Between a shock and a hard place: silicone for electrical applications


While silicone-based life may be the subject of what many consider to be science fiction, the role that silicone has played in life on our planet is of significant interest to the scientific community. Scottish chemist and molecular biologist Alexander Graham Cairns-Smith advocated in his 1987 book Clay Minerals and the Origin of Life that early life on earth could have evolved from a type of silicate. 

The material sciences company Dow was among the first in industrial business to invest in silicone chemistry for the manufacturing sector in the late 1940s, and presently accounts for about 50% of the world’s production of silicone products. 

As they continue to invest in silicone technologies, Duncan Rankin, Customer Manager at Dow,  believes that silicone chemistries are relatively unchallenged when it comes to potential solutions for electrical product developments.

“Silicone rubber compounds have characteristics of both organic and inorganic materials and offer a number of advantages not found in organic rubbers,” says Duncan. “Silicone rubbers have fine electrical properties, good chemical stability, flame retardancy and superior resistance to heat and cold.”

The Dow SILASTIC™ 9161 RTV Silicone is one example of a product that is highly geared toward specialised electrical applications. With a rubber-based curing agent, it seals and protects heavy duty cords and cables for up to 25 years without requiring further maintenance. 

“The 9161 is for niche applications,” says Duncan. “It is often used in large, high-voltage junction boxes for sealing cable connections. These junction boxes can hold around a gallon of liquid and the silicone is poured inside of the box around the cables. Then a rubber-based catalyst is poured in to cure the liquid.”

BSC National Product Manager for Adhesives and Sealants Michael Rowe, explains that the volume of silicone for these kinds of applications is large, but it also requires very little maintenance once implemented. 

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