Finding suitable plastic and rubber parts, such as tubing and gaskets, for your performance needs can be hard work. There may not seem to be much difference in performance between different parts, but the materials they’re made with have a considerable impact on overall performance.
TPE and silicone are two such materials that can make or break a potential fit within you application. Both materials share many characteristics, making them both viable options for a variety of parts. However, there are critical differences between TPE and silicone that will impact just how well each material will perform. To help you select the suitable material for your custom parts, let's take a look at the differences between TPE and silicone so that you can identify the best solution for your business needs.
What are the Differences Between TPE and Silicone?
TPE stands for Thermoplastic Elastomer and is composed of styrene, olefins, and polyurethanes. Due to its proven safety, low toxicity, and flexibility, TPEs are the perfect choice for medical grade devices and food compliance industries.
Meanwhile silicone is a synthetic rubber made by extracting silicon, passing that silicon through hydrocarbons, and mixing it with other chemicals. Silicone’s higher melting point makes silicone an excellent choice for manufacturing parts for rail, aircraft, and HVAC systems.
When weighing TPE vs silicone rubber for high-performance parts, it's essential to consider all factors before making a decision. Key factors include:
- Material resistances
- Temperature requirements
- Physical durability and material feel
When it comes to raw material resistance, both silicone and TPE offer some key benefits. Both silicone and TPE materials enjoy excellent resistance to aging and weather. However, TPE does outperform silicone when it comes to abrasion, tearing, and solvent resistance. Meanwhile, silicone does offer the ability to insulate electricity and repel water.
One of the most significant deciding factors between choosing TPE or silicone is the temperature requirements of the manufacturing process and end product use. Silicone has the clear advantages over TPE based on its ability to perform in extreme temperatures.
For instance, temperature for TPE ranges from lows of -30 degrees Fahrenheit up to highs of 250 degrees. Outside of this range, TPE will begin to deteriorate and crack. Silicone temperature ranges are much broader, with low-temperature use ranging between -60 to -150 degrees and high-temperature use reaching up to 480 degrees.
Physical durability and material feel
One of the advantages of TPE is its soft touch and material feel. This makes it an ideal material for use as a soft-touch grip on the outside of other products or for sealing rings and bottle cap liners.
Although not as flexible and soft as TPE, silicone is highly durable. This makes it the perfect choice for gaskets, tubing, and other custom parts. It also has good adhesion to metals and general resilience.
Another difference between the two compounds is that silicone has a better compression set than TPE. As such, silicone is more likely to return to it’s original thickness after being compressed.
Due to its complicate manufacturing process, silicone materials cost more to manufacture than TPE. This process does make TPE more cost-effective if both materials meet all your performance needs. For example, if TPE won’t negatively impact the full product life cycle, then it’s a more economic choice. However, there are occasions where a more specialized material is necessary depending on the environment.
Another critical aspect to consider is material sustainability. This quality may be important to you if it's part of your company ethos in a bid to reduce waste or simply to save money. Between the two, TPE is the more sustainable material as it can be easily recycled.
The controlling factor here is the ability of solid TPEs to be returned to a liquid after heating. This is a distinct drawback of silicone, which, once set into a solid mold, cannot be melted back down to be recycled. This adds further cost to the use of silicone over TPE.
The Best High-Performance Parts For Your Business
TPE and silicone both offer appropriate solutions for different performance needs. However, it isn’t always clear which is the best choice based on the specific requirements of your business.
Here at Timco Rubber, it's our job to help you invest in the best, most cost-effective plastic and rubber parts for your business. We work with you to identify custom rubber parts solutions that deliver high-quality and high-performance. Give us a call at 888-905-8066 or contact us online today.