Whether you’re a footwear industry veteran or just a sneaker aficionado, chances are, you’ve heard of the term, “TPE” more than once. In technical terms, TPE stands for Thermoplastic Elastomers. Sometimes referred to as Thermoplastic Rubbers, TPE is actually a class of materials made up of copolymers, or a mix of two polymers. Composed of both hard and soft segments, the resulting TPE takes on the best properties of each polymer, resulting in a material that behaves like a rubber, is processed like a plastic, and has a wide breadth of versatility when used in TPE foam.
TPE and TPE foam based materials are not only stable in extreme temperature conditions, but flexible, soft, elastic, and shock absorbing, to name just a few properties. They can be repeatedly stretched to more than twice their original length, and quickly return back to their original length.
Properties of TPE & TPE foam:
Shock absorption | Flexibility and rapid recovery | Breathability | Stabilization | Slip resistance | Thermal tolerance and stability | Density | Soft texture
However, unlike rubber, TPE foams do not need to be vulcanized, cutting down on manufacturing time, and opening up the use cases of the material. And because it doesn’t need to be devulcanized, opening up the possibilities for remolding and recycling. TPE recycling avoids the high heat and toxic chemicals required for devulcanization, speeding up the manufacturing timeline, cutting down on necessary energy, and offering a more eco-friendly option for your textile needs. You can find TPE on your garage door, in your car, on your headphones, and often, in your footwear.
Uses of TPE and TPE foam:
- Electronics: earbud grips, watch wristbands, soft touch wearables
- Automotive: seals, vents, trim, panels, knobs, floor mats
- Sports: soft grips, sleeves, weighted wearables, protective equipment
- Industrial: siding, hoses, tubing, HVAC, hot tub covers
- Medical: IV bags, gaskets, seals, tubing, sheets, films, soft touch goods
- Footwear: midblock, soles, uppers, sleeves, pads, vent panels
TPE makes up ARIAPRENE®’s main body, and this idea of combination not only lives in the raw materials, but is continued throughout the construction of your completely custom product. Depending on the use case, you can combine different types of TPE and fabrics in our product offerings, to create a material that is unlike any other current offerings on the market.
Ariaprene in Nike’s Serena Williams Court Flare
In Serena Williams’ case, she needed a shoe that could move with her on the court, but was also stable, responsive, and protected her from re-injuring her ankle. Her team at Nike turned to Ariaprene and created a bespoke foam for the integrated ankle sleeve in her Court Flare shoe. Typically, stability meant bulkier and heavier shoes, but the Innovation team at Nike found that the exact opposite was needed. Serena needed a shoe that acted like a second skin. According to veteran Aaron Cooper, “The cuff helps deliver awareness of the body’s movement in space, which provides Williams with a feeling of stability and, thus, increased confidence. This helps her attack each shot and make each cut with uncompromised surefootedness.” And she went on to win Wimbledon that year.
Design and Manufacturing advantages of ARIAPRENEⓇ:
- Visual customization: more colors including white; ability to combine and stack layers
- Textural customization: laser cutting, embossing, and thermo-molding are just a few options
- Environmentally friendly: doesn’t require vulcanization or curing, recyclable without devulcanization
- Direct manufacturing: allows for a consistent product with a quicker lead time and turnaround
The quilted texture of the shoes were made possible by ARIAPRENE®’s thermo-shaping properties, providing increased flexibility, strength, and breathability. Embossing designs added not only stereoscopic and visual textures to the textile, but added a practical comfort for the end user at the same time. And because TPE takes so naturally to thermo-shaping, the heat pressing period was shortened to create a faster turnaround and used less energy during manufacturing, increasing the overall production rate. ARIAPRENEⓇ provides a solution for both designers and manufacturing plants’ biggest problem.