Rubber is something that humans have used for centuries. Tough and durable, its uses are vast – from essential machinery components made by companies like this rubber moulding UK based company Meadex.co.uk to the much-loved rubber ducks that many children (and adults!) enjoy sharing bath time with!
Early rubber was all from the natural world, and it is only as industry and technology has improved, and demand has increased for rubber, that scientists have come up with new and innovative ways to create it themselves.
Rubber in its natural form comes from a sap that types of trees and plants produce. There are actually thousands of species of plants that can be used to produce this sap (known as latex) but by far the most commonly used in rubber production is the tree Hevea Brasiliensis, which has become known more commonly as the rubber tree.
These native South American trees have been producing rubber for humans for many thousands of years. The rubber is collected by doing something known as rubber tapping – this is done by a skilled person who makes a cut into the bark of the tree then as the runny sap pours out it is collected in containers. This sap is rubber in its purest form.
To stop this substance from becoming solid, acid and ammonia need to be added to the liquid to keep it in a liquid form and from there it is ready to be processed. It is put through rollers which squeeze the water out, and then the rubber is hung up on large racks to dry out. After a week or so, the rubber is fully dry and can be baled and sent off to the factories where it is then used to make all sorts of things!
Depending on what the rubber is going to be used for the processing of it may differ, but generally the first thing that is done when it arrives at the processing facility is that more chemicals are added to it to make it more durable and resistant to things like the cold – left untreated, it could become more brittle in colder temperatures, or in hot temperatures.
Once this is done and it has been mixed and cooled down, it will usually go through a heat treatment process. This is known as vulcanisation, and it increases the durability of the rubber. This is actually a process that came about entirely by accident – Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped some rubber onto a hot hob and realised that this intense heat had actually made the rubber much stronger! So today it is something that is used to improve the strength of the rubber we use!
Once this has been done, the rubber than then finally be shaped and formed into the product it is going to become – whether a tyre or a rubber duck!