Material of the month – TPE

We love talking material selection with clients, whether they’re product designers or product engineers, when we assess any NPI (New Product Introduction) one of the most important things to iron out is “which material is best suited to the product?” and, increasingly importantly, “will it be recyclable?”  When it comes to TPEs (Thermo Plastic Elastomers) the answer is YES.

FLEXIBILITY AND RIGIDITY COMBINED

Although TPEs are part of the elastomer family, unlike rubber, they can be recycled and reused to make something else. With recycling taken into account, TPEs become even more attractive to product designers and product engineers for a myriad of components and tools.

Let’s talk properties.  Because TPEs combine the soft, bendy characteristics of rubber with the processing advantage of thermoplastics, they’re great for all sorts of components; automotive parts, home appliance seals or bottle cap liners but also their flexible, tactile feel makes them ideal for overmoulding.  We often use TPEs for overmoulding over a rigid substrate to give them grip; think toothbrush or screwdriver handle.

We also use TPE for encapsulating smart chips (RFID) for wearable tech, namely personalised payment bands for high profile events.  We overmould circuit boards and RFID chips for contactless payment systems.  Some of these mouldings are skin contact so we use specialist, medical grade TPEs.

TPEs can also be food contact certified. We used TPEs for the seal of a ground-breaking hot chocolate shaker we manufactured for a client.  The seal stops the hot chocolate leaking, as well as being flexible, it increases the volume of the shaker when the pressure’s increased.

Did we mention that TPEs enable a faster production turnaround time than traditional rubber?  Here at BEC we have a vast range of production techniques available, so whether you’re at the NPI stage of product development or improving an existing product, TPEs are definitely worth a look.  It can reduce costs when compared to traditional rubbers, as well as improve the customer perception of the product.  The different properties and the easy processing qualities of TPEs make it a really useful material option.

Here’s a quick run through of TPEs pros and cons:

Pros

· Impressive impact strength – one of the best materials available
· Flexible
· Many grades and levels of hardness available (Shore A hardness 20-90)
· Bonds to substrate when over moulded (soft touch, impact protection)
· Rubber feel (no cross linking required)
· Faster production than traditional rubber (injection v compression)
· Medical, skin contact, FDA grades available

Cons

· Can be expensive
· Can creep over time

Did you know?
Most people come in to contact with TPE every morning and can thank it for their bright smile. Without the TPE Overmoulding grip they might have dropped their toothbrush!

If flexible, soft and recyclable are on your check list, then TPEs might be the right material for your NPI.  Call our team of plastic injection moulding experts to discuss further, we’d love to help (and we love a challenge!).  Give us a call on: 01425 613131 or email us.