Polymer Selection, A Critical First Step

Based on Service temperature

The first critical step in a quality rubber component is the selection of the correct polymer. Selection of the correct elastomeric rubber material for any application, be it fluid or environmental sealing, vibration isolation or dampening, impact bumpers, hoses and fluid movement and various other requires the review of numerous factors. For example, is it a dynamic or static application, what is the system pressure, what type of chemical resistance is needed, what is the service temperature? are some of the considerations.

Basic Characters Of Elastomers

Natural Rubber

Natural rubber is a product coagulated from the latex of the rubber tree, hevea brasiliensis. Natural rubber features low compression set, high tensile strength, resilience, abrasion and tear resistance, good friction characteristics, excellent bonding capabilities to metal substrate, and good vibration dampening characteristics.


Nitrile is the most widely used elastomer in the seal industry. The popularity of nitrile is due to its excellent resistance to petroleum products Nitrile is a copolymer of butadiene and acrylonitrile. Variation in proportions of these polymers is possible to accommodate specific requirements. An increase in acrylonitrile content increases resistance to heat plus petroleum base oils and fuels but decreases low temperature flexibility. Military AN and MS O ring specifications require nitrile compounds with low acrylonitrile content to ensure low temperature performance. Nitrile provides excellent compression set, tear, and abrasion resistance. The major limiting properties of nitrile are its poor ozone and weather resistance and moderate heat resistance, but in many applications, these are not limiting factors.


HNBR is created by partially or fully hydrogenating NBR. The hydrogenating process saturates the polymeric chain with accompanying improvements to the ozone, heat and aging resistance of the elastomer and improves overall mechanical properties.

HNBR, like Nitrile, increasing the acrylonitrile content increase resistance to heat and petroleum based oils and fuels, but decreases the low temperature performance.


Ethylene-propylene compounds are prepared from ethylene and propylene (EPM) and usually a third monomer (EPDM). These compounds are used frequently to seal in brake systems, and for sealing hot water and steam. Ethylene propylene compounds have good resistance to mild acids, detergents, alkalis, silicone oils and greases, ketones, and alcohols. They are not recommended for applications with petroleum oils, mineral oil, di-ester lubricants, or fuel exposure.

Ethylene Propylene has gained wide seal industry acceptance for its excellent ozone and chemical resistance properties and is compatible with many polar fluids that adversely affect other elastomers.

EPDM compounds are typically developed with a sulfur or peroxide cure system. Peroxide-cured compounds are suitable for higher temperature exposure and typically have improved compression set performance.


Fluorocarbon exhibits resistance to a broader range of chemicals combined with very good high temperature properties more so than any of the other elastomers. It is the closest available approach to a universal elastomer for sealing in the use of o-rings and other custom seals over other types of elastomers.

Fluorocarbons are highly resistant to swelling when exposed to gasoline as well as resistant to degradation due to expose to UV light and ozone.

When exposed to low temperatures, fluorocarbon elastomers can become quite hard (-4 °F) but can be serviceable at low temperatures, although FKM compounds are not recommended for applications requiring good low temperature flexibility.

In addition to standard FKM materials, a number of special materials are available with differing monomer compositions and fluorine content (65% to 71%) for improved low temperature, high temperature, or chemical resistance performance.

Fluorocarbons exhibit low gas permeability making them well suited for hard vacuum service and many formulations are self-extinguishing. FKM materials are not generally recommended for exposure to hot water, steam, polar solvents, low molecular weight esters and ethers, glycol based brake fluids, or hot hydrofluoric or chlorosulfonic acids.


Neoprene homopolymer of chlorobutadiene and is unusual in that it is moderately resistant to both petroleum oils and weather (ozone, UV, oxygen). This qualifies neoprene uniquely for certain sealing applications where many other materials would not be satisfactory. Neoprene is classified as a general purpose elastomer which has relatively low compression set, good resilience and abrasion, and is flex cracking resistant.

Poly Acrylic

Polyacrylates are copolymers of ethyl and acrylates which exhibit excellent resistance to petroleum fuels and oils and can retain their properties when sealing petroleum oils at continuous high temperatures up to 300 °F. These properties make polyacrylates suitable for use in automotive automatic transmissions, steering systems, and other applications where petroleum and high temperature resistance are required.


SBR compounds have properties similar to those of natural rubber. SBRs primary custom molded application is the use in hydraulic brakes system seals and diaphragms, with the major of the industry usage coming from the Tire Industry.


Millable polyurethane exhibits excellent abrasion resistance and tensile strength as compared to other elastomers providing superior performance in hydraulic applications with high pressures, abrasive contamination and shock loads. Fluid compatibility is similar to that of nitrile at temperatures up to approximately 175 °F. At higher temperatures, polyurethane has a tendency to soften and lose both strength and fluid resistance advantages over other elastomers.


Silicone is a semi-organic elastomer with outstanding resistance to extremes of temperature with corresponding resistance to compression set and retention of flexibility. Silicone elastomers provide excellent resistance to ozone, oxygen, and moisture.


Fluorosilicones combine most of the attributes of silicone with resistance to petroleum oils and hydrocarbon fuels. Low physical strength and abrasion resistance combined with high friction limit fluorosilicone to static seals. Fluorosilicones are used primarily in aircraft fuel systems.

Elastomers Blend

Frequently a set of properties required for a given application cannot be accomplished by only one elastomer and, thus, mixtures of two or more polymers must be employed. In these cases, the other ingredients normally added are dispersed differently, depending on their affinity to each polymer. The degree of dispersion each additive experience in each elastomeric phase will influence the rate and the degree of vulcanization and will certainly have consequences on the performance of the final product