When you examine the many benefits and properties of rubber, you’ll find that the compounding process is one of the reasons why it is the way it is. In this article, we’ll look into the rubber compounding process, explaining what you need to know about it and how it works.
An Introduction To Rubber Compounding
Without wasting much time, let’s get into the main thing – understanding rubber compounding and how it shines.
What Is Rubber Compounding?
At the very core, rubber compounding is the process of combining different raw materials in order to create the compound that becomes rubber. The rubber compound itself exhibits several characteristics and properties, with the overarching objective here being to work in different capacities and uses.
Everyone who uses rubber has their requirements for the material. So, with the rubber compounding process, the objective is simple – to ensure that the compound is really compatible with these standards and requirements and to make sure that it will be able to fulfill the use you have for it.
Rubber compounding requires a lot in terms of both raw materials and power – we’ll get to that in a bit. But, at the end of the day, the goal here is to create a rubber compound that you will be able to use for different functions, regardless of what stage or role in the manufacturing process you play.
The Principles Of Rubber Compounding
At the end of the day, it is worth remembering that everyone handles rubber compounding how they see fit. But, for the process to work, it is important to follow certain principles. These include:
- The Role of Elastomers: It will be impossible for you to even have a rubber compounding process if you don’t have an elastomer. These are rubber polymers that are essentially responsible for the rubber characteristics you get.
- A Safe, Reliable Process: For rubber compounding to work, it is important for you to also have a safe environment where things can be done. This is quite important – there are so many components involved in this process, and you need to ensure optimal safety at all times.
- Zero Contamination: Several components make up a rubber compound formulation. As the rubber compounding process goes on, you need to make sure that you don’t have any contaminants that can interrupt things or interfere with the formulation.
- Temperature Control: Like many other industrial operations, natural rubber compounding will require a significant amount of temperature control. There will be processes that would need to be performed at high temperatures, and there will be those that would need to be done at low temperatures. Finding that balance will be more than critical.
The Components Of A Rubber Compound
Next, let’s take a quick look at the rubber compound and examine the parts that make it up. You see, the rubber compounding ingredients tend to vary based on the manufacturer and what they’re trying to achieve. However, for a fully formed rubber compound to be produced, here are some critical ingredients that will need to be a part of the mix:
- The Rubber Polymer: We already pointed out the fact that you can’t have a rubber compounding process without the polymer itself. After all, there will be nothing left for the other components to react with.
- Material Fillers: You’ll need a filler to help improve some of the compound’s properties. This could be abrasion resistance, the overall strength of the material, its stability in different dimensions, anything at all.
- Plasticizers: If you’d like to make your rubber compound more flexible, then you’ll need plasticizers. These materials help to cut down on stiffness significantly, while also ensuring that you will be able to elongate the rubber material as much as you need.
- Antioxidants: You might not think that you’d see antioxidants here, but they actually help with rubber compounding. Their goal is to protect your rubber from losing its form due to degradation.
- Accelerators: The name pretty much says it all – an accelerator helps to speed up the entire chemical reaction that goes on in the rubber compounding process. This is especially important in the curing part, where the polymer chains are cross-linked and the rubber is able to achieve its final shape.
- Curing Agents: It’s pretty evident that curing is one of the most critical parts of rubber compounding. For this process, you need specific agents like sulfur that help to initiate the process and optimize it as much as possible. The result is a stable, durable rubber material.
- Processing Assistants: Finally, you have processing aids that help to optimize the rubber mixing step. With their help, you will be able to get a more consistent level of dispersion for ingredients and ensure that the compound’s processing characteristics are optimized.
To ensure that your compounding process is done right, you need to make sure that the rubber compounding formulation is also set. Proper planning and measurement will be important, as you need to set the sequence and method of mixing and the exact formulation you’re working with.
At the end of the day, you’ll get a compound that will be able to achieve your desired properties and optimize the needs you have.
Types Of Rubbers That Go With Compounding
One of the most important things you need to keep in mind when it comes to rubber compounding is that there are just so many rubber variants. We already understand the rubber compounding ingredients, but you need to know that not every type of rubber is compatible with this process going forward.
For most rubber compounding companies, these are some of the types of rubber that tend to be used with the process:
Easily the most popular rubber form, natural rubber is – as its name suggests – gotten from natural sources. Particularly, this rubber form comes from rubber trees – their latex sap is tapped, and it is processed to form the rubber polymer.
Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR)
If you’re not going to work with natural rubber, then synthetic rubber is probably the next best thing. And, among the many options, SBR rubber stands out. The material is made of butadiene and styrene, and because it mimics a lot of the properties of natural rubber, many manufacturers actually use it as a possible substitute for the latter.
Also known as BR rubber, this synthetic option is made by the processing of different butadiene polymer units. The material is used in different industries and forms, with its strength being its major selling point.
You mostly IR rubber in automotive components and footwear. The material is gotten from monomers of isoprene, and it is another synthetic rubber option that works a lot like natural rubber itself.
The term “fluoroelastomer” is actually a reference to a family of materials such as Viton. These are synthetic rubbers that mostly come with fluorine content. And with their impressive ability to resist chemical action, they work a lot in industrial functions.
Known for its ability to restrict the entry of gases, butyl rubber is a rubber option that works in different industrial applications as well. The material is made by combining isobutylene with a very tiny amount of isoprene, and you can also add it as a rubber-compounding ingredient.
The Rubber Compounding Process
At this point, you should already get a bit of a better angle on what rubber compounding is and why the process has become so popular. Now, let’s look at the process in-depth – how does the rubber compounding process work, and what are the steps that need to be taken to ensure that it is seamless:
Get Your Materials & Measure Them
We’d assume that you already have your rubber compounding ingredients. Once you do, measure them and get ready for the compounding process.
With the weighing process done, proceed to mix your ingredients perfectly. Tools like internal mixers and two-roll mills can help with this, ensuring that you get a more uniform ingredient distribution across the board.
This process is followed by what is known as mastication – essentially, you’re working the rubber compound and breaking down any excessively large polymer chains in order to ensure that additives and other materials can properly be distributed.
Once you can achieve a homogenous blend, you’re good to go.
Which Do You Prefer? Extrusion Or Calendering?
Here, you have to choose the next processing step – would you prefer to calender the material or extrude it?
With calendering, you essentially take the material through different rollers. On the flip side, extrusion requires passing your rubber compound through different rollers. It is quite similar to the silicone extrusion process, and the results are similar as well.
Whatever you choose, the result is the same – you’re able to create a specific shape and form for your rubber; one that is ready to go on to the next processing stage.
Break The Material Further
You can implement pelletization or cutting to process the rubber into manageable sizes, which can be further processed down the line.
Vulcanize Your Rubber
This is one of the most critical steps in the entire rubber compounding process. With the use of heat and pressure, you form cross-links between the different polymer chains that make up your material.
Vulcanization is usually done in the presence of curing agents, and it leads to the rubber material being transformed into a three-dimensional form. A further benefit of the process is the improvement in characteristics like elasticity, strength, and abrasion resistance.
You Can Implement Post-Curing Processes
This isn’t necessary, but post-curing will help to improve the mechanical properties of your rubber product. You essentially add heat to it for a period, after which you should see some noticeable changes.
Test Your Product & Finalize It
At this point, you’re almost done. All you have to do is implement the right quality control measures to see that your rubber meets the right production and operating standards. From there, add steps like shaping and molding to process it into the final product, and you’re pretty much ready to take it to the market.
Package it and send it to the customers – or store it for some time instead.
Major Applications of Rubber Compounding
With a proper look into how the rubber compounding process works, let’s now examine some of the areas where compounding will need to be implemented to ensure that rubber products are reliable and effective.
Making Vehicles & Automotive Components
Whether it is improving rubber’s wear resistance and traction balance for making tires or helping the material to effectively work in the development of gaskets and seals, compounding ensures that rubber is as effective and as reliable as possible.
Developing A Broad Range Of Industrial Products
With compounding, we can optimize characteristics of the materials like flexibility and its ability to resist wear. This way, the material easily helps in developing components like rollers, conveyor belts, bushings, and much more.
Use In The Construction Industry
As it is in developing industrial products, gaskets and seals made of rubber are also effective in the infrastructure and construction space. Here, the material’s vibration-damping properties help to make isolation mounts, which help to prolong the lifespan of machines.
Electrical Tool Manufacturing
One of the many impressive characteristics of rubber is the fact that the material easily repels electrical current and forces. As a result, it is a very solid insulator – and this feature will come in very handy when the time comes to make cables, seals, grommets, and more.
Applications In The Medical Space
There are alot of medical devices that use rubber in the manufacturing process – from gloves to tubes and much more. Many of these tools use rubber’s flexibility and biocompatibility to their advantage, and the rubber compounding basics help to ensure that these properties can easily be optimized.
Consumer Goods Development
Sports tools require rubber’s ability to grip, while footwear needs the material since it resists slippage and much more. Whatever functionalities and features are needed, the rubber compounding basics help to improve them.
Planes & Aerospace Manufacturing
Vibration dampers, gaskets, seals, and much more are used in aerospace development to optimize the use of planes and some of their components.
Applications In the Marine Industry
The material does well when it comes to protecting against things like oxidation and exposure to water, and this means that it works very well in making things like ships and other marine vehicles.
Possible Challenges & Drawbacks Of Rubber Compounding
There is no doubt that rubber compounding is a reliable and versatile process that can lead to the development of a strong, flexible rubber material. Still, you need to also be aware of different challenges and drawbacks that could interfere with the success of your process.
Here is a quick breakdown of these challenges, as well as possible strategies to work around them:
The Cost Might Be High
At the end of the day, everyone wants to optimize costs. But when it comes to rubber compounding, you might find that the process is a bit pricey.
The Eco-Friendly Factor
You also need to be aware of the environmental toll that rubber compounding takes. The rubber compounding process leads to a lot of waste generation, and you will most likely incur some environmental costs when disposing of this waste.
Besides this, you also need to consider the fact that some rubber compounds might not be so recyclable. Because of additives and material complexity, many of these products might not be so recyclable, and you might end up with products that won’t end up being broken down.
The Formulations Can Get Complex
As you can imagine, there’s a lot that goes into achieving the right balance of properties when you’re creating the rubber compounding formulation.
When it comes to formulations, you need to be especially precise here. Be very accurate in combining the rubber-compounding ingredients, and make sure that you avoid any changes or contamination as much as possible.
Cater To The Formulators
You also need to ensure that the people working on this process are as safe as possible. Some of the chemicals that are used in this process can pose health and safety risks to the workers, so be sure to keep everything safe and manage the situation well.
Compounded Rubber Might Not Last Long
Generally, you might find that there are rubber compounds that probably don’t last so long. If you store them too long, you might notice that their properties change over time. So, we would recommend that you be careful with your formulations and ensure that you only make enough material that you need.
Rubber compounding provides a lot of benefits for manufacturers. And at Legenday, we can always help provide more insights for you to learn more. Reach out to us if you need more insights, or if you’d like to access high-quality compounded rubber.