Silicone Rubber Properties and Applications

Silicone rubber is a growing market that can turn into a $3.83 billion market. Why do people prefer to use it over other organic rubber materials? What properties make it a high-performing elastomer?

Table of Contents

These are only some of the questions that this article will try to answer.

What is Silicone Rubber?

Silicone rubber is a type of elastomer or rubber-like material. Its main composition is silicone, which in itself is a type of polymer. Manufacturers use different formulations to mix this silicone with other materials like oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. This results in several types of silicone rubber ideal for various applications.

silicone rubber products

The unique composition and versatility of silicone rubber provide many advantages. By adjusting its fillers and other properties, it is possible to decrease costs without sacrificing quality. This flexibility also allows for the development of customized silicone rubbers that meet the strict requirements of food-grade and medical-grade standards. This combination of adaptability, flexibility, and regulatory compliance makes silicone rubber an optimal material for a range of applications in various industries.

Its versatility is only one of the many qualities that made silicone rubber popular today. It’s also valuable because of its durability, stability, and non-reactive state, even after extreme temperature and chemical exposure. It can withstand temperatures from −55 to 300 °C (−70 to 570 °F) without losing its most important properties.

Molding silicone rubber is also very easy. This is why you can see it in various shapes and sizes. You can add color and adjust the transparency to suit design requirements. Silicone can meet every requirement for automotive applications, home repair, sealing purposes, food storage, cooking/baking products, or even medical implants and devices.

How did Silicone Rubber Come to be?

The very first silicone elastomer was initially for electric motors and generators. The intention was to search for a better insulating material that could replace resin-infused glass fibers that were popular then. The problem they were trying to solve was the inability of phenolic resin to withstand exposure to high temperatures that were common among smaller electric motors.

silicone rubber color mix

General Electric and Corning Glass chemists started looking for better heat-resistant materials to solve this issue. This eventually got them to try out silicone polymers. The new material has proven that its structure can withstand extreme temperatures.

After this discovery, the chemists found a way to produce silicone material commercially. They decided to call this discovery silicone – which is a misnomer. The -one was to denote the substance with oxygen’s double-bonded atom as its backbone.

This is because the chemists initially erroneously thought that the atoms of oxygen bond differently in silicone. But after further studies, silicone rubbers should have the name polysiloxanes.

As silicone rubber grew in popularity, it could be used more for different applications. By the early 1950s, the mass production of silicone had become more prominent.

Types of Silicone Rubber

There are two ways to classify silicone rubber. One is through its molecular structure, and the other is through its primary form.

Classification through composition

Silicone rubber is so versatile that you can create it using different organic groups. It can either be methyl, phenyl, vinyl, or other groups. Usually, the choice will depend on the specific application of the silicone rubber.

Based on the ASTM D1418 standard that officially classifies rubber, silicone rubber has these classifications depending on its molecular structure.

silicone rubber products
  • Methyl Group. This group carries other identification, including dimethyl silicone elastomer, methyl silicone rubber, or the shortest reference of MQ. It’s the base and simplest structure of silicone.
  • Methyl and Vinyl Group. This group also has other names like methyl vinyl silicone elastomer. It can be identified as VMQ. These are ideal for both high and low-temperature applications. It’s non-toxic, can retain its original structure despite sunlight exposure, and is highly resistant to fungal decay.
  • Methyl and Phenyl Group. This carries the name methyl-phenyl silicone elastomer. A more common name is phenyl silicone rubber. Also, going by the name of PMQ, this composition is excellent for low-temperature applications.
  • Methyl, Phenyl, and Vinyl Group. This also carries the name PVMQ, known for its ability to perform well over low temperatures. With the introduction of phenyl, the silicone rubber’s thermal properties undergo significant enhancements – allowing it to keep its structure despite exposure to frigid temperatures.
  • Fluoro, Vinyl, and Methyl Group. The fluorosilicone rubber, fluorinated rubber, or FVMQ, has properties that make it highly resistant to chemicals like oil, fuel, acids, alkaline, and other non-polar solvents. It is a long-lasting type of elastomer that’s relatively stable and resistant to compression across extreme temperatures.

Classification through viscosity and processing method

The classification of silicone rubber can also be through its viscosity and the processing method that it goes through.

silicone rubber
  • HTV or High-Temperature Vulcanized Solid Silicone Rubber. This type of silicone rubber has a composition that includes polymers with high molecular weight and long polymer chains. These are usually uncured in form and use traditional techniques in processing organic rubber.
  • LSR or Liquid Silicone Rubber. This contains polymers that have a lower molecular weight. That means there are shorter chains. This allows it to improve its flow properties. This uses either the injection molding or extrusion process in production. This type of silicone rubber can maintain its mechanical properties despite exposure to a wide range of temperatures. Since it’s heat-cured, this silicone can appear transparent, has durability, and allows freedom in terms of design.
  • RTV or Room Temperature Vulcanized Silicone Rubber. This silicone rubber has two types of composition RTV-1 (one-part) or RTV-2 (two-component) systems. This affects the hardness range of the silicone – from being very soft to a little bit harder. This makes it ideal for sealing, potting, or encapsulation applications.

Key Properties & Characteristics of Silicone Rubber

Silicone is the primary reference for a class of inorganic polymers. It has remarkable properties and characteristics that make it ideal for various industrial purposes. You can manipulate these properties through the different methyl groups that you can substitute along the edges of its backbone.

That means it’s possible to make silicone rubber more flexible, soluble, or chemical/temperature resistant by adding a suitable material.

But what are these properties? Let’s explore them individually so you can understand them better.

General properties of silicone rubber

Here are the general properties that you can find in silicone.

  • It’s very soft and pliable. Its durability allows it to retain its original structure without cracking, hardening, and fatigue. This makes it ideal for high-pressure applications that include repetitive loading and unloading.
  • It has hydrophobic properties that can repel water. This ensures that specific parts or areas have protection against leakages. This makes silicone rubber an effective sealant, waterproof coating, or insulating component. It can do this without restricting breathability.
  • It has low rotation barriers. This means its molecular backbone has low rotation energy. This gives it the more remarkable ability to make the material incredibly flexible.
  • It’s highly resistant to aging. The durability of silicone rubber is thanks to its ability to resist UV radiation, extreme temperature, and chemical exposure. It can thrive well despite unsatisfactory environmental conditions.
silicone rubber

Physical properties of silicone rubber

The exact composition of silicone allows it to use different processes to create various sizes and shapes – from tubing, sheets, gaskets, etc. Despite this, it won’t compromise its valuable physical properties. These properties include the following:

  • Flexibility. The combination of silicone and oxygen in the chain backbone gives the material incredible flexibility. It can move, fold, bend, and twist even after setting and molding without damaging its original structure.
  • Hardness. Two scales measure the hardness of silicone. One is Shore 00, which refers to describe sponge silicone. The other is Shore A which has a more dense structure. For the thick silicone material, the ideal hardness measurement is Shore 30A-70A. It can go as low as 10 Shore A or as high as 90 Shore A – but this is only for the superior grade silicone materials. The hardness depends on the application of the silicone.
  • Color and Finish. In its original state, silicone is translucent white. But depending on the design, the silicone product can appear in various colors and textures.
  • Electrical properties. Silicone has insulative and conductive properties that make it ideal for highly-electrical environments. Silicone can accept conductive fillers, making it an effective sealant for electronic devices. You can use it as EMI shielding gaskets or heat transfer pads.
  • Thermal properties. Silicone is also thermally insulative and conductive. This makes it an excellent material for low-heat transfer products, such as tubing for oven applications or other food-related devices and equipment. It’s also an ideal thermal interface material for electronics.
  • High melting point. Since silicone is a thermostat elastomer, it won’t melt. It can maintain its mechanical structure even in temperatures up to 300° C.

Beneficial properties of silicone rubber

Thanks to the previous list of properties, silicone rubber possesses incredible beneficial characteristics that include the following:

silicone rubber O-rings
  • Steam resistance and flame retardancy. The general resistance of silicone rubber to steam, flame, and heat makes it an excellent material for high-temperature applications like food prep situations. This also makes it ideal for industrial applications that use heat-inducing machinery and processes.
  • Food-grade and medical-grade ratings. Among the other rubber materials, silicone rubber can withstand the rigorous testing requirements to declare a material acceptable for food or medical applications. It also doesn’t use harmful materials like plasticizers or chemicals like BPA.
  • High resistance to compression set. This is possible through the curing process that silicone rubber goes through. It can maintain its original mechanical properties over a long time.
  • Inertness. This is one of the properties that make silicone rubber ideal for medical purposes. It does not react even if it interacts with biological and chemical elements. That means it won’t trigger allergic reactions even upon skin contact.
  • Resilience and rebound. Silicone rubber is flexible and will always return to its original shape even after twisting, bending, or folding. But this will still depend on the original hardness measure of the silicone before its application.
  • Tensile strength. Some silicone rubber types can withstand stretching up to 700% – but this is for exceptional grades only. Still, the usual tensile strength of 200 to 1,500 psi makes it a durable material.

Applications of Silicone Rubber Products

The properties of silicone rubber products make them ideal for various applications. The typical applications include the following:

gaskets seals

Automotive

This is probably the most common application of silicone rubber. The automotive industry uses it for multiple applications and parts. Among the uses include gaskets, seals, sealants, spark plug tires, heat exchangers, engine covers, radiators, valve covers, and many more.

There’s a preference for silicone rubber simply because it has weather ability, temperature, chemical resistance, tear strength, electrical insulation, etc.

Food and Consumer Products

Silicone rubber is safe to come into contact with food. Its ability to repel fungal decay and practical sealing qualities ensure that leakages won’t happen and bacteria can’t grow. This is why it’s an excellent material for food packaging, prep equipment, trays, baking molds, ovens, other kitchen appliances, etc.

Electronics

The electrical properties of silicone rubber make it the ideal material or component for connectors, insulators, energy transmission, control units or engine gaskets, etc. It’s also applicable for lighting applications like diffusers, reflectors, floodlights, lens mold, etc.

Silicone rubber is effective in these applications because its aging properties and resistance to temperature fluctuations make it resistant to vacuum collapse.

Healthcare

Silicone rubber can achieve a medical-grade rating because of its inertness. It gives the material biocompatibility properties that make it safe as medical tubing, seals, catheters, o-rings, gaskets, membranes, valves, masks, cables, and more.

The biocompatibility property also makes silicone safe for any application that comes into contact with human skin. This includes mouthpieces, goggles, bands, etc.

Conclusion

Silicone rubber is renowned for its excellent properties, making it a versatile material suitable for a wide range of applications. As one becomes more acquainted with its properties, the degree of its versatility becomes evident. It is therefore not surprising that silicone rubber is widely employed in various sectors, including transportation, infrastructure, and healthcare.

Looking for Custom Silicone Rubber Products? Hongju Can Help You

If you’re looking for a custom design for your silicone rubber products, Hongju can help you produce that. Just give us the details of your requirements. We will create the design for your approval before we manufacture it.

Get in touch with us to discuss your specific silicone rubber needs. We’ll give you a fair quote in no time at all.

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david

Hey there, I’m David!

I’m the founder of Hongju Silicone. I have been in this field for more than two decades. If you are looking for custom-made silicone rubber products, feel free to ask me any questions.

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