What's the difference between thermoplastic and thermoset insulation?

The plastic or polymers used in cable insulation are either thermoplastic or thermoset.

Thermoplastic material is softened by heating and can be shaped, with the shape then maintained by cooling. The important characteristic of thermoplastic material is that this process can be repeated with the material re-softened and reshaped over and over again as required. These thermoplastic materials lend themselves to recycling and reuse.

Thermoset materials are also softened by heating and can be shaped and then cooled to retain a new shape however unlike thermoplastic material, it is only possible to do this once. This is due to a chemical reaction that has taken place during the polymerisation.

Examples of thermoplastic types are PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and PE (Polyethylene).

Examples of thermoset types include rubber insulations such as silicone rubbers and EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate).

PE and PVC may also be cross-linked making them thermosetting types. PVC and XLPE materials which have been cross-linked to make them thermoset materials also have enhanced resistance to temperature, improved dielectric strengths and resistances to certain chemicals.

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