Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

With Contributing Expertise From: Umberto Carchia

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

In the 1960s, the production of synthetic varieties of rubber surpassed natural rubber output. Today, synthetic rubbers comprise about two-thirds of the world’s rubber supply. Among the different categories of manufacturing materials, odorless and tasteless silicone rubber may be one of the most versatile engineering products available. Long ago silicone rubber was seen as primarily used as a waterproofing material, for elastic bands, flexible tubing and for making containers. Silicone rubber has far surpassed this perception today, used for products in a wide variety of industries.

The unique characteristics of silicone rubber elastomers perform very differently from metals and plastics, especially the way they deform and recover under load. Many components and products used in commercial and industrial applications require a high degree of durability, elasticity, and resilience. The material’s ability to regain its original shape and size after stretching, bending, twisting, and compressing, under an array of conditions make it extremely attractive to manufacturers, regardless of the industry.

Beyond its physical attributes, silicone rubber materials have desirable chemical properties as well. re non-reactive. Because of its organic backbone these polymers are inherently hypoallergenic, so they are safe for food-related products and biocompatible for medical devices and healthcare products that encounter blood and other bodily fluids. These versatile materials are also chemically inert and non-reactive to alkali, and many chemicals and cleaners, attractive to electrical, aerospace, automotive, machinery, paper, furniture, and construction sectors.

Nearly every product imaginable seems to require some degree of sealing, shock absorption, vibration damping, electrical resistance, thermal insulation, and other properties commonly associated with silicone rubbers. Common applications include the following:

  • Diaphragms and membranes
  • Food & Beverage preparation and dispensing
  • Valves and specialty one-way slit valves
  • Optical tubes, lenses and covers
  • Infant and baby care
  • Personal protection and masks
  • Drug delivery, fluid management and handheld surgical devices
  • Earplugs, hearing aids and other audio-related earpieces 
  • Fuel, electrical and high-speed data connectors
  • Engine mounts and wiring harness components
  • Intercooler, radiator, fuel cell and EV battery cell seals
  • Connector seals and gaskets
  • High-voltage composite insulators

Medical applications may require medical silicone rubber grades.

SEALING APPLICATIONS

Sealing applications are precisely formed, molded, or machined shapes that are used to seal fluids and gases, such as the cylinders and pistons used in the automobile industry.

Other sealing applications include perimeter seals used to ensure tight connections, seals used in faucets and toilets, facial seals used in masks, and seals used in transmissions, wiring harnesses, and drive systems.

HIGH-CONSISTENCY RUBBER VS LIQUID SILICONE RUBBER

The silicone rubber manufacturing process uses a variety of forms, compounds, and fabricating methods. When choosing elastomers, the material options are typically narrowed down to High-Consistency Rubber (HCR) and Liquid Silicone Rubber (LSR).

For companies looking to manufacture a product, or enter a new market, the due diligence process for High Consistency Rubber vs Liquid Silicone Rubber can present a challenge.

Designers, engineers, and managers will need to gather and evaluate data to make informed decisions about the type of silicone rubber and process they chose for the production of their parts. Each has different equipment, floor space and labor requirements for manufacturing. Finished parts will also vary widely in terms of aesthetics, and the degree of detail and tolerances attainable.

This guide will help your evaluation process as it relates to material options and fabrication methodologies.

WHAT IS HIGH-CONSISTENCY RUBBER?

Heat-cured rubber, high temp vulcanizing (HTV), or high-consistency rubber contains polymers with a high molecular weight and long polymer chains. The properties of HCR epitomize those types of rubbers, such as resiliency and recovery after elongation or compression.

HCR has excellent resistance to heat, cold, and other extreme weather conditions, and has excellent electrical attributes. Fabricators routinely formulate HCR to unique specifications requirements by milling the base with additives, which modify the material’s physical properties. High-consistency rubber has a high viscosity and the consistency of putty.

High consistency rubber (HCR) silicone rubber that goes through the correct catalyzation process provides the raw materials that can be used to produce a broad range of applications that require finishing by molding and calendaring (sheets of varying thicknesses). HCR is the main material used for compression molding and in extruded tubing.

THE HCR FABRICATION PROCESS

Rubber manufacturers make solid silicone rubber in large batches, with the components mixed into a homogenous blend at high temperatures. The addition of peroxide catalyst facilitates the curing process. Fabricators allow the cross-linking of the molecules to begin but roll out the sheets of rubber materials for shipping or storage prior to the completion of the vulcanization process.

The actual rubber manufacturing process entails six steps:

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Mill Softening and Catalyzation

 

This first step, required for both extrusion and molding applications, reverses any “crepe hardening” that results from the storage of the material at the supplier or fabricator. In addition, some processes use milling to add peroxide catalysts to a free radical elastomer, when needed, or to mix the two components of an additional cure elastomer prior to processing. This labor-intensive process requires the use of a two-roll mill, as the elastomer must cycle through the mill multiple times to blend the compound material into a homogeneous product. After the removal of the sheet from the mold, it may require additional processing.

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Preparation of a Preform

 

The next step involves the preparation of a performance, which requires a lot of labor, particularly in high-volume production environments that operate 24/7. The transfer molding process requires a die-cutter to cut a plug from the preform that fits in the transfer reservoir of the transfer press. The compression molding application entails a more complex process because personnel must cut the preform into the same shape as the final component. For the extrusion and injection molding applications, the preform is prepared by cutting the elastomer sheet into strips and feeding them into the extruder.

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Extrusion

 

The extrusion press for HCR involves the use of a single-screw extruder. The operator feeds preformed strips into to an extruder via a roller feed wheel. The elastomer material extrudes through a die and mandrel assembly, which shapes the desired profile by outfitting the extruder with a crosshead assembly. Another processing option, called the “support extrude,” requires the use of a crosshead assembly fitted onto the extruder, which passes the supporting geometry through the crosshead and extrudes a layer of silicone rubber over it.

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Molding

 

Different high-consistency silicone applications require different molding equipment. Both transfer and injection molding fabrication require personnel to load the elastomer into the equipment and to de-mold the finished components. In the compression molding process, workers must place preforms in each cavity of each mold. High-consistency rubber has slow cure cycles, which means the molds may have a large number of cavities.

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Vulcanization

 

Fabricators use hot-air vulcanizing ovens (HAVs) to achieve vulcanization of extruded products. This process increases the strength and durability of the material by cross-linking the molecules. Available in both vertical and horizontal models, the vertical oven has a variable speed drum at the top that pulls the extruded profile up through the oven. Some vulcanization processes use a steam autoclave oven or radiant heat.

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

 

Finishing

The extent of finishing depends on the application. For extrusion profiles, the finishing process involves a visual inspection and cutting the tubes into specified lengths. For extrusion components cured with peroxide, the profile must go through a post-cured process, which eliminates peroxide by-products. The injection molding process also requires trimming or de-flashing of molded parts. The worker uses a die-cutting tool to cut the parts from the large, molded sheet. In some cases, the component may require post cure.

The high-consistency rubber fabrication wastes material and has a high labor cost. It also requires manual labor and additional tools and equipment. The cost of the equipment however is less expensive than the molds required in the manufacturing of LSR (liquid silicone rubber) products.

What Is Liquid Silicone Rubber?

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

The primary differentiator between liquid rubber and high-consistency rubber is the “flow” or “liquid” nature of LSR materials. While HCR has a peroxide cure, LSR has addition/cure/platinum cure. LSR consists of liquid silicone rubber material that has a very low viscosity, which allows the material to be injection molded or cast into rubber sheets. The raw uncured LSR material consists of Part A and Part B liquid components and when mixed during fabrication, the curing process in initiated. When heat is added, the curing process is accelerated.

LSR, unlike many thermoplastic elastomers such as TPEs and TPRs, has performance characteristics and fast cure cycles that make it a popular material for small, intricate molded components. The material maintains its flexibility and elasticity down to temperatures of -60°C and retains these qualities up to 250°C. LSR often finds application in products that require a high level of precision, including the following:

  • Seals
  • Gaskets
  • Diaphragms and delicate membrane
  • Cushioning pads in portable communications
  • Data acquisition instruments
  • Electronic devices used in rugged environments
  • Infant bottle nipples and pacifiers
  • Electrical connectors
  • Medical applications (actuators, septum, dosing valves)
  • Wearables for health monitoring and drug delivery

In addition, Liquid Silicone Rubber has become a common material used to over-mold onto other parts manufactured from a variety of plastics.

METER-MIXING

Utilizing hydraulic or pneumatic-driven reciprocating pumps, the meter-mixing delivers the two-part mixture at a 1:1 ratio, into a static mixer, with an accuracy of ±1%. The precision of the material allocation prevents off-tolerance products and reduces material waste. The closed meter-mix system also keeps the product clean because the mixer seals the mix from dust and moisture. The system also allows for the controlled addition of pigments and other additives.

MOLDING

The second stage of the liquid injection process requires the use of highly automated and injection molding machines specifically designed for LSR molding. Once operable, the machines require very little labor. The greatest capital expense incurred in the liquid silicone rubber injection molding process involves the cost of the mold design and fabrication.

FINISHING

For most applications, LSR processing does not require finishing. Properly tooled injection molds cause minimal flash, which eliminates the need for trimming. The addition cure mechanism used in liquid injection molding makes a post-cure cycle unnecessary.

Some manufacturers add fillers during the mixing stage, which add additional qualities to the material. For example, reinforcing fillers strengthen the finished product. Fillers with particle sizes of 5 to 20 nanometers in diameter consist primarily of amorphous-fumed silicas and some precipitated silicas. Extending fillers provide a specific performance attribute, such as barium sulfate filler, which is used to create certain products for the medical industry.

Unlike other elastomers, silicone rubber requires few additives. Some fabricators add stabilizers, which optimize attributes, such as heat and media resistance. Silicone rubber has a transparent appearance, but fabricators can color the material as required. While some compounds deliver the highest value in terms of performance, manufacturers need to operate carefully when adding nonessential ingredients to avoid compromise of mechanical attributes and other properties.

The costs involved in the liquid injection molding process add up quickly due to the investment in tooling and equipment, especially during the design and development process. When comparing HCR vs LSR injection molding methodologies, note that although the liquid injection molding process involves fewer steps, all aspects of this fabrication method require expertise that goes beyond typical plastic manufacturing.

The key to a successful project involves identifying and collaborating with a supplier that has the required means and capabilities, a supplier that will guide you from the design and material selection process to full production.

SILICONE CURE MECHANISMS

Silicone rubber products have two major cure mechanics: free radical cure and addition cure.

FREE RADICAL CURE

The addition of heat initiates the deposition of peroxide catalysts into two free radicals. These free radicals react with either an alkyl or a vinyl species along the polymer backbone, which transfers the free radicals to the silicone polymer. The reaction of the free radical on the polymer chain, with an alkyl species on another polymer chain, terminates the cross-linking mechanism.

ADDITION CURE

Sufficient for both LSR and HCR, hydrosilylation, or addition cure, involves adding a silicon hydride to an unsaturated carbon bond in the presence of a noble metal catalyst. Most hydrosilylation catalysts use platinum, but some processes employ rhodium and palladium. The silicone polymers in the elastomers must include vinyl or alkenyl functionality for the material to cure properly.

Materials that depend on the addition cure mechanism come in two-part kits. One part contains the catalyst species, and the other component contains a silicon hydridefuntional cross-linker, as well as an inhibitor. The inhibitor allows for working time after mixing the two ingredients.

Addition cure offers the advantage of producing a cure reaction that generates no by-products, which means that post-curing is not necessary. Nonetheless, some applications require a post-cure cycle to stabilize or enhance the properties of finished parts. The manufacturer must take great care to ensure that the material is not exposed to peroxide, sulfur, phosphorous, amines, tin complexes, peroxides, and peroxide by-products, which can inhibit the addition cure regimen. 

New, low volatile silicone rubber specialized grades have been introduced that eliminate the need for post-curing. These new grades may be appropriate for certain applications. 

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CONSIDERATIONS FOR MATERIAL SELECTION

Silicone rubber elastomers are also available as a sheet that has a predetermined thickness or rolls of strip-formed material, divided into various thicknesses and widths, and ready for feeding into the injection molding machine and extrusions.

The efficacies of High Consistency Rubber vs Liquid Silicone Rubber materials and fabrication for their applications based on industry-wide criteria such as hardness, tear resistance, thermal resistance, and compression set must be taken into consideration by decision-makers.

Hardness

The Shore A Hardness Scale measures the hardness of materials, as well as the softness and flexibility of moldable silicone rubbers. These silicone materials range from very soft and flexible, to medium and somewhat flexible, to hard with almost no flexibility at all. The Shore A Hardness scale ranges from 10 to 100, with the majority of applications falling within a range of 20 – 80. An LSR with a 10 durometer has a soft, gum-like quality and feels softer than some sponge products or certain extra firm silicone foam. At the other end of the spectrum, an LSR material with a shore A durometer of 80 has a hardness that exceeds that of a shoe heel.

Tear Resistance

A tear resistance test provides a measure of how the silicone rubber responds to tearing. It is calculated by dividing the breaking force in pounds by the cross-section of the outstretched specimen in square inches. The typical tear strength of solid silicone rubber is around 9.8kN/m. Typically large, molded products, reverse tapered forms, and complexly-shaped objects use high-strength materials with a tear strength of between 29.4 kN/m and 49.0 kN/m. Manufacturers improve strength through polymer modification and the liberal use of fillers and cross-linkers.

Compression Set Resistance

This measurement determines the ability of silicone rubber material to recover from compression deformation. Silicone rubber has a consistent compression set over a broad range of temperatures, from -60C to +250 C.

Elongation

For products that require substantial stretching or seals to operate across large gaps, the fabricator will need to conduct elongation testing – a measurement of the strain at the point of rupture.

Depending on the application, manufacturers may perform other tests, such as modulus, thermal resistance, toxicity and flame resistance, permeability, abrasion resistance, electrical testing, and environmental testing.

Ultimately, the specifications and performance criteria for the finished application determine the minimal features required for the materials and fabrication process.

For example, a manufacturer of electronic parts may choose general-purpose silicone rubber because it has good mechanical properties, a hardness in the 30 to 80 durometer range, tear strength of 8, and compression set resistance between 12 to 26.

For O-rings and gaskets used in the automotive and aerospace industries, a specialty material such as low-compression set silicone rubber that also meets other application requirements may be chosen. However, for sensing membranes or baby care items, a low-hardness silicone rubber are selected for applications of these types.

CHOOSE SILICONE RUBBER FOR YOUR PROJECT

Silicone rubber has been utilized for many years in the manufacturing and commercial sectors, particularly for medical, automotive, industrial, and consumer electronics. Advances in material technologies and the fabrication process have extended its use for food and water applications and for a variety of life-enhancing and critical-care applications.

The material choices and manufacturing processes for High Consistency Rubber vs Liquid Silicone Rubber depend on the requirements of the product or device. If you have additional questions or want to find out more about the LSR injection molding process, contact an expert with multi-disciplinary experience who can help you find the right solution for your project.

Trust SIMTEC Silicone Parts for Your Molded Silicone Rubber Component

Liquid Silicone Rubber Injection Molding vs High Consistency Rubber: Which Is Right for You?

SIMTEC has produced millions of LSR parts since the inception of our company in 2002. We produce parts for the leading manufacturers in nearly every industry, and we look forward to finding the best value-added custom solution that will enhance the quality and performance of your products, streamline your process, and meet your program objectives.

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