Thermoplastic vs Thermoset | Product Knockout

Product_Knockout

Our Product Knock-out series is a match-up between two similar products. In boxing terms, think same weight class, same caliber, and same level of experience and amount of exposure. The purpose of these posts are for you to see a side-by-side view of two similar products, and to be able to understand which one will be crowned champ for your specific purposes. Take your seats and prepare for battle, because the gloves are coming out.

When we browse cable spec sheets, we see the words thermoset and thermoplastic countless times. That’s because both are common cable insulation and jacket materials. But what do these words mean? What are the real differences between the two materials?

What is Thermoplastic?

Let’s start with thermoplastic polymers. These are known for their ability to melt and remold repeatedly, just like the plastic used in products all around us. They are able to do this because thermoplastic materials are composed of chains of molecules which separate once heat is applied. Common thermoplastics include PVC, polyurethane, polypropylene, TFE, and FEP. Thermoplastics are suitable for use in automated equipment and high volume applications. Thermoplastics are usually chosen for these applications because they can be easier to work with, especially if the cable must be stripped.

What is Thermoset? 

Unlike thermoplastics, once thermoset polymers are molded, it is irreversible. If heat is continually applied, it will not melt, but burn instead. Molecularly, thermoset materials are made of polymer structures which are cured or vulcanized to become natural or synthetic rubber materials. During the curing process, polymer chains are cross-linked with other molecules, which is why thermoset materials are sometimes called cross-linked instead. This is abbreviated with an XL, as in XLPE for cross-linked polyethylene, a thermoset material. Other common thermoset materials are natural rubber, SBR, EPDM, silicone rubber, Neoprene, and Hypalon. Since thermoset materials do not melt, they are usually a more appropriate choice for wire and cable to be used in high temperature applications or in circuits at risk of overload. They are more likely to function if the temperature of an application rises suddenly.

Thermoplastic vs Thermoset

There are more differences between thermoplastics vs thermosets than just their high temperature performance. Thermoplastics are generally more economical, lighter weight, and easier to color than thermoset materials. They also tend to have better electrical properties. On the other hand, thermosetting materials have the advantages of flexibility and limpness. They are flexible at room temperature and in low temperatures, and because they are limp, they can lay flat.

Winner by unanimous vote? Instead, it seems as if the match has ended in a technical decision. In this case it looks like our crowned champ depends on your specific application use.

For more information on different insulation and jacketing materials, visit the technical information section of the Allied website.

About awcwire
Allied Wire & Cable is a value-added manufacturer and distributor of electrical wire and cable, tubing, and more. We are a family owned and operated company, serving a wide range of industries, including the military, automotive, aerospace, and telecommunications markets. Allied is headquartered in Collegeville, PA. Additional locations can be found across the US, in Merrimack, NH, Tampa, FL, Pewaukee, WI, and Las Vegas, NV. For more information on Allied, visit our main website at www.awcwire.com.

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