Rubber Goods

Products made from rubber are a vital part of everyday living. In homes, hospitals, hotels, offices, laboratories, construction and production facilities, rubber's applications are so amazingly broad that comparatively few people are aware how dependent we are on this remarkable product.

Within this sub-Sector, the automotive area accounts for 65% of production, with parts and components such as windscreen wipers, engine mountings, window seals, fan belts, etc. The remaining is largely accounted for by the pharmaceutical and mining industries.

Rubber History

Where does rubber come from ?
The hevea tree - hevea brasiliensis - is originating from Brazil. It was exploited in the wild state there till the beginning of the XXth century. When a tree matures at the age of 6 or 7 years, the latex is collected from a diagonal incision in the tree trunk i.e. the tapping process. This action does not affect the health of the tree and the tree wound later heals itself.
On the other hand, the hévéaculture developed from the end of the XIXth century in Southeast Asia: in 1876, seedlings of hevea were shipped to India, Ceylon, Singapore and Java and the year after in Malaysia.
Today, the production in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia represents about 70 % of the world production of natural rubber.

Who were the first users of rubber ?
The Indians of Central and South America (Incas, Mayas, Olmecs, Aztecs, ...) are known to have used the unique properties of rubber for religious or magical ceremonies e.g. numerous figurines and balls made from rubber moulded were found in the heart of the sacred wells. Indians also found the incredible propriety of waterproofing and used it for their clothes and shoes. At the end of XVth century, Christopher Columbus was certainly the first European assisting to the famous Aztec game with rubber balls representing the Sun, most important Aztec god.

Progressively these balls were exported via the Mississippi to the Great Lakes and Haiti.


Did you know that ...
Millions of persons chew every day on rubber. The chewing gum is realized from rubber with addition of sugar and flavouring. Its mode of manufacturing is close to that of the other rubber articles.

When was rubber first imported into Europe ?
The first scientific study on rubber was realized by the French academician Charles de la Condamine in the XVIIIth century within the framework of a mission on the South American continent and by François Fresneau, engineer in Cayenne. In spite of the enthusiasm of the authors for the extraordinary properties of the rubber, they will not succeed in interesting their contemporaries in the use of this "new" substance

Caoutchouc/Rubber: What are the origins of the French and English terms ?
The French rubber term comes from the Indian " ca-o-tchu " word or " wood which cries ".
In England during the XVIIIth century, Joseph Priestley, best known for his discovery of oxygen, noted that pencil marks could be "rubbed out" by the substance. From this early use, rubber derived its name.

What were first rubber applications in Europe ?
The first rubber applications date from the end of the XVIIIth century and were mainly erasers and medical probes. Then, the rubber was used to waterproof some textiles.
The first full bandages appeared in 1834, and the first tyres not before the end of the XIXth century.

Why 1839 is an essential date for rubber manufacturing ?
Prior to 1839, the properties of rubber were dictated by the surrounding temperature. During the hot summer, rubber was sticky and malleable, while it became hard and brittle in the winter. This was finally remedied by the unexpected discovery of the process of vulcanisation. A 1839 winter evening, C. Goodyear dropped accidentally a mixture of rubber, white lead and sulphur upon a hot stove. When it was removed, the material was no longer affected by temperature. Despite stretching, it always returned to its original shape. This phenomenon was further called: "vulcanisation" in reference of the Roman god of fire and metallurgy. Thanks to this discovery, it became possible to use rubber in raincoats, overshoes, and many other products, including tyres.

Did you know that ...
The first rubber paving to reduce traffic road noise was made in 1870 in London in front of the St Pancrace hotel not to disturb the travellers.

What is synthetic rubber ? How it is produced ?
The first synthesis of rubber was carried out in 1909 in Germany by F. Hoffmann. The scientific research significantly developed during the First World War because of the Germany blocus. The first elastomer was put on the US market in 1931 by Dupont de Nemours under the brand, Neoprene. The development of synthetic rubber increased during the Second World War.

Synthetic rubber has its origin in two gases: butadiene, a by-product of petroleum refining, and styrene, captured either in the coking process or as a petroleum refining by-product. When the two are mixed in the presence of soapsuds in a reactor, liquid latex results. The dry rubber in this milky liquid is then coagulated into crumbs, washed, dried, and baled ready for shipment.
The total production of synthetic rubber into the EU amounted to more than 2.8 million tonnes in the year 2003 i.e. about 25 % of the world production.


Rubber Properties

What is rubber colour ?
The rough gums (natural or synthetic) present a range of colour going from the white at brown dark. Finished rubber products are mainly black due to the adjunction of carbon black to the mixing, but they could also be white, red, blue, ...

What are rubber qualities ?
Its intrinsic qualities: malleability, elasticity, great mechanical resistance, adherence to any types of surface contributed for more than a century to make rubber an essential material used by the rubber industry.

It is the only material offering such a capacity of deformation: it can usually lengthen up to 500 % and in certain cases up to 1000 % i.e. we then speak of hyperelasticity.
Rubbers preserve their elasticity when they are subjected to very great variations in temperature, from – 50 to + 150 °C. This property makes a material impossible to circumvent of it for aeronautical, space applications or under engine cowling.


Did you know that ...
Latex is frequently used as additive of other materials. It is the case of paintings for the frontages. Indeed rubber addition allows improving the sealing and the flexibility of the product. Rubber can also be incorporated into bitumens, plastics, textiles and oils.