TPE demand rises on back of increased automotive sales

Thermoplastic elastomers TPEs continue to make inroads into the automotive sector as rising automotive sales and the resulting increased demand for the material make it attractive to polymer producers.

Car makers have also shown great enthusiasm for TPEs since their low density makes them ideal for reducing weight in all types of vehicle. Moreover, processing of the material by means of the cost-effective multi-injection molding process allows optimal adhesion to different hard components.

This is borne out by a report from US research consultancy Freedonia, which forecasts that global demand for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) is set to rise 5.5% a year to 5.8 million tonnes in 2017, valued at more than $20bn (£12bn).

Freedonia says that steady growth will be fuelled by an improved economic outlook in North America and Western Europe, while advances in emerging countries will benefit from increased adoption of TPEs in place of competing materials.

It adds motor vehicles account for the largest portion of the world TPE market, with one-third of total demand in 2012. Advances will be bolstered by improvements in the TPE-intensive North American and West European automotive industries through 2017, as well as increased TPE use in emerging markets, although demand will be limited by continued declines in Japanese vehicle production.

Germany-headquarted polymer producer Kraiburg says TPEs have become established as a material with diverse uses with the global automotive industry placing a high value on the properties they offer such as efficient processing in multi-component moulding with superior mechanical properties at high temperatures. It was extolling these virtues at the Association of German engineers (VDI) Plastics in Automotive Construction in Mannheim earlier this year.

Kraiburg says exterior window trim presents a special challenge and so it has developed an ideal "high-flow" portfolio for such applications. These give a homogeneous surface appearance and minimises glass breakage during the manufacture of the tight-fitting windows.

Adhesion is another prime requirement called for by the automotive industry as it can save on assembly costs by simplifying quality control processes. The adhesion of two materials also creates a sealing function against liquids, dust and wind.