The Rise in Popularity of Thermoplastic Elastomers

The Rise in Popularity of Thermoplastic Elastomers

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are replacing legacy materials in many industries due to their desirable physical properties and excellent processability. But what is the origin story of TPE, and where can we find it today?

The History of Thermoplastic Elastomer: Who invented TPE?

The history of thermoplastic materials can be traced back to 1926, when Waldo Lonsbury Semon, a scientist at B.F. Goodrich in Akron, Ohio, invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Semon’s innovation piqued widespread interest in flexible plastics and their potential applications. More and more experts began experimenting with different compounds, seeking the middle ground between liquid plasticized PVC and conventional cured elastomers. Eventually, the industry achieved an ideal blend between rubber and plastic: thermoplastic elastomers.

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) were introduced to the commercial market in the 1950s and became popular almost immediately. TPE materials offered something truly unique to the market: a blend of the most beneficial properties of both rubber and plastic, allowing for a broader range of product design. 

Especially attractive to many industries is the soft, rubber-like feel of TPE. TPE is an excellent choice for applications where comfort is important. Everyday examples include hair brush or toothbrush handles. TPE has also become popular in the medical and dental industries. TPE’s flexibility and excellent tensile strength make it a superior choice for surgical and medical tubing.

Where can we find TPEs? 

The effects of TPE are visible in the evolution of everyday products. Before the discovery of TPE, product designers were restricted by the limited properties of plastic. Older products, such as washing machines and hand mixers, were boxy and inelegant. In recent decades, however, these products have been aesthetically transformed by softer curves and more attractive design elements. This change can be credited to the use of TPE in product development.

TPEs are used in a wide range of industries, including consumer products, the healthcare and medical sectors, industrial applications, and more. In fact, many manufacturers are replacing silicone and other materials with TPE. TPE materials have excellent tensile strength and are flexible and versatile, which translates to greater design freedom and increased potential. Additionally, TPE is more cost effective than some traditional materials and can be recycled, both of which are attractive properties to many manufacturers.

The growing popularity of TPE is especially noteworthy in the medical device industry. TPE shares many of natural rubber latex’s most desirable performance properties, but unlike rubber and PVC, TPE is non-allergenic. TPE is latex-free and thus completely safe for individuals with latex allergies or sensitivities. Additionally, TPE is easy to sterilize, making it an excellent choice for medical, dental, and surgical applications. These same properties have led to growing use of TPEs in the food and beverage industry as well.

TPE’s Growing Global Market

The thermoplastic elastomers market is recovering steadily from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict global consumption of TPE to reach 5.55 million tons in 2026.

Different types of thermoplastics are experiencing increases in demand. The automotive industry in particular is expected to utilize a great number of thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPV), especially in the design of vehicle interiors. Clear TPV tubing also provides exceptional clarity, making it a popular choice for certain medical applications as well, such as surgical tubing and IV fluid bags.

The Asia-Pacific region is the largest global consumer of thermoplastics, and its market share is expected to increase, especially as the region’s population grows. The next largest consumer of TPEs is North America, partially due to a flourishing medical device industry.

KEP understands the TPE market 

At Kent Elastomer Products, we have years of experience working with different types of thermoplastics. We’ve spent years perfecting our manufacturing techniques for TPE and can help you bring truly exceptional TPE products to market. To learn more about thermoplastic elastomers and KEP, get in touch with a member of our team.

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