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Polymers

The polymers concerned are thermoplastics and elastomeric thermoplastics

Thermoplastics and elastomers make up a particular family of polymers, the properties and behaviour of which can approach those of rubber. In its areas of focus and technology Elastopole includes projects to develop new generations of products from these materials.


Thermoplastic polymers (TP)


A thermoplastic polymer is a macro-molecular material, the main characteristic of which is its reversing ability, to switch between a solid and liquid state in response to the application of heat.


Among the most common thermoplastic polymers are polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene (PS). They are usually purchased in powder or granular form and then hot transformed by extrusion, blow-moulding, injection or thermo-forming.


The ccoperation formalised in 2013 with Polymers Technologies d’Alençon has allowed Elastopole to open its network and know-how to the thermoplastic polymers sector in a general way.


Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)


Between easy-to-use thermoplastics with limited elastic properties, and elastomers with remarkable elastic properties but which are more complex to use, intermediate materials have emerged, thermoplastic elastomers : TPE (Thermoplastic elastomer). These are a relatively recent family of materials (appearance of the concept in the 1960s) and, through their heterogeneous structure, usually comprising a rigid thermoplastic material associated with a flexible material, with additives. TPE are middle-of-the-road materials :

  • Rubbers or elastomers, irreversibly cross-linked to give them elasticity (reversible distortion under stress) and flexibility ;
  • And thermoplastics : reversible thermoplasticity (irreversible distortion under stress), flexibility or rigidity.


They occur in two main manufactured forms : physical mixtures and synthetic copolymers. TPEs are divided into four main families :

  • Styrene-based sequenced copolymers
  • Polyurethanes
  • PP-based (polypropylene) physical mixtures, for example TPE-V, composed of vulcanised PP/EPDM usually called TPV.
  • Copolyesters, etc.


TPEs offer a combination of particular properties :

  • Elasticity, limited to a moderate temperature range below the ranges where rigid materials become soft ;
  • Ease of use of thermoplastics without vulcanisation ;
  • Ease of recycling of thermoplastic waste.


Actually, there is no defined limit, rather a continuity, between thermoplastics and TPEs. On the other hand, although the properties of TPEs come near to the properties of elastomers, there is a discontinuity in respect of their morphologies and implementation.
The main advantages of thermoplastic elastomers, among others, are therefore their suitability for transformation using conventional thermoplastic processes such as injection moulding, extrusion, thermo-forming, etc. They compete with both flexible plastics and vulcanised rubbers.

Image courtesy of Luso, iStock
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