Thermoplastic is a substance that is made with polymer resin. When heated, it forms a plastic material that becomes liquid. It solidifies and becomes hard when it is cooled or frozen. The plastic can be heated, reshaped and frozen repeatedly without losing its original characteristics. Thermoplastic is fabricated into many forms, including an elastomer, or rubber, foam. Thermoplastic elastomer foam (TPE) plastics have been used in automotive, electrical, toy and other industries for many years. TPE has several properties similar to synthetic rubber (neoprene), such as strength, elasticity and durability. Yet several of its characteristics offer greater benefit than synthetic rubber and regular foam.
TPE foam is considered better for the environment because it requires less energy when it is manufactured. TPE is also recyclable because it can be reshaped and reused for different purposes. In general, it contains less toxic components, such as phthalates and chlorine, which are used to make PVC and other plastics. The strong odour of synthetic rubber is caused by chemicals that create off-gases that are released into the air. TPE foam does not have this distinctive odour.
The creation of TPE foam was based on the need to find a resilient replacement for rubber in automobiles and other applications where there is exposure to fluctuating temperatures. TPE foams stand up to extremes in both hot and cold temperature without cracking.
Weight and Water
TPE foam is injected with hydrogen, which makes half as heavy by volume as neoprene. The light weight also provides environmental and financial benefits because of the savings in transporting the material. Because TPE is a closed cell structure, it is completely waterproof. An example of an open cell structure is a rubber sponge.
Thermal and Sound Insulation
Thermoplastic elastomers have a closed cell structure similar to synthetic rubber. Yet the measurement of the ability of TPE to retain warmth, or its Clo Value, is greater than rubber. Boards that are backed with TPE foam have superior electro-insulation. TPE is used in acoustic applications for its ability to insulate sound.
TPE foam is used in applications as a backing to products made of fabric, such as covering and cushions for outdoor furniture. TPE foam does not absorb water, therefore the potential for mould and mildew to form is eliminated if the fabric gets wet.