Elastomers also known as elastic polymers because of their incredible elastic properties. The “elasto” is a Greek word that means elastic and that clarifies further how elastomers are great polymers with exceptional elastic properties.
This unique quality sets them apart from other polymers and in addition to their impressive elasticity, elastomers also exhibit other polymer-like properties such as viscosity and viscoelasticity.
In contrast, polymers have originality or can be created synthetically. They are made up of long chains of repeated units chemically linked together. These chain links give polymers their unique properties and help characterize them.
Monomers, also called repeating units, and polymers are categorized depending on these units and their molecular forces. Polymers are a diverse group of materials that exhibit a range of properties, depending on their composition and structure.
In this article, you will learn the importance of elastomers and polymers in the manufacturing industry and how their properties, applications, and advantages set them apart from each other. We will further clarify how they are essential in manufacturing various kinds of plastic parts and how to make the right decision as to which one to choose.
I. What Are Elastomers?
Elastomers are a specific type of polymer that possesses a unique cross-linked structure. This cross-linked structure between their molecular chains is a result of elastomers’ chemical bonds. Unlike polymers, it gives elastomers distinctive properties of flexibility, elongation, and elasticity.
The applied stress to an elastomer would not result in permanent deformation as it inherits the unique property of regaining its original shape and size after exposure to extreme stress or other forces.
Elastomers are a class of polymers that lack a crystalline or ordered structure and are typically considered amorphous. They can be broadly classified into two types based on their behavior under heat and pressure: thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and thermosetting elastomers (TSE).
Its unorganized cross-linked structure allows it to be flexible. They are of high value in the manufacturing industry and are a great asset in making flexible plastic parts.
Characteristics of Elastomers
Elastomers share some similarities in their properties with both thermosets and thermoplastics. Like thermosets, elastomers are cross-linked polymers that have a three-dimensional network of chemical bonds for excellent strength, toughness, and resistance to heat and chemicals. And it’s possible to mold or shape elastomers under heat and pressure like thermoplastics.
Its physical versatility enables manufacturers to custom mold it in size, shape, flexibility, and color to your specifications.
The following are some primary characteristics of elastomers:
- It’s easy to process elastomers and large production of elastomer parts can be handled in short production times.
- It’s an effective insulator of electricity and works well with electrical components.
- Due to its excellent adherence, it can be installed next to various other materials.
- It remains stable at high temperatures and does not melt.
- It’s insoluble against a vast majority of solvents and resists harsh environments.
- It remains its shape and color in water or when exposed to other atmospheric gases.
- It’s extremely flexible in low temperatures with a quick rate of recovery.
Despite their excellent properties, elastomers can deteriorate over time and become less effective. Particularly if exposed to harsh environmental conditions or mechanical stress beyond their limits, they can suffer from cracking.
Advantages of Elastomers
Elastomers’ high crosslinking and low crystallinity enable them to undergo reversible deformation and recover their original shape when the stress is removed, similar to rubber. They contain only one structure (amorphous structure), making them capable of bearing extreme pressure without rupturing or deforming.
The flexibility and reversible deformation of elastomers make them popular for precision industries’ elastic plastic parts, including seals, gaskets, hoses, and dampeners.
Compared to typical polymers, elastomers have a higher molecular weight and larger size; and when saturated, they demonstrate excellent stability against heat, oxygen, ozone, and radiation.
Elastomer material is generally less reactive than other elastic materials, with their reactivity limited to certain conditions and circumstances.
Elastomers are capable of evenly distributing applied pressure without suffering permanent damage to their shape or size, making them an important material in various applications where deformation and resilience are critical factors.
Applications of Elastomers
Elastomer plays an essential role in the prototyping and parts manufacturing industry as their unique elastic properties are of high value in plastic parts.
The following are some of its primary applications:
- Motor vehicles (seals, tires, and other elastic components)
- Consumer products (shoe soles, baby pacifiers, etc.)
- Construction (adhesives, sealants, and other protective products)
- Industrial products (tools, appliances, belts, molds, lubricants, etc.)
- Wire & cable (wire protectives to increase the heat resistance of wires)
- Medical products (prosthetics, lubricants, molds – with superior class of chemical and thermal resistance)
Elastomers, particularly thermosets, play a crucial role in producing various automobile components as they possess high thermal stability and do not easily deform under heat or pressure. Their superior heat resistance properties and flexibility are valuable resources to many other technical industries.
II. What are Polymers?
Polymers are large molecules made up of many repeating subunits, known as monomers that are chemically bonded together. These subunits can be identical or different, resulting in different types of polymers with distinct properties.
Polymers, as abundant organic compounds, can have many types of different structures and properties. Their properties can vary vastly, with their crystalline or amorphous structure being one such factor that dictates their physical and chemical characteristics.
Unlike elastomers, polymers have a limited ability to withstand high pressure and may break under extreme forces due to their lower molecular weight. Polymers are classified based on various properties, such as their structure, molecular weight, and source of formation.
Understanding these properties is crucial for developing and selecting the right polymer for a particular application, ensuring optimal performance and durability.
The nature of monomers classifies a polymer’s material, and the length and weight of a polymer’s chains determine the degree of its polymerization and molecular form. And the polymerization method of a polymer clarifies whether it’s natural or synthetic.
Synthetic polymers are created using heat, chemicals, or condensation during synthetic polymerization.
Characteristics of Polymers
Polymers have a wide variety of forms and types with many similar properties. In general, its properties clarify its form and type.
Here are the key characteristics of polymers:
- It can be highly heat-resistant with a very low coefficient of thermal expansion.
- It can be obtained from natural resources or synthesized from petroleum oil.
- It can be isotactic, syndiotactic, or atactic depending on the pendant groups’ position in the polymer chains.
- It can be crystalline and useful in plastic parts manufacturing.
Furthermore, polymers act as perfect electric and thermal insulators and can be extremely resilient and can resist chemicals, acid, abrasion, and wear. Polymers work well with metal parts and are ideal materials for industrial equipment.
Advantages of Polymers
Polymers play a crucial role in high-performance parts manufacturing while also reducing unnecessary costs. Its essential material to maintain manufacturing costs and create industrial-grade parts.
Polymers present you with the possibility to design your parts in a way to fit multiple functions into a single-well-designed component. Polymer-based designs limit the costs of raw materials by using a minimal amount of material.
As they also don’t require any post-processing or surface finishing to be more resilient to chemicals (as they already are), you can get optimal performance and appearance right after they’re manufactured.
Additionally, polymers help produce ten times lighter parts and maintain performance under chemically harsh environments and increase the overall lifespan of your parts. They offer superior sealing and are a great asset to industries like oil and gas.
Its low friction characteristics make it incredibly valuable in different areas of cars to reduce wear and tear. These are not the only advantages polymers offer and their benefits can vary from application to application.
Consulting with a manufacturer and describing your needs can narrow the gap between finding the right polymer for the production of your plastic parts.
Applications of Polymers
Polymers serve as the nerve center of manufacturing plastic parts. There’s no limit to what applications polymers can serve.
However, the following are a few of the wide range of applications they serve:
- Automotive (auto parts, tanks, frameworks, engine, and adhesives)
- Gadgets (optical glasses, instrument panels)
- Airplane & Aviation (windshields, pipes, protection units, and body panels)
- Biomedicine (heart valves, blood fitters, and sealants)
Polymers contribute positively to manufacturing plastic parts and optimize the performance and safety of different equipment. In today’s technologically advanced industry, polymers are extensively used as machine-engine sub-parts and heavy-duty frameworks.
III. Difference Between Elastomers and Polymers
A polymer is a large molecule consisting of many smaller units called monomers, and it is an essential organic compound found in abundance in nature and synthetic materials.
Polymers and monomers are both made up of a large number of subsets called monomers, however, elastomers specifically have elastic properties. As elastomers are sub-type of polymers, polymers can have different properties based on their molecular structure.
Their molecular structure fines what properties a specific polymer has such as rigidity, flexibility, and transparency. There’s a singularity in elastomers as each one offers similar elastic properties.
Elastomers have every polymer property in addition to their elastic nature. However, polymers are stronger than elastomers as they are not elastic and only withstand limited pressure beyond their limit to which they may receive irreversible damage.
Elastomers, on the other hand, are capable of handling much higher stress levels due to their exceptional flexibility and versatility. Applications, where parts with elastic properties are required, can take advantage of the elastomer’s unique properties at the cost of stiffness and rigidity.
Polymers have a lower density than metal parts, but polymers tend to be stiff and more rigid than elastomers. Plastic is a common example of polymer and rubber is a common elastomer.
IV. Elastomers vs Polymers: Which One is Best for Your Project?
Your requirements can easily clarify which material can benefit you the most. Further studying each material can clarify how each material can assist you in your projects where polymer and elastomer are both excellent industrial materials.
You can achieve incredible precision with these materials and they offer long-lasting advantages to improve your parts’ performance.
The following are some key points clarifying how both materials can assist you:
- You can perform in-depth customization on both materials to meet your project requirements
- You can shape them rapidly and can optimize their size and appearance without wasting any time
- They can maintain their performance and structural integrity under extreme environments and temperatures
- Withstand shock and resist or conduct electricity as required
Consider the following factors before making a decision:
- Consider a material that can handle the required temperature range as it’s critical to ensuring your part’s longevity and effectiveness.
- Consider the environment and conditions your parts will perform within as well as the materials your parts will come in contact with.
- Consider the durability and performance you require for your parts. Polymers can maintain performance for a longer time due to their high strength.
- Ensure that the chosen materials meet efficiency and safety standards while complying with manufacturing regulations.
Choosing the right material is critical for the success of your project and consulting with experts can give you more insight into which one to choose. Always consider a more economical option when a lower-cost alternative can give you the same level of protection and efficiency.
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