United Soft Plastics, a leading manufacturer and custom compounder of thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), reports a surge of interest in the use of thermoplastic elastomers for the production of many COVID-19 related medical applications. The company says several companies, both domestic and international, have approached the company requesting materials to convert their non-medical manufacturing facilities to produce items to meet the healthcare demand from the global pandemic.
TPEs have been adopted in a range of COVID-19 related applications including personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and face shields, and also ventilator parts, according to Benedict Herbst, executive vice president and CFO of United Soft Plastics (USP). “We are pleased to be an important contributor in the development of medical products that will help our fellow citizens combat this awful virus,” said Herbst.
USP expects this demand to drop gradually towards the middle or end of 2021, but there will still be more long-term support for these medical products than existed before the pandemic, particularly due to the growing use of antimicrobial, antivirus, and antibiotic compounds.
Due to COVID-19, USP reports a spike in interest both in replacing current materials (i.e. silicone or standard rubber) with softer plastic in current applications and in scaling those applications for the future. “We see a larger fraction of consumers become more conscious of infectious disease and the ability that we have, both as manufacturers and consumers, to prevent the spread of disease through the choice of proper materials,” said Herbst.
The result is that many applications which previously were not considered “medical” (i.e., a pen cup in a public waiting room) will in the future need to hold up to different sterilization methods such as autoclaving, according to Herbst.
USP has supplied a special TPE compound for the Nvironone OvaOne interchangeable filter face mask from Mexican manufacturer Nvironone. The mask has three containment plates that progressively block the dispersion of droplets and utilizes an N95 filter that retains the spread of aerosol particles. The injection molded material for the mask’s base structure is designed to meet FDA contact requirements and is safe for skin contact. The high-performance TPE – sold through subsidiary USPM de Mexico Plastics – exhibits high tear strength and a smooth surface finish. This is just one example of custom developed TPEs for a range of face mask applications. “Despite the challenging business environment due to the pandemic, we’ve enjoyed strong growth in Mexico thanks to applications like these,” said Tomasz Nowinski, General Manager of USP de Mexico.
Throughout the pandemic, there has also been strong growth in face shields and other face coverings. USP’s Unisoft Special and Medical Series grades are highly suitable because they provide excellent elasticity, strong recovery properties, and tear resistance for all elastic parts. To date, there have been several million face shields manufactured utilizing USP materials for the straps.
In response to continued growth, USP has undertaken extensive product development work and now offers a broad portfolio of TPE products. The company’s product line includes standard grades adhering to PP and special adhesion grades for non-PP overmolding applications with substrates such as ABS, PC, nylon, PBT, PS, PPO, and PMMA. Other innovative materials have been developed to meet special regulatory requirements within the FDA, EU food contact, REACH, and NSF. The range of products also includes new acrylic-based TPEs which offer an ultra-transparent profile and a smooth dry surface with improved oil and chemical resistance.
The company’s TPE materials are used to produce injection molded, extruded, and blow molded parts such as interior and exterior automotive trim, consumer grips and handles, beverage closures, over-molded gaskets and seals, sporting goods, and soft-touch applications. The company specializes in the creation of custom material solutions for any application and focuses on quick turnaround and execution.