Thursday, April 17, 2014

Liquid Silicone Rubber Continues to Advance & Meet Diverse Industry Needs


If you compare the molding manufacturing process to the body's circulatory system, liquid silicone rubber (LSR) is like a heart valve—it's a critical, complex component that highly supports and optimizes a specific type of operation. LSR is a versatile material that's used in the medical, automotive, electronics and aerospace industries, as well as in a number of consumer products. According to Apple Rubber, a leading designer and manufacturer of custom LSR sealing devices, LSR can insulate or be conductive; it can withstand freezing and stand up under high temperatures; and it is both fungus-resistant and nontoxic. These characteristics make LSR highly valued in the manufacturing industry.

An Indispensable Material for Development & Advancement

As LSR's popularity has grown, so have opportunities for new developments. Apple Rubber has developed precision mold capabilities, including injection molding and compression molding, according to the company's products page. LSR injection molders are actually a recent manufacturing trend fostering bigger collaboration. The benefits of LSR initiate the creation of more intimate relationships between product design and development. These close relationships improve a product's manufacturability and precise functionality.

Liquid silicone rubber advancements have also just recently joined metal injection molding as part of diverse manufacturing processes and injection molding services. AZoM, a top materials information source for the global engineering and design community, identifies LSR as a thermoset engineering material adopted by medical, electronics and consumer product industries for specific applications. In the same vein, small metal parts, used for medical, electronics and automotive industries, can be formed by metal injection molding, which is a standard manufacturing process. New technologies, along with the manufacturing expertise of researchers and developers, are advancing the collaboration of LSR and molding processes to meet the needs of diverse industries.

LSR's Impact in the Medical Field

The medical industry in particular relies on LSR and its specialized properties for exceptional performance in medical devices, applications and instruments. LSR is biocompatible and hypoallergenic, according to Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry Online (MD+DI), a resource for original equipment manufacturers of medical devices. Along with its minimal risk of allergic reactions, LSR is hygienic, which helps prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. Other LSR properties, such as its superior flexibility, durability and immunity to heat damage, make it the preferred medical material over latex and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). LSR's expansive medical applications include serving as a buffer for lung catheters, a pigtail catheter sealing component and a silicone tubing coupler.

LSR has manufacturing advantages (e.g., one can create a single component using molding, as opposed to combining separate parts using adhesives) that reduce inventory, assembly costs and the potential for a device to leak or fail. LSR medical manufacturing processes include injection molding and bonding LSR-fabricated materials to materials such as metal and plastics.

A Future With Growing Demand

MD+DI expects the use and applications of LSR to continue to grow. By 2016, U.S. demand for silicone is predicted to reach $4.1 billion and climb 5.6 percent annually, according to the Freedonia Group, a global manufacturing market research group. MD+DI underscores the aging U.S. population and how it will affect an increased demand for LSR. The need for disposable health devices (such as catheters) will rise. Subsequently, the need for LSR will also rise. Liquid silicone rubber is also forecast to be increasingly used for the development of polycarbonate CPAP masks that treat sleep apnea and needle-free valves used in clinical treatment settings.