How is Rubber made

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How Is Rubber Made: Everything You Need To Know

From the tyres on our vehicles to the waterproof boots we wear during the rainy season, rubber is an essential and versatile material in our everyday lives. Have you ever wondered how is rubber made, including its origins, types, and production processes? In this fascinating journey, we will explore the world of rubber, including both natural and synthetic types, their properties and uses, as well as the history and innovations that have shaped this incredible material.

Understanding Rubber: Natural and Synthetic Types

A picture of a rubber tree with latex dripping from its bark

Rubber, a material that has been with us for centuries, can be derived from either natural or synthetic sources. Natural rubber is harvested from the latex of the Hevea brasiliensis tree, which boasts incredible strength, flexibility, and adhesion to various materials.


On the other hand, synthetic rubber, made from petrochemicals, offers resistance to abrasion, grease, oil, heat, and even flames while maintaining flexibility at low temperatures. The development of synthetic rubbers has led to a vast array of varieties, each with its unique properties and uses.


Indeed, rubber is made to suit different needs, making it a truly versatile material.

Natural Rubber: Origins and Properties

Natural rubber has its origins in latex of certain plants, most notably the Hevea brasiliensis tree. This amazing polymer is composed of long, tangled chains of isoprene that lend rubber its remarkable elasticity.


Natural rubber is characterised by its exceptional strength and flexibility, which makes it an ideal material for a wide range of applications, from tyres to waterproof clothing.

Synthetic Rubber: Development and Varieties

Synthetic rubber, a man-made alternative to natural rubber, is created using petrochemicals and boasts a variety of properties that make it suitable for numerous applications. Among the most important synthetic rubbers commercially are styrene butadiene (SBR), polyacrylics, and polyvinyl acetate (PVA).


Synthetic rubber is produced through an exciting process called polymerisation, where monomers such as butadiene, styrene, isoprene, chloroprene, ethylene, and propylene are combined, resulting in chains of polymers that can be shaped and vulcanised to create rubber products.

The Production Process of Natural Rubber

Natural rubber undergoes a fascinating series of processes before reaching its final form. The production process begins with rubber tapping, where latex is collected from rubber trees. The latex is then filtered, washed, and reacted with acid to coagulate it, making it easier to work with.


Next, the rubber undergoes mastication, a process in which machines “chew up” the raw material to make it softer, easier to work with, and more sticky. Additional chemical ingredients are mixed to improve the rubber’s properties, and the material is shaped into the desired form.


Finally, the rubber is strengthened through the vulcanisation process, wherein sulfur is added and the rubber is heated to make it harder and more durable.

A picture of a rubber tree with latex dripping from its bark and collecting it in a bucket

Harvesting Latex from Rubber Trees

The process of harvesting latex from rubber trees, known as tapping, involves making a cut in the tree’s bark, allowing the milky latex to seep out and be collected. This process is repeated every two days, ensuring a steady supply of raw material for rubber production.


Once collected, the latex is filtered, washed, and treated with acid to coagulate it, making it easier to process into rubber.

Processing Latex into Rubber

Once the latex has been harvested and treated, it undergoes a series of processing steps to transform it into rubber. These steps include filtering and washing to remove impurities, reacting with acid to coagulate the latex, and prevulcanisation, a process that involves treating the latex sheets with chemicals and gentle heating.


The extracted mixture is then passed through rollers to remove excess water, and the layers of rubber are hung to dry before being folded into bales ready for further processing.

Vulcanisation: Strengthening Rubber

Vulcanisation is a critical process in strengthening rubber, making it harder and more durable. In this heat treatment, sulfur is added to the rubber, and the material is heated to about 140°C (280°F) in an autoclave. 


The addition of sulfur atoms forms extra bonds between the rubber molecules, known as cross-links, tying the molecules together and making them much harder.


This process, discovered by Charles Goodyear in 1839, revolutionised the rubber industry and allowed for the creation of a wide range of products.

Click the following link for more information on the uses and benefits of vulcanised rubber.

vulcanisation of rubber

Manufacturing Synthetic Rubber

Once the latex has been harvested and treated, it undergoes a series of processing steps to transform it into rubber. These steps include filtering and washing to remove impurities, reacting with acid to coagulate the latex, and prevulcanisation, a process that involves treating the latex sheets with chemicals and gentle heating.


The extracted mixture is then passed through rollers to remove excess water, and the layers of rubber are hung to dry before being folded into bales ready for further processing.

Petrochemical Origins

The origins of synthetic rubber can be traced back to petroleum-based chemicals. These chemicals are combined through an exciting process called polymerisation to produce synthetic rubber.


The resulting polymer can then be processed and vulcanised to create the final rubber product, which boasts various desirable properties, such as resistance to abrasion, grease, oil, and heat.

Common Types of Synthetic Rubber

Among the common types of synthetic rubber are Polychloroprene (Neoprene), Polybutadiene, and Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). Neoprene is highly resistant to oil, heat, and weathering, making it ideal for use in rubber gaskets, hoses, and other industrial applications.


Polybutadiene, known for its resilience, is used in the production of tyres, conveyor belts, and other industrial applications. SBR, with its high abrasion resistance and good elasticity, is commonly found in tyres, hoses, and other industrial applications as well.

Production Techniques

Silicone rubber can be produced through various methods, including injection molding, compression molding, transfer molding, extrusion, and calendering. Depending on the type of silicone rubber, the processing techniques can be classified as high-temperature curing process (HTV) or low-temperature curing process (RTV).


Each method offers unique advantages in terms of production efficiency, product quality, and material properties, making silicone rubber a versatile and highly customisable material.

Silicone Rubber: A Unique Alternative

Silicone rubber stands out from natural rubber due to its different atomic structure, which features a silicon-oxygen backbone instead of carbon-carbon bonds. 


This unique structure makes silicone rubber more resistant to various environmental factors, such as temperature changes and chemical exposure, while maintaining its desirable mechanical properties.


The production of silicone rubber involves a combination of processes, including polymerisation, condensation, and curing, resulting in a material that is highly suitable for a wide range of applications.


For more information on silicone rubber click here.

Atomic Structure and Characteristics


Silicone rubber’s atomic structure sets it apart from natural rubber. It features a siloxane backbone consisting of silicon and oxygen atoms, along with other elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. This unique structure imparts silicone rubber with outstanding resistance to various environmental factors, making it an ideal material for applications in harsh conditions or where long-term durability is required.


Silicone rubber is highly resistant to extreme temperatures, UV radiation, osone, and other environmental factors. It also has excellent electrical insulation properties, making it an excellent electrical insulation product.


Production Process


The production process of silicone rubber involves several steps, including the extraction of pure silicon, which is then combined with methyl chloride and exposed to heat, resulting in the formation of polydimethylsiloxane.


Subsequent steps include polymerisation, molding or extrusion, and curing, which ultimately yield silicone rubber products with the desired properties and characteristics.


Applications and Uses


Silicone rubber boasts a wide range of applications across various industries, including aerospace, construction, electronics, and medical fields. It is commonly used for sealing, encapsulation, potting, insulating, and bonding, among other purposes.


Its unique properties, such as biocompatibility and radiation resistance, make silicone rubber a highly attractive material for specialised applications where other types of rubber may not be suitable.

Rubber in Everyday Life: Common Uses and Applications

synthetic rubber in tyres

Rubber’s unique physical and chemical properties make it an indispensable material in our everyday lives. From waterproof clothing and wellington boots to vehicle tyres and electrical cables, rubber serves a multitude of purposes, ensuring functionality, durability, and convenience in a wide range of products.


Its versatility is further exemplified by the countless industrial and consumer applications it supports, making rubber an essential part of modern life.


Tyres and Transportation


Both natural and synthetic rubber play a crucial role in the production of tyres and other automotive components. The outstanding tear strength of natural rubber, even when subjected to high temperatures caused by friction, makes it an ideal material for high-performance vehicle tyres.


Furthermore, synthetic rubber’s resistance to abrasion, grease, oil, heat, and flames ensures the longevity and reliability of automotive components such as brake pads, airbags, and seals.


Waterproofing and Insulation


Rubber’s innate water-resistant properties make it a popular choice for waterproofing applications. From roofing membranes and pond liners to rubber boots and gloves, rubber provides an effective barrier against moisture, ensuring the protection and longevity of various structures and products.


Furthermore, rubber’s insulating properties make it a suitable material for electrical cables and other components, offering enhanced safety and performance.


Other Industrial and Consumer Uses


Beyond tyres, waterproofing, and insulation, rubber serves a variety of other industrial and consumer applications. Rubber shoes offer comfort and durability, while rubber gloves provide protection during various tasks. Additionally, rubber bands are a staple in office and household settings, demonstrating the versatility and utility of this remarkable material.


Rubber’s diverse applications reflect its unique properties and the countless ways in which it enriches our daily lives.


A Brief History of Rubber: From Discovery to Modern Innovations

The history of rubber stretches back thousands of years to the indigenous peoples of South America, who first utilised rubber for medicinal and ritual purposes. Fast forward to the 18th century, Charles Goodyear’s accidental discovery of the vulcanisation process revolutionised the rubber industry, making rubber the versatile and durable material we know today.


The rise of synthetic rubber during World War II further expanded rubber’s applications, solidifying its importance in modern life.


Early Uses and Discoveries


Rubber’s early uses can be traced back to the Olmecs of Mesoamerica, who utilised it for medicinal and ritual purposes. It was not until Charles de la Condamine’s scientific study in 1735 that the properties and potential applications of rubber began to be understood.


Since then, rubber has been transformed from a material with limited uses to an essential component of countless products thanks to innovations and discoveries throughout history.


Charles Goodyear and Vulcanisation


Charles Goodyear’s invention of the vulcanisation process in 1839 marked a turning point in the rubber industry. Vulcanisation, which involves the addition of sulfur and heat to create extra bonds between rubber molecules, significantly strengthened rubber, making it harder and more durable.


This breakthrough allowed for the creation of a wide array of rubber products, from tyres and waterproof clothing to industrial components, and cemented rubber’s status as a vital material in modern life.


The Rise of Synthetic Rubber


The development of synthetic rubber, a cost-effective alternative to natural rubber, was spurred by the needs of World War II. Produced from petrochemicals, synthetic rubber offered unique properties that made it suitable for various applications, including tyres, hoses, gaskets, and seals.


Today, synthetic rubber continues to be a vital material in various industries, demonstrating the adaptability and versatility of rubber in meeting the ever-changing demands of modern society.


Throughout this fascinating exploration of rubber, we have unveiled the origins, types, and production processes of this versatile material. 


From natural rubber harvested from rubber trees to synthetic alternatives created from petrochemicals, rubber has come a long way since its earliest uses in Mesoamerica. Its unique properties, from elasticity and durability to water resistance and insulation, have made rubber an indispensable part of modern life, supporting a myriad of applications in various industries and everyday products.


As we continue to innovate and discover new ways to utilise rubber, it remains a testament to human ingenuity and the limitless potential of this remarkable material.

Rubber Rolls

Popular Rubber Questions

How is rubber made step by step?

Making rubber is an intricate process involving four main steps: Compounding, Mixing, Shaping and Vulcanisation. First, the rubber base is compounded with chemicals to create rubber compounds. Then, additives are mixed into the rubber to improve its properties.


Next, the rubber is shaped into the desired form before it undergoes vulcanisation, which binds together the molecules of the rubber and stabilises it. Finally, the finished rubber product is ready for use.

Is rubber made from trees or oil?

Despite the fact that rubber can be produced from crude oil, natural rubber is still made from trees! That’s right, the rubber found in tyres and everyday products like erasers actually comes from a tree’s sap.


How does rubber become rubber?

Rubber is produced from latex extracted from rubber trees. First, the bark of the tree is cut into strips or blocks to create a wound that allows the sap to ooze out. The liquid latex is collected and then filtered to remove impurities before it is further processed.

Finally, the liquid latex is processed into a solid form called vulcanised rubber, which is used to make products like tyres, shoes, and more. Excitingly, this process has allowed us to make use of the amazing material known as rubber!

Are tyres still made from rubber trees?

Yes, tyres are still made from rubber trees! Gutta-percha, a material derived from the latex of para rubber trees, is still widely used in the tire production process. Around 90% of gutta-percha plantations are concentrated in Southeast Asia and many sources now use synthetic rubber as well.

Where does rubber come from?

Natural rubber comes from the Pará rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, native to the Amazon basin. It’s obtained from latex, a milky liquid found in the latex vessels or cells of certain species. This unique plant is capable of producing around 20,000 species of plants, with only 2,500 containing rubber in their latex.

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