Description: Thermoplastic elastomers combine the processing advantages of plastics with the rubber-like performance of elastomers. Known as two-phase systems, these copolymers are comprised of both hard (plastic) and soft (elastomeric) molecular regions, with each region contributing advantages and limitations to the final material performance. Chemically, fully-cured thermoset rubber particles are dispersed throughout a continuous thermoplastic matrix. Examples of this class of material are Santoprene™ and Geolast™ from Advanced Elastomer System (AES) and Dynaflex™ from GLS Corporation.
Key Use(s): A broad range of applications that spans from bumpers to bellows, vibrational dampers, couplers, and grommets. Also used throughout the automotive, major and small appliances, and aerospace industries.
Features: In virtually all cases, the substitution of these materials for traditional thermosetting materials results in such benefits as significantly increased production speeds (via conventional plastic injection molding machines) and the ability to reuse clean scrap without a loss in physical properties. This results in a reduced part cost due to minimized scrap loss.
Also, they are available in a broad range of durometers and colors and, by adjusting the percentage of hard (plastic) segments in the copolymer matrix, the physical properties can be modified. For example, as styrene content is increased in polystyrene elastomer block copolymers, they change from weak rubber-like materials to strong elastomers, to leathery materials, to finally hard, glass-like products (with styrene content above 75%).
Limitations: The physical properties of thermoplastic elastomers are highly dependent upon the properties of the plastic and elastomeric regions of the copolymer. Consequently, as temperature changes, so does the behavior of the TPE. The low temperature limit is defined by the glass transition temperature of the rubber phase, below which the material is brittle. Likewise, the high temperature limit is defined by the melting point of the plastic phase, above which the material softens and begins to flow. This results in lowering the overall heat resistance of the copolymer.
Also, as temperature increases, compression set increases which limits the overall component size and complexity due to stack-up tolerances. Likewise, the chemical resistance of the thermoplastic is determined by the limits of BOTH materials comprising the system.