The production of heat shrink tubing
Heat-shrink tubing (or, commonly, heat shrink or heatshrink) is a shrinkable plastic tube used to insulate wires, providing abrasion resistance and environmental protection for stranded and solid wire conductors, connections, joints and terminals in electrical work. It can also be used to repair the insulation on wires or to bundle them together, to protect wires or small parts from minor abrasion, and to create cable entry seals, offering environmental sealing protection. Heat-shrink tubing is ordinarily made of polyolefin, which shrinks radially (but not longitudinally) when heated, to between one-half and one-sixth of its diameter.
Heat-shrink tubing was invented by Raychem Corporationin 1962. It is manufactured from a thermoplastic material such as polyolefin, fluoropolymer (such as FEP, PTFE or Kynar), PVC, neoprene, silicone elastomer or Viton.
The process for making heat-shrink tubing is as follows: First the material is chosen based on its properties. The material is often compounded with other additives (such as colorants, stabilizers, etc.) depending on the application. A starting tube is extruded from the raw material. Next, the tube is taken to a separate process where it is cross-linked, usually through radiation. The cross-linking creates a memory in the tube. Then the tube is heated to just above the polymer's crystalline melting point and expanded in diameter, often by placing it in a vacuum chamber. While in the expanded state it is rapidly cooled. Later, when heated (above the crystalline melting point of the material) by the end user, the tubing shrinks back to its original extruded size.