TPE is the general name for Thermoplastic Elastomer, also referred to as thermoplastic rubber. TPEs really are a unique class of engineering polymer which combine the look and feel of a conventional (thermoset) rubber but with the ease of processing a plastic.
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TPE is a rubber-like material and is available in many different (shore) hardness’s. The compounds are made from hard thermoplastic materials like PP, PBT or PA in combination with a soft rubber material and can incorporate additives such as oils and fillers.
- Soft touch with good elasticity properties.
- Comfortable to hold, with good non-slip properties.
- Much easier to mould and process than conventional rubber.
- Easily coloured and over-moulded onto various thermoplastics with good adhesion.
- Good tear and abrasion resistance
- Excellent resistance to chemicals & weathering
- Good electrical properties
Some variants of TPE such as TPU have good strength but compared to conventional thermoset rubbers, TPE’s generally have inferior material properties with lower temperature resistance, chemical resistance and perform worse under load.
A key indicator is their softness or hardness value as measured on the Shore durometer scale. Like crosslinked rubber, TPEs are available as very soft gel materials from 20 Shore OO up to 90 Shore A, at which point they enter the Shore D scale and can be formulated to give hardness values up to 85 Shore D, which designates a material that is very hard.
There are several different types of TPE listed below in approximate ascending price order:
- TPE-S – Styrenic SBS, SEBS Compounds
- TPE-O – Thermoplastic Olefins
- TPE-V – Vulcanized PP/EPDM Compound
- TPE-U – Thermoplastic Polyurethane
- TPE-E – Co-Polyester Compound
- TPE-A – Thermoplastic Polyamide
The ‘E’ is generally left out and the grades will tend to be referred to as TPO, TPS, TPV, TPE, TPU and TPA.
Soft touch handles for power tools, toothbrushes, domestic appliances etc.
Automotive – seals, mats, control knobs and buttons, air bag covers
Wire and cable coatings
Sports equipment – grips on hockey sticks, ski boot features
Medical – seals and connectors, mouthpieces
Construction – weather-proof membranes
0.91 – 1.3 g/cm3
Trade Names And Manufacturers
Arnitel – DSM
Chemiton – Franplast
Desmopan – Covestro
Elastollan – BASF
Evoprene – Mexichem
Hytrel – DuPont
Laripur – Coim
Megol – API
Pebax – Arkema
Santoprene – Exxon Mobil
Hardie Polymers can help source grades from all of the above manufacturers
The first thermoplastic elastomer became available in 1959. At that time rubber compounds (thermosets) were already popular in the automotive market but they were expensive, difficult to produce and hard to recycle.
Product designers were continually looking for materials that would provide new benefits to the consumer and needed a soft, cheaper material that was easier to process and TPE was the answer.
Since the 1970’s with new product applications being continually developed, there was a demand for more grades with differing properties. Material manufacturers have now brought many different variants of TPE to the market to meet this demand.
More about TPE
Article by Dr Charlie Geddes
Our longstanding partnerships allow us to specialise in sourcing and compounding most grades of engineering polymers. All brand names listed are trademarks of the manufacturers and we are not an authorised distributor for these manufacturers. We only supply prime grades in original packaging with the manufacturers documentation.
® – Trademarks owned or used by the producers.
™ – Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (status in the U.S. only, registration status in other geographies may be different)