Global Thermoplastic Elastomers: Industrial Markets

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TPEs

This study analyzes the global industrial market for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) by region and product. For the purposes of this study, a thermoplastic elastomer is defined as any thermoplastic material that exhibits elastomeric properties; TPEs therefore offer the functional performance characteristics of thermoset rubber but are processed using the methods and machinery of rigid thermoplastics.

TPEs covered in this report are:

  • copolyester elastomers (COPEs)
  • polyolefin elastomers (POEs)
  • styrenic block copolymers (SBCs)
  • thermoplastic polyolefins (TPOs)
  • thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs)
  • thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs)
  • specialty types

SBCs that do not exhibit elastomeric properties (i.e., high styrene products that contain roughly 60% or more styrene) are excluded from the scope of this study.

While TPOs and TPVs are “polyolefin elastomers” in a technical sense, they are defined separately for the purposes of this study. Furthermore, vulcanized olefin elastomers such as EPDM and ethylene-propylene rubber are not TPEs and are thus excluded.

Compounds with vulcanized elastomers are considered to be TPVs rather than TPOs. Various sources and manufacturers differ on the degree of vulcanization required to define an olefinic TPE as a TPV, so estimates of current global demand can vary.

For the purposes of this report, industrial TPEs are defined as those used in the manufacture of industrial products such as:

  • gaskets and seals
  • hoses and belts
  • other industrial goods (e.g., wheels on equipment, clamps, connectors, grommets, hand knobs, membranes, plugs)

Historical data (2009, 2014, and 2019) and forecasts for 2024 and 2029 are presented for industrial TPE demand in metric tons.

TPEs

Demand by Elastomer Type

Global demand for TPEs used in industrial products is expected to grow 3.5% per year to 823,000 metric tons in 2024. The industrial products market is expected to see significant losses in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • declines in manufacturing activity due to closure of “nonessential” businesses and raw material shortages
  • falling investment in new machinery, reducing demand for TPE components such as gaskets, seals, and hoses

Demand is expected to rebound in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels, but losses in 2020 will restrain greater growth through 2024.

TPV will continue to expand at a healthy rate in industrial applications because it is easier to process than, but texturally similar to, EPDM rubber, the material it most closely resembles. Additionally, TPV’s sustainable properties – including its reduced waste during manufacturing and its increased recyclability – will boost demand in industrial applications. However, all major product types will record solid growth relative to rubber due to TPEs performance advantages, including:

  • SBCs, which are chosen for their high tensile strength, elongation, resilience, flexibility, and impact resistance – useful in belts, gaskets, grommets, hoses, impellers, and seals
  • TPOs, which possess high-temperature properties and resistance to adverse environmental elements – beneficial in oil and gas drilling equipment and petrochemical processing equipment
  • TPUs, which will see gains due to excellent abrasion resistance and toughness, as well as oil and chemical resistance and good load-bearing properties – finding a niche in belting, low pressure tubing, gaskets and seals, chute linings, hose jacketing, bladders, pipe end protection caps, wheels and casters, gears, sprockets, rollers, and vibration dampening components

Demand by Application

Demand for TPEs used in industrial products is expected to grow 3.5% yearly to 823,000 metric tons in 2024. Benefits of TPEs in industrial applications are:

  • lower production costs
  • durability
  • abrasion resistance
  • chemical resistance
  • light weight
  • ease of processing

Gaskets and seals are projected to remain the largest application in the industrial products market for TPEs. The development of new TPE products with high performance attributes including chemical resistance and flexibility, along with their good processability, recyclability, and lifespan as compared to rubber, has made them increasingly popular choices for gaskets and seals, which can often be difficult to reach for repair or replacement.

Hoses and belts are expected to see a similar rate of growth, as TPEs improve the ability of hoses and belts to handle high levels of stress and extreme temperatures in intense environments such as those found in engines.

While TPEs are most commonly used in applications formerly held by rubber – i.e., belts, gaskets, hoses, and seals – the fastest increases will be recorded by overmolded products such as knobs, handles, and clamps, which feature improved ergonomic design, soft touch, or non-slip surfaces.

Pricing Trends

Comparative prices and final installed cost are important considerations in determining the market potential for thermoplastic elastomers:

  • The price range for TPEs is wide, with actual cost to the customer depending on product type, proprietary formulation, and grade.
  • Although TPEs are typically more expensive than thermoset rubber on a per kilogram basis, this higher cost can be offset by TPEs’ lower weight and savings in manufacturing costs due to the use of thermoplastic processing methods such as injection molding.

In 2019, average prices for these TPEs ranged from $2.35 per kilogram for POEs to $8.40 per kilogram for COPEs. Prices can be even higher for niche products such as silicone- or fluoropolymer-based TPEs.

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