Silicone rubber offers good resistance to extreme temperatures, being able to operate normally from −100 to 300 °C (−148 to 572 °F). Some properties such as elongation, creep, cyclic flexing, tear strength, compression set, dielectric strength (at high voltage), thermal conductivity, fire resistance and in some cases tensile strength can be—at extreme temperatures—far superior to organic rubbers in general, although a few of these properties are still lower than for some specialty materials. Silicone rubber is a material of choice in industry when retention of initial shape and mechanical strength are desired under heavy thermal stress or sub-zero temperatures. Organic rubber has a carbon-to-carbon backbone which can leave it susceptible to ozone, UV, heat and other ageing factors that silicone rubber can withstand well. This makes silicone rubber one of the elastomers of choice in many extreme environments.
Silicone rubber is highly inert and does not react with most chemicals. Due to its inertness, it is used in many medical applications including medical implants. It is biocompatible, hypoallergenic, which makes it suitable for baby care products, and food contact in general. Silicone rubber is a reliable solution (as opposed to rubber and thermoplastic elastomers) for migration or interaction problems between the main active ingredients. Its chemical stability prevents it from affecting any substrate it is in contact with (skin, water, blood, active ingredients, etc.).
Polysiloxanes differ from other polymers in that their backbones consist of Si-O-Si units unlike many other polymers that contain carbon backbones. Polysiloxane is very flexible due to large bond angles and bond lengths when compared to those found in more basic polymers such as polyethylene. For example, a C-C backbone unit has a bond length of 1.54 Å and a bond angle of 112˚, whereas the siloxane backbone unit Si-O has a bond length of 1.63 Å and a bond angle of 130˚.
Repeat unit of silicone rubber
The siloxane backbone differs greatly from the basic polyethylene backbone, yielding a much more flexible polymer. Because the bond lengths are longer, they can move farther and change conformation easily, making for a flexible material. Polysiloxanes also tend to be chemically inert, due to the strength of the silicon-oxygen bond. Despite silicon being a congener of carbon, silicon analogues of carbonaceous compounds generally exhibit different properties, due to the differences in electronic structure and electronegativity between the two elements; the silicon-oxygen bond in polysiloxanes is significantly more stable than the carbon-oxygen bond in polyoxymethylene (a structurally similar polymer) due to its higher bond energy (also because polyoxymethylene decomposes formaldehyde, which is volatile and escapes driving decomposition forward, but Si-containing decomposition products of silicone are less volatile
Once mixed and coloured, silicone rubber can be extruded into tubes, strips, solid cord or custom profiles according to the size specifications of the manufacturer. Cord can be joined to make O-rings and extruded profiles can be joined to make seals. Silicone rubber can be moulded into custom shapes and designs. Manufacturers work to set industry tolerances when extruding, cutting or joining silicone rubber profiles. In the UK this is BS 3734, for extrusions the tightest level is E1 and the widest is E3.
Becoming more and more common at the consumer level, silicone rubber products can be found in every room of a typical home. It is used in automotive applications, many cooking, baking, and food storage products, apparel including undergarments, sportswear, and footwear, electronics, to home repair and hardware, and a host of unseen applications.
Liquid silicone rubber is also manufactured for life science applications (syringe pistons, closure for dispensing system, gaskets for IV flow regulator, respiratory masks, implantable chambers for IV administration), cosmetic products (Mascara brush, make-up packaging, make-up applicator and lipstick moulds) and optics products (circular lens, collimators, Fresnel lenses and free form lenses).
Freeze-tolerant solar water-heating panels exploit the elasticity of silicone to repeatedly accommodate the expansion of water on freezing, while its extreme temperature tolerance maintain a lack of brittleness below freezing and excellent tolerance of temperatures in excess of 150 °C (302 °F). Its property of not having a carbon backbone, but a chemically robust silicon backbone instead, reduces its potential as a food source for dangerous waterborne bacteria such as Legionella.
Non-dyed silicone rubber tape with an iron-oxide additive (making the tape a red-orange colour) is used extensively in aviation and aerospace wiring applications as a splice or wrapping tape due to its non-flammable nature. The iron-oxide additive adds high thermal conductivity but does not change the high electrical insulation property of the silicone rubber. This type of self-amalgamating tape amalgamates or fuses to itself, so that when stretched and wrapped around cables, electrical joints, hoses and pipes it bonds into a strong seamless rubbery electrically insulating and waterproof layer, although not adhesive.
With the addition of carbon or another conductive substance as a powdered filler, silicone rubber can be made electrically conductive while retaining most of its other mechanical properties. As such it is used for flexible contacts which close on being pressed, used in many devices such as computer keyboards and remote controlhandsets.
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