Silicone rubber ranks among today’s most important industrial materials. The global silicone market was worth $15.29 billion in 2018, Reports and Data estimates. This market is expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 4.8 percent, and by 2026, it will be worth $22.48 billion. Demand from the automotive industry is driving this growth, as well as increasing demand from the healthcare industry.
But what is it that makes silicone rubber so highly demanded? Silicone possesses a set of properties that make it well suited for a wide range of applications, including high resistance to thermal and chemical conditions, electrical effects and biochemical contamination. Here’s a look at three reasons why silicone is so useful and so important for today’s industry and economy.
Thermal and Chemical Resistance
One of the most important properties of silicone is its ability to retain its properties when subjected to a wide range of thermal and chemical conditions. Standard silicone compounds have low thermal conductivity as well as high thermal stability, allowing them to remain functional over a temperature range from as low as 85 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit to as high as 400 degrees. Throughout this range, silicone maintains its flexibility without becoming brittle, and returns to its original shape easily without becoming deformed even after being subjected to pressure (low compression set). Silicone also has low chemical reactivity.
These properties help make silicone rubber useful for applications in harsh thermal and chemical climates, such as those found in automobiles and aircraft. For instance, over the past few decades, silicone o-rings have replaced older cork and paper gaskets in car engines. Silicone has many other applications in automobiles, including providing lubrication for brakes, enhancing tires and serving as a component of car care products such as waxes and polishes.
Silicone combines its ability to resist thermal and chemical changes with a high degree of electrical resistance. Silicone rubber has high dielectric strength, meaning it can withstand a strong electrical field without breaking down. It can serve as an insulator, or it can be modified by adding carbon to serve as a conductor.
These qualities make silicone highly useful in the electronics industry. One important application of silicone is using it to encase electronics parts for protection against electrical and mechanical shock, a process known as potting. Silicone is also used for bonding, sealing and coating electronics parts.
Biochemical Contamination Resistance
Another important property of silicone is its ability to resist biochemical contamination. Along with its chemical resistance, silicone repels water and forms watertight seals, it does not stick to most substrates, and it does not stain other substances. It has low toxicity, and it does not promote microbial growth. These properties help silicone stay clean and free of odors and tastes. Additionally, silicone has high biochemical compatibility with human tissue and bodily fluids, with non-irritant and non-toxic properties.
This makes silicone highly suitable for medical applications. For instance, because it is inert towards the chemistry of the human body, medical-grade silicone is widely used for medical implants. It can also be used for purposes such as feeding tubes, drains and catheters. Silicone can further be used for medical gels, bandage coating tubing and contact lenses.
Silicone’s ability to resist heat, chemicals, electricity, and contamination makes it extremely versatile for many applications throughout multiple industries. From providing automotive gaskets to protecting electronics components to making medical implants biocompatible, silicone serves a wide range of uses in many industries. This makes it one of the most important industrial materials in today’s economy.