Silicone rubber is a synthetic, or man-made, compound known for its weatherability and ability to maintain useful properties over a wide range of temperatures. Silicone rubberis an electrical and thermal insulator. It is resistant to oxidation, has low surface energy, and resists degradation from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These properties make silicone rubber a good choice for electrical insulators.
The properties of silicone rubber come from the structure of the polymer. Heat stability and resistance to oxidation and weathering are derived from the strength of the siliconoxygen bonds.1 A flexible polymer chain gives low surface energy (hydrophobicity) and low temperature flexibility. 2 Organic (containing carbon) side groups attached to the silicon atoms allow for crosslinking and tailored applications (i.e., increased heat resistance, solvent resistance, increased strength, decreased compression set, increased arc track resistance, or increased cure rate3).
A polymer is composed of very large molecules that contain atoms arranged one after another in a chain-like manner, with each link of the chain being the same basic unit. The word polymer is Greek for “many parts;” thus, polysiloxane is many siloxane units. The chain-like arrangement repeats in regular cycles, so the structure can be written as repeating segments (Figure 1). The segments are identical, with the number of repeating units indicated by the letter “n.” 4 When “n” is small (low molecular weight), the polymer exhibits low physical properties, and in some cases, it may be a liquid. As “n” increases (molecular weight increases), the polymer’s physical properties are improved. 5 Silicone rubber polymer chains are between 3,000 and 10,000 monomer units in length.6
Silicone rubber is an elastomer (rubber-like material) composed of silicone—itself a polymer—containing silicon together with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Silicone rubbers are widely used in industry, and there are multiple formulations. Silicone rubbers are often one- or two-part polymers, and may contain fillers to improve properties or reduce cost. Silicone rubber is generally non-reactive, stable, and resistant to extreme environments and temperatures from -67 °F to 572 °F (-55 °C to 300 °C) while still maintaining its useful properties. Due to these properties and its ease of manufacturing and shaping, silicone rubber can be found in a wide variety of products, including: voltage line insulators, automotive applications; cooking, baking, and food storage products; apparel such as undergarments, sportswear, and footwear; electronics; medical devices and implants; and in home repair and hardware with products such as silicone sealants.
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