The Rise in Popularity of Thermoplastic Elastomers
We’ve already discussed the properties of thermoplastic elastomers and advantages of using it as an alternative – but when did TPE materials rise to popularity, and what are some ways it’s being used?
The Evolution of TPEs
The history of thermoplastic materials began in the 1930s with the invention of plasticization of PVC by B.F. Goodrich scientists in Akron, Ohio. According to the Handbook of Thermoplastic Elastomers by Jiri George Drobny, Drodny says this invention opened the gates for the creation of more materials; “This invention led to further interest in flexible plastics and eventually to the development of blends…When properly formulated, have a rubber-like look and feel and bridge the gap between liquid plasticized PVC and conventional cured elastomers. Thus, they can be considered as the precursors of thermoplastics elastomers, as we know them today” (pg. 9).
Thermoplastic elastomers weren’t introduced commercially until the 1960s, but the material quickly grew to popularity because of its unique ability to blend the properties of rubbers and plastics.
Being able to blend the properties of rubbers and plastics allowed for a broader range of product design. Benefits include ergonomics and soft touch, like hair brushes that feature a soft handle or soft, flexible tubing that boasts strength and comfort for patients in the medical and dental industries.
Where can we find TPEs?
The plastic products of former decades were boxy and had restricted design – think of old washing machines and how they’ve transformed in the past decades with softer curves and more attractive design elements. This transformation is thanks to the use of thermoplastic elastomers in product development.
TPEs are used in the consumer products, industrial, medical, healthcare sectors, and beyond. You can find them replacing materials like silicone, rubber and PVC because TPE products are often more inexpensive than the alternative, and can be recycled. TPE materials offer design freedom because of their flexibility and versatility.
Another place we can find TPEs is replacing alternative materials in medical devices. The performance of TPEs is similar to natural latex rubber but unlike rubber and PVCs these materials are non-allergenic. Without causing concerns for individuals with latex sensitivities, TPEs are safe for use in medical, dental and surgical applications. The non-allergenic properties plus easy sterilization of TPE makes it great for use in the food and beverage industries.
TPEs Growing Global Market
According to this report from Smithers Rapra, The Future of Thermoplastic Elastomers to 2020, the TPE market will only continue to grow. The report examined the technologies affecting the TPE market and analyzed future trends in the industrial and medical sectors among others.
By 2015, the study estimated the global consumption of TPEs had grown to 4,195 thousand tons. From this it’s expected to grow to 5,487 thousand tons in 2020, giving thermoplastic elastomers a compound annual growth rate of 5.5%.
According to the Freedonia Group Inc., their study also found that this TPE growth rate is expansive, with the TPE family of materials on the rise in several industries. The study shows the most rapid gains forecast in the global consumption are for thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs). This material is finding new applications in the consumer, medical product markets and beyond.
Kent Furst, manager, polymers and materials, The Freedonia Group Inc. said “TPEs are usually the most innovative material in their class,” which is one of the reasons TPEs are rising in popularity and used in such a wide range of industries.
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