Silicone Rubber in North America
Silicone rubber manufacturing is a relatively small but important segment of the North American industrial market. Although growth in the industry has slowed since 2004, demand for silicone material has continued to climb, with a U.S. value surpassing $3 billion in 2006 and a worldwide value estimated at $9.3 billion. Annual global consumption of silicone goods is approximately 800,000 metric tons, with synthetic silicone rubber (or silicone elastomer, as it is also known) accounting for roughly 47 percent of the total. The North American market both consumes and produces a significant portion of the world’s silicone rubber, and expanding applications in high-value electronics and medical devices offer a promising future for the silicone rubber industry.
For those in need of some background information, silicone rubber is a polymer material formed around a base series of silicon-oxygen bonds. These bonds are longer than in most other polymers, allowing them to stretch and conform, and resulting in a flexible forming material. This material is highly resistant to extreme temperatures, with a functional range between approximately -67 and 572 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike organic rubbers, it is less vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet light and heat, but has a lower overall tensile strength. It is often vulcanized, and can be fabricated through extrusion or injection molding processes.
In 2006, over 150,000 metric tons of silicone rubber were purchased and consumed in the North American market. Approximately 45 percent of the total amount was used for the construction industry, 24.5 percent for transportation, and 13 percent for electrical and electronic devices. The remaining portion was divided between the health industry and consumer and industrial products. Common products made with silicone rubber include sealants, gaskets, connectors, and spark plug.
Although the number of employees in the North American synthetic rubber industry decreased by roughly 3,000 between 1997 and 2002, added value for the material increased by nearly $300 million, with shipments of silicone rubber accounting for over $550 million of the synthetic rubber industry in 2002.