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Heat Shrink Tubing: What is It and How is It Used?

Heat shrink tubing — also called electrical shrink tubing — is a critical protective and organizational product used in various electrical arrays. This blog post will answer the question: What is heat shrink tubing used for?

In general, heat shrink tubing is a common element in most electrical setups that insulates electrical components from external factors such as moisture, dust, abrasion, and sharp objects that might otherwise damage wires and electrical components. This type of damage ultimately results in shorts and failures. It will also bind loose wires, connectors, joints, terminals, and splices together, creating more organized and manageable bundles. Using color-coded heat shrink tubing helps to facilitate easy wire and component identification.

What Is Heat Shrink Tubing?

Cable TypeHeat shrink tubing is a thermoplastic tube that shrinks when exposed to heat. When placed around wire arrays and electrical components, heat shrink tubing collapses radially to fit the equipment’s contours, creating a protective layer. It may cover parts of individual wires or bundle entire arrays and protect against abrasion, low impact, cuts, moisture, and dust.

To create heat shrink tubing, plastic manufacturers first use extrusion to make a tube of thermoplastic material. The materials used in heat shrink tubing vary depending on the intended application. Once the desired plastic has been extruded, the material is heated and forced to expand, increasing the tube’s diameter. The expanded tubing is allowed to cool to room temperature and set.

This expanded thermoplastic tube is then placed around the wires or other desired components and heated to a specific temperature. The heat causes the tube to soften and shrink back to its original extruded size, effectively enclosing the wires or other components within a tight layer of protective plastic.

Benefits of Heat Shrink Tubing

Versatile and easy to use, heat shrink tubing offers many unique benefits, including:

  • Protection against abrasion, low impacts, and sharp cutting edges
  • Defense against water, chemicals, dust, and other intrusive contaminants
  • Organization of wires and cables into easy-to-handle bundles
  • A smoother texture and finished appearance
  • Electrical and thermal insulation
  • Enhanced structural support for less strain on wires, connectors, and components
  • Compatible with color additives to aid wire identification

Heat Shrink Tubing Materials

Heat shrink tubing can be manufactured from a wide range of thermoplastic materials and is often combined with additives to enhance specific characteristics. Common materials used for heat shrink tubing include:

  • Polyolefin: Polyolefin is the most popular material for shrink tubing due to its thermal resistance. It is more expensive than PVC but capable of withstanding temperatures as high as 125-135°C. This property makes it ideal for manufacturing, industrial, and mechanical applications with high operating temperatures.
  • Adhesive-Lined Polyolefin: To provide a more secure tube that will not slip in critical conditions, manufacturers have created a polyolefin heat shrink tubing with an adhesive inner layer that melts and adheres to the wires and components inside the tube to fill voids and ensure a close fit. An added adhesive offers more support and increased protection from moisture and harsh conditions.
  • PVC: PVC is less expensive than polyolefin but has a lower temperature threshold of approximately 105°C. PVC is durable, strong, and highly abrasion-resistant. It can be manufactured with high clarity, bright colors, and flame-retardant qualities, making it a highly versatile and cost-effective option for low-temperature applications.

Other materials used for heat shrink tubing include PTFE, FEP, elastomers, silicone rubber, and Viton®. The best material type depends mainly on the conditions in which the equipment will operate and the shrink needed to create the desired seal.

Quality Heat Shrink Tubing From Consolidated Electronic Wire and Cable

Whether for low-impact indoor applications or heavy-duty industrial settings, heat shrink tubing materials can protect and organize wires, connectors, and other electrical components. At Consolidated Electronic Wire and Cable, we offer a comprehensive selection of heat-shrink covered wires, cables, and parts to meet the needs of virtually any application.

To learn more about the best heat shrink tubing for your application or to ask about our selection of quality electronic components, contact us today.

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