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How To Choose the Right TPE for Your Application: 6 Essential Steps

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are among the most versatile classes of plastics known for their rubber-like characteristics. These thermoplastic compounds are commonly used for soft-touch applications because they can be easily formed and molded over more rigid substrates. TPEs offer significant advantages over rubber, including better processing, design flexibility, cost efficiencies and recyclability. But choosing the right TPE for your application requires thorough research and consideration.

Your TPE material selection will directly impact the look, feel and performance of your part. Specifying the wrong material can result in launch delays or product failure, so it’s essential to get it right from the start. With a wide range of subcategories and different types of materials, choosing the right TPE for your application can be a difficult task.

By evaluating the following criteria, industrial designers, engineers and project managers can narrow their decisions and prioritize which materials and polymer technologies make the most sense for their project, timeline and budget.

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1. Determine the Location of the End Use (Indoor or Outdoor) and All Environmental Conditions

The end-use environment will help resolve your most basic project needs. While automotive interior parts are protected from outdoor weather, they are still exposed to UV sunlight and extreme temperatures. Similarly, a child’s sippy cup made with food-contact approved TPE may not encounter harsh outdoor elements, but it will need to endure dishwasher temperatures and repeated washing.

Consider these factors to see if any TPE additives or effects are needed:

  • Temperature requirements and length of exposure.
  • UV exposure levels.
  • Types of chemical exposure (acids, bases, alcohol, oil, cleaning agents, etc.)
  • Risk of microbial growth.
  • Risk of flammability.
  • Is this a single-use product, or will it be used multiple times? Reusable parts may need to withstand demanding use cycles.

2. Know the Physical and Mechanical Property Requirements of the Part

Several TPE materials with specific attributes may be needed to meet all requirements. TPE materials are available in various strength and flexural properties that can be modified to optimize comfort and performance.

You’ll need to assess these factors:

  • Hardness – TPEs are available in a wide range of hardnesses. The hardness may be measured on different Shore scales for greater accuracy.
  • Tensile strength – Is there a large pull force present, and if so, what is the maximum force the part should be able to withstand?
  • Compression set – Because prolonged compressive stress and temperature can permanently affect resiliency, you will need to know the part’s load expectations over time.
  • Abrasion/wear/tear resistance – Several TPEs are more naturally able to resist actions such as rubbing, scraping or scratching which removes material from the surface.
  • Load parameters – Will your product be required to operate under dynamic bending stress without cracking?
  • Adhesion to substrates – Whether you are over-molding or co-extruding to yield a part with both rigid and soft components, material compatibility is critical.
  • Other critical requirements – Some examples are stiffness and elongation.

3. Establish Cost Targets Early On

While TPEs typically represent great value for manufacturers, high-performance tends to come at a higher price. You will need to balance any price constraints against a material’s performance advantages, realizing that the consequences of choosing the wrong TPE can be costly.

4. Decide on the Visual Highlights and Surface Feel

A product’s physical appearance significantly influences consumer preference. Improving tactile experience is an actionable way to improve customer satisfaction. There are several ways in which TPEs such as styrenic block copolymers and Sevrene® precolored compounds can be modified to achieve specific results. You’ll want to consider:

  • Haptics or surface feel – Do you want your part to feel smooth, silky, sticky, dry or grippy?
  • The type of finish – High gloss (shiny) or low gloss (matte.)
  • Any custom color that you would like to match.
  • Natural resin options such as translucent.

5. Be Aware of All Regulatory Compliances

To ensure consumers’ health, manufacturers across several industries must comply with various rules and regulations in regard to the TPE materials used in their applications. Only by meeting these requirements will your product be lawfully placed on the market. An experienced TPE supplier can help select suitable materials that meet common standards, including:

  • FDA and EU food contact compliance
  • FDA toy safety compliance
  • NSF/ANSI 51 – Food equipment material compliance
  • NSF/ANSI 61 – Drinking water system components compliance
  • UL certification – Various types, including flammability
  • ISO 10993 and USP Class VI – Biocompatibility of medical devices
  • Proposition 65 – Warns California residents about potential exposures to carcinogens and reproductive toxins
  • REACH SVHC and RoHS Compliance – Restricted substances in the EU

6. Commit to a Manufacturing Process Method

Informing your thermoplastic elastomer manufacturer of your intended manufacturing process can help save time and money. TPEs are physically – not chemically – cross-linked, so they are easy to process. Most TPEs can be tailored for injection molding, blow molding or extrusion processes to meet established production goals. A TPE’s morphology, weight and viscosity can affect processing speed and quality. Supplies, such as plastic pellets, also come matched to equipment.

Tailored Solutions Focused On Your Market

As a major thermoplastic compound supplier, Americhem offers a comprehensive portfolio of thermoplastic elastomers that includes custom-developed TPE-S, TPE-O, SEBS, SEPS, SBCs, TPU, TPV, and fluoroelastomers. Our market-oriented solutions are designed to meet the most demanding applications of the automotive, building and construction, consumer products, food and beverage, medical, sporting equipment, marine, agriculture and off-road industries. Ask us how we can bring a fresh perspective to your next project.

Proven Stage-Gate® Approach To Innovation

Given the extensive amount of variables that come into play when selecting TPEs, Americhem uses a Stage-Gate® process and risk model to recommend and develop polymer technologies that ensure successful market launches. Our customer-driven approach ensures that our material science experts have vital questions answered throughout each stage to understand what main benefits are essential for your application.

Capitalize On Americhem's Deep Material Expertise

For over 40 years, Americhem has specialized in creating elastomeric solutions designed to meet or exceed stringent specifications. Our in-depth knowledge of candidate materials and chemistries combined with our support and guidance on regulatory requirements make us a preferred partner for manufacturers who want to improve their chances for success with expedited turnaround times. Want to know more about our TPE technologies? Contact us to experience the material difference.

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