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How Is Rubber Manufactured for Industrial Use?

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Rubber for industrial usage is produced using a sophisticated process that involves compounding raw rubber with several chemicals and additives. To give the compound the desired shape and qualities, it is next processed through a number of devices, including mills, extruders, and moulds. Before it is released into the market, the finished product is put through quality control testing.

Rubber is an essential material and a raw material for a wide range of industrial uses, such as manufacturing, automotive, construction, and other industries. Its unique capabilities of durability, elasticity, shock absorption, flexibility, and grip make it outstanding for domestic and industrial use. All of these products can be made from rubber, from shoes, tires, and belts to highly sophisticated machinery components. Rubber consists of many individual groups of molecules connected to form a polymer chain called elastomer. This gives it the distinctive properties of stretch and grip.

Did you know? That the rubber industry’s market value stood at USD 28.89 billion. 

History of Making Rubber

Rubber making is a complex procedure. Before the mid-19th century, most natural rubbers came from Brazil’s rubber trees. Over time, demand for this magical material outstripped production, and rubber tree plantations spread from Brazil to Southeast Asian countries. As time passed, new ways of rubber manufacturing came into existence. Rubber can now be classified into two categories: Natural Rubber, sourced from rubber trees, and Synthetic Rubber, made from petroleum byproducts.

Natural Rubber Manufacturing Process

Natural rubber manufacturing is labour-intensive, including collecting latex, transporting it to processing units from the jungle or farms, harvesting, coagulating, processing and packaging. Despite the availability of synthetic rubber, natural rubber commands high value.

Step-1: Tapping

Natural rubber production starts with tapping or latex collection from the latex tree. This is a substance released from the rubber tree. Latex is a white-coloured liquid substance released from the rubber tree by cutting into the tree’s bark. The dripping latex is collected into small cups through a network of straws attached to the tree. The cutting of tree bark requires precision and experience. A small extra force would affect the replenishment of the latex on the tree.

Step-2: Collection

The latex is collected in a large tank and transported to the Processing Unit. From here, natural rubber processing starts. The regular processing of extracting rubber from latex starts with the

Step-3: Coagulation

The coagulation process includes thickening of latex and forming lumps. Formic acid is added and takes about 12 hours, and moisture is squeezed out.

Step-4: Rolling and Drying

The sheets of coagulum of rubber are left to dry in smokehouses. Drying takes several days. This results in the making of dark-brown rubber called a ribbed smoke sheet which is folded and packed for further processing.Till now, in the process of making rubber, chemicals are added to latex and lumps are made. It is rolled and dried. 

Step-5: Shaping

The raw rubber is given the desired shape of the product. At this stage, the rubber is not ready for use.

Step-6: Vulcanisation

Rubber is heated at a specific temperature and pressure. During this process, the molecular structure changes and the bond becomes stronger and the quality improves.

Step-7: Finishing

Rubber products are buffed, coated, and trimmed after vulcanisation to achieve the desired finish.

Step-8: Quality Control 

After finishing, the rubber product undergoes a quality check to ensure the highest quality of the product.

 

Also Read: How to Start a Successful Rubber Band Making Business

Pros and Cons of Natural Rubber 

Now, let’s discuss some pros and cons of natural rubber.

Pros

  • Biodegradable: Natural rubber can be easily decomposed by natural processes, making it an environmentally friendly material.
  • Natural qualities: Natural rubber has a distinct texture and flexibility, making it a popular material for many goods.
  • Renewable resource: Latex is used to manufacture natural rubber derived from the rubber tree and can be replenished naturally, making it a renewable resource.
  • High resistance: Natural rubber is highly resistant to tearing, puncture, and stretching. These qualities make it an ideal material for industrial and domestic goods.

Cons

  • Higher cost: Natural rubber is a labour-intensive production method, which increases its cost, making it less cost-effective.
  • Variable quality: Natural rubber quality can vary depending on the method and source of latex collection.
  • Poor chemical resistance: Natural rubber is not well resistant to chemicals and oils, which limits its uses.
  • Vulnerability to heat: Natural rubber is vulnerable to heat, affecting its shelf life and making it unfit for many products.

How to Make Synthetic Rubber?

Synthetic rubber is an artificial elastic polymer made from petroleum by-products. Synthetic rubber is just like natural rubber and is used in multiple products. Synthetic rubber is superior in terms of thermal stability, oil, and similar compounds to natural rubber and is resistant to oxidising agents.

The manufacturing process for synthetic rubber in detail is given below

Step-1: Polymerisation

Synthetic rubber manufacturing begins with polymerisation, which is the chemical reaction of monomers to form polymer chains. Monomers are the by-product of petroleum, mixed with a catalyst and other chemical agents and heated to start the polymerisation process. The raw material is then cooled down and forms a polymer chain. 

Step-2: Compounding

With the polymer chains formed, they are mixed with various additives to improve physical and chemical properties. Mixing is done in a roller mill or mixture.

Step-3: Shaping 

The compounded rubber is then given the desired shape to aid transportation or for further manufacturing processes of rubber products. There are several methods for shaping raw rubber-like moulding, extrusion and calendering.

Step-4: Vulcanisation

The shaped rubber is then sent for vulcanisation which is the heating of rubber with an activator, sulphur, and accelerator at 140-200°C during this process, the cross-link is formed between rubber molecules, which enhances its resilience to chemicals and weather, tensile strength, elasticity.

Step-5: Finishing

Vulcanisation is followed by detailing, trimming, coating, buffing, and giving the product the final shape.

Step-6: Quality Control

Rubber quality is checked regularly at each manufacturing step in the complete manufacturing process to ensure it meets specific requirements. This step may involve testing rubber’s physical properties and chemical resistance. Rubber manufacturing uses highly sophisticated machinery and instruments, but its versatility and wide use make it the best choice for industrial and consumer products.

Pros and Cons of Synthetic Rubber

Now, let’s discuss some pros and cons of synthetic rubber.

Pros 

  • Cost-effective: Synthetic rubber is generally less expensive than natural rubber as it’s made from petroleum-based chemicals, a cheap source of raw material.
  • Availability: Synthetic rubber can be made on a large scale, and economies of scale make it more cost-effective.
  • Durability: Synthetic rubber is more durable, with better heat resistance, oil and weathering.
  • Chemical resistance: Synthetic rubber is more resistant to harsh chemicals than natural rubber.

Cons

  • Poor Environmental Concerns: Synthetic rubber production uses petrochemicals, a non-renewable resource that causes environmental damage.
  • Lack of natural qualities: Synthetic rubber lacks natural rubber qualities such as a unique texture, elasticity and flexibility.
  • Biodegradability: Synthetic rubber is a non-biodegradable material making it a cause of pollution.

Also Read: Profitable Ideas for Rubber Processing and Manufacturing Business

Conclusion

Natural and synthetic rubber markets are approximately USD 30 billion, and it is growing steadily. The process of rubber making is technical, labour-intensive, and highly skilled, using hands and machinery to manufacture it. Rubber remains an irreplaceable material for solving many problems despite its pros and cons. Its unique characteristics make it useful in various industries, such as manufacturing, automotive, construction, and healthcare. Rubber demand is driven by its diverse applications and the growing need for durable and sustainable materials. Although there are some challenges, such as the environmental impact of rubber production and the fluctuation in rubber prices, the advantages of rubber make it an essential material on the global market.
 

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