Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) Interface 101 for Life Science Applications

What are Thermoplastic Elastomers?

Thermoplastics are polymers (in this case, a plastic) that melt at a certain temperature and reharden upon cooling. Elastomers are flexible, rubber-like materials with superb elastic properties. Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are elastomeric materials that can be molded into precise, complex shapes that are highly reproducible. This makes TPEs ideal for fluid-sealing interfaces in life science instruments that require precision performance over a range of mid- to high-volume applications.

TPE sealing interfaces can bond with plastic components via overmolding. This production method eliminates a secondary labor step, making assembly simple and cost effective.

Where are thermoplastic elastomers used in life science applications?

Common TPE life sciences fluid sealing applications:

  • Tube to cartridge
  • Cap/lid to container/bottle/vial
  • Instrument to chip
  • Between two microfluidics
  • Connector to manifold
  • and many more
TPE material, TPE, thermoplastic

Examples of thermoplastic elastomer fluid-sealing interfaces

TPE fluid-sealing interfaces are highly customizable and can accommodate almost any combination of components. The images below demonstrate TPE sealing interfaces overmolded to plastic substrates. Independent standing gasket-like interfaces are also useful in various cases (e.g., when it is used between non-plastic materials; when the sealing interface is replaced more frequently than the surrounding components). Part A is the bonding component (the component to which the elastomer binds), Part B is the sealing interface (elastomer), and Part C is the docking component (e.g., a tube, pipette, flat surface) that shuts against the elastomer interface to introduce or discard fluid.

If you experience leaking issues during the transfer of fluid (liquid or air) from one component to another, placing a thermoplastic elastomer sealing interface between them may be the solution.