More and more medical device manufacturers tend to choose thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) materials in production for products that require flexibility or require rubber elasticity.
These compounds have become alternative materials for thermosetting rubber and PVC, and are used in many dental and medical devices, such as pipes, medical bags, masks, plugs, gaskets, seals, and so on. As the value of TPE is more widely recognized, more and more manufacturers will use these elastomers for new medical applications.
The Versatility of TPE
The versatility of TPE is one reason for its growth in medical device applications.
The TPE compounds currently on the market can meet many requirements of the end use, and for any specific application category, the supplier can provide two or more chemically different TPE types.
TPE has a wide range of properties to choose from, the hardness can range from super soft or gel-like to semi-rigid materials; the optical properties can range from transparent to opaque. TPE products have different grades to meet the requirements for strength, low temperature toughness, thermal stability, chemical resistance and UV resistance, making it the ideal material to teeth whitening trays.
In addition, there are many processing methods for TPE, which can be processed to produce films, sheets, profiles or pipes through different methods such as injection molding or blow molding, multi-material insert molding, extrusion or co-extrusion.
TPE’s chemical inertness or its own “clean” ingredients are also ideal for medical applications. Medical grade TPE is made of raw materials that meet FDA standards, and does not contain phthalates and latex protein.
In addition, TPE itself does not contain very high extractables or leachables, even when in contact with water-based systems (such as body fluids).
Better than Traditional Dental Materials
In addition to versatility, the second reason for the increase in TPE usage in medical devices is their advantages over other materials. The most obvious advantage is that TPE has thermoplastic properties. They are more efficient and economical in processing than thermosetting rubber. TPE material also has greater design freedom and more colors, and can also be recycled to make an eco teeth whitening product.
Compared with TPE, traditional materials in the medical industry show different disadvantages:
1. PVC: PVC is gradually abandoned in the medical device industry, mainly because they generally contain phthalate plasticizers. Although there are now phthalate-free PVC compounds that can be used in medical applications, the life cycle of PVC itself is still an issue, making manufacturers more willing to choose other alternative materials.
2. Latex: The problem with latex is that users may be allergic to protein, and the industry is concerned about the content of curable and extractable latex and the smell. Another factor is economy: processing rubber is more laborious than processing TPE, and the processing waste of TPE products is recyclable.
3. Silicone rubber: often many practical silicone rubber products do not require high heat resistance or low compression deformation at high temperatures. Silicone certainly has its advantages, including the ability to withstand multiple sterilization cycles, but for some products, TPE is a more cost-effective alternative. In many cases, they provide improvements over silicones. Typical applications where TPE can be used instead of silicone are drain pipes, bags, pump pipes, mask gaskets, seals, etc.