The role of rubber in today’s manufacturing landscape has continued to expand in different forms. Whether it’s in making tools for cars or building some of the everyday items that we use daily, rubber is easily one of the most popular materials.
The thing is, though, that every manufacturer also needs to have a handle on the type of rubber they work with. This way, you end up making the right choice and can align your use with the material itself.
Understanding the different types of rubber available should help you know which one to use. Today, natural rubber is easily one of the most notable variants of the rubber build that we have. In this article, we’ll explain what natural rubber is, as well as look into how the material is made.
Where Does Natural Rubber Come From?
To get us started, let’s look into the primary question when it comes to natural rubber – where does natural rubber come from? You see, unlike most forms of rubber, natural rubber isn’t man-made – those are synthetic rubbers. Instead, the material is gotten from the latex sap of what is called the rubber tree – particularly, the Hevea brasiliensis. This tree is primarily found in the Amazon rainforest, which, as we all know, stretches across several countries in South America. However, the tree itself is especially prominent in countries like Peru and Brazil.
By taking this latex sap from the rubber tree, manufacturers can essentially process natural rubber and turn it into a more refined material – the process here is what is known as “tapping,” and we will look into it later. But, the important thing here is to remember that the rubber tree is where this material comes from.
Just as well, there have been some technological improvements that have helped optimize the process of making natural rubber over the years. These improvements have cut across every part of the production process, allowing manufacturers to improve their processes significantly while also achieving the same – or even higher – levels of output. Some of these advancements include:
High-Yielding Varieties of Rubber Trees:
Easily the most significant of these developments has been the advent of high-yield rubber tree varieties. These trees have been obtained through operations like genetic engineering and breeding, and they have significantly helped to optimize the production of the latex sap that ends up becoming natural rubber.
Besides the improved output, these trees are also notable for being able to resist things like pests, diseases, and other harmful environmental conditions.
Automation In Tapping Systems
Traditionally, rubber tapping used to involve a lot of manual labor. Tappers would need to make incisions in the bark of the trees themselves, and this process was both time-consuming and very laborious.
Today, we’re seeing something different. Automation has been able to help streamline the tapping process, and this has cut down on the risk of damage to both the trees and the tappers. At the same time, it has improved the efficiency of latex production and collection significantly, so it’s a win-win.
Precision Agriculture and Monitoring
Remote sensing, GPS tracking, and other precision agriculture technologies can be used to ensure that rubber plantations are properly monitored. With this, resources can properly be allocated, and manufacturers can be able to properly manage what they use.
Biotechnology for Disease Resistance
Today, one of the biggest challenges for many agricultural teams is disease and pest control. Many diseases tend to proliferate, leaving rubber trees with a significantly lower shelf life. Advancements in biotechnology have ensured that these diseases can be detected and eradicated before they fester for too long.
Harvesting Practices That Improve The Environment
For a while now, environmental sustainability has been a major part of rubber manufacturers’ operations. As such, there have been several improvements to rubber manufacturing processes that have focused on ensuring that the environment can be protected at all costs.
Primarily, these practices focus on ensuring that latex can be taken without necessarily tapping the tree and also reducing the entire environmental impact of the process. This way, stress can be reduced on the trees, and the lifetime of the trees themselves can be prolonged
The Processing Of Natural Rubber
With a proper understanding of where natural rubber comes from and how it differs from synthetic options, let’s take a look at how it is made. Generally, manufacturers have different strategies for producing this material. However, the overall process tends to work a little like this:
The Trees Are First Cultivated
Well, you can’t have natural rubber without the trees that produce it. So, the first step is to cultivate the Hevea brasiliensis. This process is usually done in large plantations, with tropical regions that provide the perfect weather for it all.
Under the right conditions and with the proper technological additions, this process should go on smoothly.
The Sap Is Tapped
Generally, the real process of making natural rubber begins with the tapping of the latex sap from the rubber tree. Here, incisions are placed in the bark of the rubber tree with a knife, allowing the latex to flow out.
As the material flows, it is collected in tiny containers. These bowls are usually attached to the tree, so the collection process can be as seamless and easy as possible. It’s important to note that most tappers tend to work in the mornings so they can optimize the flow of the latex material as much as possible.
Adding Processing Agents
The next step is to take the latex sap through a process known as coagulation. Essentially, you add agents to the sap, allowing the rubber particles to get stronger. The process leads to the development of rubber sheets, which are a major part of the entire production process.
Wash Your Rubber and dry It
Now, you’re already getting processed rubber. But, you need to also clear the material to take out any impurities and other coagulating agents that might remain on its form.
Once the rubber is washed, you can roll it and lay it out to dry. This process can be done naturally with the sun, or you could employ artificial and mechanical drying methods instead. A reduced amount of moisture content helps to keep the quality of the rubber, so this is very important.
Some Manufacturers Smoke Their Rubber
There are some notable cases where manufacturers also subject their rubber to a smoking process. The entire point of this is to help preserve the rubber and give it that notable brown color.
Now, you need to remember that this step is optional. So, if your intended use doesn’t require smoking, there’s not much of a reason to do it.
Run Final Tests And You’re Set
Quality control is a critical part of any manufacturing process, and rubber manufacturing isn’t left out of this. You need to make sure that the rubber meets your standards, and that it is of the highest quality.
Package & Ship It Out
If your quality control steps show that something is missing, then you need to get it fixed. But, if you get the green light, then you can compress the rubber into the form you need and send it out to the final users.
Limitations Of The Natural Rubber Process
Manufacturing processes tend to be quite finicky – you think you have everything you need and can proceed in one minute, and in the other, you find that there is one issue or the other with the entire process and you have to begin anew.
For rubber manufacturing, there is a lot to be considered. And, several challenges tend to come in the way of your success. Here are some of them, as well as a few strategies that could potentially help you to overcome them:
Rubber Trees Are Susceptible To Diseases
Like other agricultural products, rubber trees tend to have a bit of a vulnerability to diseases. The South American Leaf Blight is one of the most prominent diseases that can affect this tree, but there are so many others that you need to be aware of.
This is why it is important to invest in technology that can help ensure that your trees are disease-resistant and to also implement effective disease remediation strategies.
The Trees Can Be Sensitive To The Environment
Another major challenge of rubber trees is that they require a very specific range of climate conditions for them to grow and reach their potential. These trees do best in tropical regions, where temperatures are warm and humidity is high.
With climate change being a major topic and challenge at the moment, there’s a higher chance of witnessing extreme weather events that will affect the cultivation of these trees. As a result, latex production will drop, and output will fall as well.
Tapping Takes Effort
As we said earlier, the whole traditional tapping process for natural rubber is very labor-intensive. Besides that, you need to be very skilled to work this process. You could choose to automate the process, but if that will be too expensive for you, then training your staff on how to do this right is critical.
Catering To The Environment
There’s no doubt about the fact that the environment has become a major focus for many manufacturers today. And, rubber plantations tend to have impacts like habitat destruction and deforestation.
Sure, rubber production brings a lot of economic benefits. But, there needs to be a way to balance the effects of this and the impacts on the environment.
You Have To Deal With Price Volatility
The prices of natural rubber are usually subject to fluctuations in the market. As you can imagine, this volatility will affect your ability to turn a profit if you’re a manufacturer. Uncertainties like these tend to be quite destabilizing.
What Is Natural Rubber Used For?
Of all the types of rubber available, natural rubber is easily one of the most popular. It’s used across different industries and spaces, with manufacturers and product users finding much application for it.
Today, some of the more notable applications of natural rubber include:
Making Tires For Cars
Easily the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of natural rubber should be vehicle tires. The material is elastic and strong enough, and its impressive grip means that tires made with it won’t just skid off the road.
Shoes For Everyone
You can also see the material being used in making footwear. Whether it’s a pair of sandals or those big boots, natural rubber’s durability and flexibility means that they can be used to develop both insoles and outoles.
Use In The Industrial Space
When it comes to industrial applications, we mostly see natural rubber working in things like hoses and conveyor belts. The material resists abrasion, and this means that it is especially effective in helping these industrial components achieve efficiency.
Making Gloves In Medicine
As for the medical space, natural rubber mostly works in glove creation. The material lends its elasticity and biocompatible nature to this, and you can also see it being used in developing syringe plungers and catheters.
Making Consumer Products
A lot of the everyday goods that we use also require natural rubber. Toys, rubber bands, and other household items rely significantly on this, with natural rubebr’s flexibility coming in especially handy.
Additional Components For Cars
We already touched on the material’s use in making tires. But, natural rubber also helps to create components like seals, gaskets, and bushings. The material soaks in a lot of vibrations, so you can imagine that it comes in very handy here.
One of the most prominent features of natural rubber is that it has excellent water resistance. As such, if you need something to work in this regard – whether it’s making rainwear or waterproofing materials – you can always count on the material to work.
Tools For Electrical Insulation
In the electricity sector, we can see natural rubber being used to ensure optimal insulation against current. Whether this means working as protective gear for people or making components for electronics, this functionality comes in very handy as you’d imagine.
Use In The Agricultural Sector
At the same time, you can see the material being used to make agricultural products like seals and parts for farm equipment. Since it doesn’t wear or tear, it ensures that these equipment will be able to last long.
Natural rubber has become one of the most popular materials around, and it’s easy to see why. With its flexibility and versatility, the material works for a broad range of applications and industries, while also being quite easy to produce.
If you’d like to learn more about this or get access to the best natural rubber products, we at Legenday will be more than happy to help you out. Reach out to us today, and let’s get started.