According to The Freedonia Group’s Silicones Market in the US, demand for liquid silicone rubber (LSR) will remain one of the fastest growing segments of the silicone industry, advancing at a strong 8% annual pace through 2022.
New product releases will continue to focus on production efficiencies. Improving the manufacture of multicomponent LSR parts, for instance, has generated interest recently due to its usefulness in a variety of high-growth applications – from medical devices to automotive components– and its cost-saving potential. Developments include low temperature curing, which enables LSR to bond to thermoplastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene that have lower melting points and are less expensive than nylon or polybutylene terephthalate, materials most commonly used in multicomponent LSR parts.
Processing ease remains LSR’s key advantage over other silicone elastomers, and each of the growth areas highlighted below capitalizes on – or in the case of 3D printing, enhances – LSR’s quick cycle times. The medical market, for instance, benefits from getting products to market as quickly as possible due to lengthy regulatory and approval processes. Developments in lighting and 3D printing applications leverage LSRs capability for more precision and specialization.
The Medical Market: Fast, Low-Cost Processing & New Applications Drive Growth
The medical market has valued silicone highly for years due to the material’s softness and biocompatibility. LSR has proven especially useful for flexible components such as respiratory devices and IV tubes.
The most recent innovations have focused on lowering costs and increasing throughput to keep up with a rapidly expanding range of applications. Wacker Chemie, for instance, released ELASTOSIL LR 5040, an LSR grade that eliminates the costly postcure step typically required to reduce volatile compounds in LSRs intended for body-contact applications.
Wearable medical devices will offer significant growth opportunities. Fitness trackers such as FitBit, for instance, tend to use LSR bands due to their softness, hypoallergenic qualities, and resistance to a wide range of environmental factors such as moisture and UV light.
Optical LSR: LEDs Benefit from High Clarity, Heat Resistance, & Precision Molding
As LED lamp designs become increasingly compact, manufacturers prefer high clarity silicones over less heat resistant thermoplastics. LSRs offer the added benefit of precision molding to optimize light refraction lumen efficiency.
In 2017, Dow Performance Silicones released three grades of moldable optical silicones – MS-4002, -4022, and -4007 – for secondary lenses and other optical elements in LEDs.
Automotive LEDs and street lighting are of particular importance in the US market. For instance, LED street lighting is becoming one of the largest LSR markets for Momentive Performance Materials in North America.
3D Printing: Enabling Low Volume, Specialized LSR Components
3D printing is on the cutting edge of LSR processing. Over the past several years, major producers Dow Corning (DowDuPont) and Wacker Chemie have released LSR grades suitable for 3D printers:
- Wacker Chemie debuted the world’s first industrial 3D silicone printer in 2016 and has established the ACEO brand for its user-friendly printing process and product delivery system.
- In late 2016, Dow Performance Silicones introduced Silastic LC 3335, which was designed for German RepRap’s patent-pending LAM 3D printer.
Silicone 3D printers thermally crosslink layers to achieve similar performance properties to those of injection molded LSRs. However, 3D printing creates a number of possibilities above and beyond traditional LSR processing, including:
- fast turnaround for prototypes, facilitating development of new LSR components
- low volume, specialized products such as medical prosthetics that can be customized for particular individuals
- precision designs not suitable for injection molding
3D printed LSR products are suitable for a wide variety of applications, including automotive, consumer, lighting and electronics, and medical markets.
To Learn More
For more information on the silicones market, check out Silicones Market in the US, a new study from The Freedonia Group. This study presents historical demand data (2007, 2012, 2017) and forecasts for 2022 by product, market, and function, as well as market share and analysis on industry participants.
About the Author:
Ellen Kriz is an Industry Analyst at the Freedonia Group where she covers US polymers & packaging markets.