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Material Breakdown: What is Silicone Rubber?

Posted by Joe Hoffman
Material Breakdown: What is Silicone Rubber?

Like many other rubber compounds, silicone rubber is an extremely useful material for manufacturing parts. This particular compound is known for several benefits, including extreme temperature resistance and material flexibility. However, what makes this synthetic elastomer more special than others? Let’s break down how silicone is made, what makes it special, and what industries can take advantage of this specific material.

What is Silicone Rubber Made Of?

As a synthetic rubber, silicone is not a naturally-occurring substance. It’s unclear who exactly invented silicone – some argue that the polymer was first discovered in the early 1800s by Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius, while others credit English chemist Frederick S. Kipping with discovering silicone in 1840. Regardless, silicone rubber was popularized until the early 20th century when it quickly became an essential material in a wide variety of products.

There are several steps involved with making silicone rubber, starting with isolating silicone, a chemical element that must be isolated from silica. The first step is to heat quartz sands under extreme temperatures until it turns into pure silicone. That silicon is left to cool so that it can be turned into a fine powder and used to help produce everything from semiconductors to fire bricks.

In order to make the elastomer, silicone powder is heated along with methyl chloride and polymerized with oxygen and other elements to create polysiloxane. This raw version of silicone can be combined with coloring pigments and additives to add desired characteristics to the end material. Once ready, silicone rubber is then extruded, molded, or manufactured in some other way to be used as a final part.

Advantages of Silicone Rubber

Silicone rubber is a highly effective synthetic polymer for a variety of applications. This particular material features several properties that make it useful for many needs. These advantages include:

  • A natural resistance to both high temperatures and extreme cold, with an operating temperatures ranging from -150 to 480° F.
  • Excellent aging resistance and water sealing capabilities, making the material ideal for outdoor use.
  • Excellent electrical insulation, even while immersed in water.
  • Can be either clear or made with different colors.
  • Non-toxic and can be made to be FDA-approved for food contact.
  • Provides good mechanical properties, including resilience, compression set, and adhesion to metals.
  • High levels of flexibility, both in terms of hardness and manufacturing production processes.

Disadvantages of Silicone Rubber

While silicone polymers are an excellent option for a wide variety of applications, there are certain instances where the compound is not a good fit. To start, polysiloxane does not hold up well when exposed to oil or solvents. Regular abrasion can also pose problems for some silicone products.

Another potential disadvantage is cost. While some applications may call for extreme heat resistance or other specialty cases, others may have less imposing performance needs. Silicone can cost more than other compounds, so you may be better served using a different material is a more cost-effective compound meets all your part requirements.

What is Silicone Used For?

There are many different parts where polysiloxane is a natural fit. This particular synthetic elastomer can be used in everything from cooking equipment to medical applications. Other markets include:

  • HVAC
  • Automotive
  • Electrical
  • Home appliances
  • Food preparation

In addition to general markets, there are also a wide range of applications that can benefit from this compound. Some types of parts that can use these elastomers include:

  • Window and door seals
  • Gaskets
  • Tubing
  • Jacketing
  • Covers
  • O-rings
  • Sound and vibration dampening

Find the Right Materials for Your Parts

Silicone is an excellent material for a variety of applications, but it’s not the only elastomer available. There are several potential compounds, each of which offer different advantages and disadvantages. The trick is figuring out which is best for your needs.

The good news is that you don’t need to figure out which materials are best for your applications by yourself. Timco partners with businesses to analyze your needs and determine a custom-designed part solution with the best, most-cost-effective material in mind. Give us a call at 800-969-6242 or contact us online to talk to one of our experts about your material needs.