Silicone: A Guide to Production, Uses and Benefits

With Contributing Expertise From: simtec

Silicone is a highly versatile synthetic material used in a vast range of applications throughout multiple industries.  Silicone can be found in the products we use in our daily lives, from the cars we drive, food preparation and storage products, baby bottles and pacifiers, and dental and other daily personal hygiene products. Silicone is also widely used in products that could save our lives including respiratory masks, IV’s, and other critical medical and healthcare devices.

In this guide, we discuss its uses and how it compares to silicon and plastic. You will learn more about the silicone production process and some of the notable advantages of this compound.

What Is Silicone?

Silicone, also known as polysiloxane, is a human-made material. It is a polymer comprised of siloxane that features a rubber-like consistency with molecules that have chains of alternating oxygen and silicon atoms. This unique polymer can be a key component used in:

  • Resins
  • Fluids
  • Elastomers

A distinct differentiator between silicones and other industrial polymers is that their molecular backbone does not contain carbon. Some of the common applications using silicone include:

  • Lubricants
  • Hydraulic fluids
  • Water repellants
  • O-rings
  • Heat-resistant seals
  • Caulks
  • Flexible molds
  • Surgical implants
  • Gaskets
  • Electrical insulators
  • Windshield wipers
  • Shock absorbers
  • Sealants

Industries ranging from automotive to textiles and consumer to medical use silicone for various purposes.

What Is Silicone Made Of?

As a versatile polymer, silicone is in the following:

  • Caulks
  • Oils
  • Elastomers
  • Greases

The primary ingredient in silicone is silica — one of the most commonly occurring forms of sand. Here’s what you need to know about silicone vs. silicon.

What Is the Difference Between Silicon and Silicone?

Silicone and silicon, although similar in their spelling, differ in how they are produced. Silicon  s a chemical element (Si). Like most elements, it does not naturally exist in its isolated form. However, silicone refers to a broad class of polymers that consist of a siloxane bond (chemical formula -Si-O-Si-) with various organic compounds attached.

Another distinction between the two is their physical characteristics. Silicon is harder and a more brittle substance, while silicone is a more flexible and softer material with better heat-resistant properties.

Some of the most common applications for silicon include the following:

  • Alloys
  • Semiconductors
  • Transistors
  • Electrical insulators
  • Bricks
  • Photovoltaic cells
  • Computer chips

How is Silicone Produced?

Let’s explore the various steps involved in silicone production.

Step 1: Isolate Silicon From Silica

Isolating silicon from silica is the first step in producing silicone. To achieve this, a large volume of quartz sand is heated to temperatures as high as 1800 degrees Celsius. Pure, isolated silicon is the result. Once it cools, manufacturers can grind it into fine powder.

Step 2: Combine Powder With Methyl Chloride

The fine silicon powder is mixed with methyl chloride. Applying heat again activates a reaction between the components forming what is known as methyl chlorosilane. Methyl chlorosilane is a mix containing several compounds, the most predominant of which, dimethyldichlorosilane, is the primary building block of silicone.

Step 3: Distill the Mixture

Getting from dimethyldichlorosilane to silicone requires a complex distillation process to separate the various components of methyl chlorosilane from one another. Because chlorosilanes have different boiling points, this step involves heating the mixture to a series of precise temperatures.

Step 4: Addition of Water

Following distillation, combining water with dimethyldichlorosilane causes a separation of hydrochloric acid and disilanol.

The hydrochloric acid then acts as a catalyst for the disilanol, causing it to condense into polydimethylsiloxane.

Step 5: Polymerization of the Silicone

You’ll notice polydimethylsiloxane has a siloxane bond. This bond is the silicone’s backbone. Polymerizing silicone involves several different methods depending on the finished product’s desired properties.

While the silicone production process may seem complex, in reality, it’s fairly straightforward and can take place on a mass scale for a relatively low cost. As such, it’s little wonder that versatile silicone has emerged as one of the most popular elastomers for commercial and industrial use.

Silicone vs. Plastic

Plastic and silicone are highly durable and malleable materials, and they can have a similar look and feel. While the two closely resemble one another, their distinctive chemical and molecular compositions make them different.

Plastics have a molecular backbone created with carbon and hydrogen. Producing them uses the following resources:

  • Natural gas
  • Plants
  • Crude oil

Plastics are made from less environmentally friendly elements and can break down into dangerous microplastics. They also sometimes contain toxins, such as bisphenol A. Plastics typically do not last as long as silicones and are less resistant to extreme temperatures.

Benefits of Silicone

Silicone materials are highly beneficial for a wide variety of applications. Because of its properties, silicone materials have many advantages, these properties include the following:

  • Flexibility
  • Malleability
  • Clarity
  • Temperature resistance
  • Water resistance
  • Air permeability
  • Durability
  • Easy to clean
  • Nonstick
  • Stain-resistant
  • Highly gas permeable
  • Long-lasting
  • Nontoxic
  • Non-odorous

Silicone is easy to customize and mold and comes in a variety of forms (liquid, solid or sheet) depending on the molding or fabrication process and specific use. Whether your application requires greater temperature resistance or more malleability, material manufacturers offer a variety of compounds and grades to meet your various needs.

Turn to SIMTEC Silicone Parts for Liquid Silicone Rubber Molded Components

At SIMTEC, we believe in providing our customers with value-added solutions. These solutions utilize the best-suited material, tooling and manufacturing process that will deliver high-performance liquid silicone rubber injection molded parts and extraordinary results.

Our LSR injection molding cells incorporate precision automation, innovative technology, a stable process and rigorous quality standards, inspections and testing to ensure we meet the highest quality possible customized for your specific requirements. We strive to deliver precision, value-added LSR components that consistently meet our customer’s productivity, cost, and quality objectives.

Are you interested in learning more about LSR custom component solutions from SIMTEC? Contact us today.




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