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What is TPE and The Difference Between TPE and Thermoset Rubber?


Rubber products are a part of our everyday lives. The raw materials of such rubber products can be roughly categorized into thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and thermoset rubber according to the states after melting.

TPEs exhibit properties of vulcanized rubber without going through vulcanization, which is driving up annual increases in its usage in the global market; on the other hand, thermoset rubber is a vulcanized rubber that can be vulcanizaed into various products through molding. Thermoset rubber enables products of all shapes and sizes, making it a popular material used across industries.

Reversibility after Curing Marks the Main Difference between TPE and Thermoset Rubber

TPE is a physical mix of plastic and rubber that can be heated to a thick flowing state before manufacturing. TPE forms the desired shape after cooling.

The molecular structure of TPEs is either linear or radial. TPE can be formed into shape through injection, extrusion, and blowing during processing easily. It can be heated to soften once again after curing, making it a great material for processing and modification, and can be reprocessed.

Meanwhile, thermoset rubber typically starts out in the solid state and can be categorized into natural rubber or synthetic rubber. Thermoset rubber’s resin structure is that of cross-linked molecular chains. Once heated to a certain temperature, the bonds of the molecular chains will cross-link to harden (cure). This is an irreversible reaction; it will not soften even after reheating.

Synthetic thermoset rubber vulcanizes quickly while exhibiting wear resistance, heat resistance and aging resistance properties. It is typically molded through casting and offers higher product strength.

Recommended Industry Applications for TPEs and Thermoset Rubber

TPEs’ diverse properties enable them to be used across industries, including:

  1. Footwear: sole foam cushion
  2. Automobile industry: steering wheel, bumper and other auto parts
  3. Road construction: asphalt modification and waterproof coating
  4. Medical devices: Infusion tubes, needle plugs, etc.
  5. Household products: outdoor products, toys, tapes, sporting goods, personal hygiene products

On the other hand, thermoset rubber is commonly used in the automobile industry for applications in hoods and tire treads. These auto parts require materials with high heat resistance, and thermoset rubber meets such a requirement by offering thermal stability and safety reliability. Furthermore, thermoset rubber is used in processing applications such as conveyor belts, footwear soles, hoses and castings for electronic equipment; it can also be found in household products goods such as waterproof coating and adhesives.