize the material for the product’s final use and service environment. TPE tubing can range from soft and jelly-like to rigid and hard. TPE tubing can also be made in a range of custom sizes, ranging from an inner diameter of 0.063 inches to an outer diameter of one inch. The wall thickness of TPE tubing can be customized as well. Learn more about different thermoplastic elastomer types >
Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is naturally chemical resistant and can be made flame retardant as well. TPE products have outstanding chemical properties and stability, even when exposed to a broad range of temperatures and environmental factors. This resistance to extreme variables contributes meaningfully to the quality and durability of the final product.
Thermoplastic elastomer materials require little to no compounding and no reinforcing agents, stabilizers, or cure systems. As a result, there is virtually no variation between batches. This contributes to improved consistency in both raw materials and fabricated products. The consistency of TPE makes it a desirable alternative to rubber or plastic in certain applications.
Thermoplastic elastomers are an excellent choice from an environmental standpoint. TPE materials made from non-toxic recyclable plastics are highly eco-friendly. TPE consumes less energy during production than other materials and can often be recycled by molding or extruding.
Safe for the medical and food & beverage industries
TPE is naturally latex-free and is safe for patients who are sensitive or allergic to latex. Depending on how it’s processed, TPE can be soft to the touch. This makes TPE a good choice for healthcare products that make direct contact with the patient, since that pleasant feel can make a difference in the patient’s comfort. Also, TPE is easy to sterilize, which is critical in both healthcare environments and the food and beverage industry.
TPE can be an efficient and cost-effective alternative to other materials, such as natural rubber latex, silicone, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounds. TPE requires less processing and shorter fabrication times than other materials, which can significantly lower final costs.
One of the defining characteristics of TPE is its processability as a melt at elevated temperatures. This makes TPE a great choice for high-volume injection molding and extrusion.
TPE responds well to color and dye and can be customized to match a full spectrum of colors and finishes, including fluorescents. TPE also has good clarity properties, which can be beneficial for medical tubing and other applications.
Worldwide usage of thermoplastic elastomers has been growing steadily for several decades. Because the material and performance properties of TPE are valuable in so many contexts, many industries are continuing to discover new and innovative ways to use TPE. TPE is also being explored as an alternative material for plastic and rubber products. This will likely contribute to continued demand and use into the future.
Where to buy TPE materials
If you’re considering TPE for your product, it’s crucial to partner with an experienced manufacturer who understands the advantages and disadvantages of thermoplastic elastomers.
Kent Elastomer Products is proud to manufacture top-quality thermoplastic elastomer tubing and other specially engineered products. Our TPE compounds are compliant with FDA, NSF, and USP Class IV regulations, making them safe for medical settings and the food and beverage industry.
Whether you’re exploring a new idea or ready to start prototyping, KEP can support you at every stage of the product development process. We also offer on-site labeling and packaging services to streamline production for your thermoplastic elastomer products.
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