Why Rubber Is Still Vital in Today’s World

Though largely uncelebrated, rubber is a crucial material that supports many of the groundbreaking innovations and engineering projects we rely on today. Its simplicity, infinite malleability and customizable properties make it a material of choice in almost every industry.

Since its inception, rubber has been used to manufacture everything from clothing, kitchen utensils, vehicle parts, tools and even weapons. And rather than fade over time, this versatile material has only become more useful with the discovery of its polymers and synthetic rubber. 

Before we dive further into the value and relevance of rubber in today’s industries, let’s take a quick lesson in history and current rubber statistics across the world.

The History of Rubber

Though natural rubber (latex) has been known and used by humans as long ago as 1600 BC, it was made popular in the manufacturing industry when Charles Goodyear developed the first process for hardening rubber in the 1800s, what is now termed vulcanization. Then a major leap forward occurred in 1930, when the first synthetic rubber, neoprene, was invented by American chemists.

Synthetic rubber products soon took over the market, as the thermal stability and corrosion-resistant properties of synthetic rubber made it a desirable replacement for natural rubber. Today, the global synthetic market is estimated to be about $19.1 billion and is expected to rise to $23.2 billion by 2026. Many new polymers have been developed since neoprene, including silicone rubber, styrene-butadiene rubbers and nitrile-based rubbers.

Rubber has been used ever since in almost every major industry all over the world. It is used in the automotive industry for producing rubber tires and tubing — about 75 percent of the world’s rubber is used in manufacturing vehicle tires. It is also used in agriculture, construction, aerospace/aviation, textile manufacturing, mining, petroleum exploration, printing, healthcare and power generation.

It can be easily molded into valuable shapes and devices such as o-rings, gaskets and other sealing devices. Rubber seals are highly resistant to wear and tear caused by friction and can operate under very high temperatures and pressures.

Why Do We Still Use Rubber in Today’s Industries?

Rubber is still used in modern-day industry because it is inexpensive, reliable and extremely easy to work with. It is a very malleable material; hence, it can be shaped into different forms and sizes as needed, from small parts of equipment to larger machine features. 

In recent times, rubber can also be made resistant to specific working conditions by adding substances such as fluorine, chlorine, carbon and sulfur. Fluorocarbon rubbers, for example, are resistant to water and other solvents. If necessary, different types of rubbers can be mixed in varying proportions to produce a material with desirable characteristics.

Another reason why rubber is so common in industries is its widespread availability. Almost all of the world’s rubber (both natural and synthetic) comes from southeast Asia (about 90 percent). Thailand is the largest exporter of natural rubber products, and China is the largest manufacturer of synthetic rubber. The low cost of labor in these regions, as well as the relative simplicity of manufacturing rubber products, means that these products can be cheaply made and shipped around the world.

If your business relies on rubber products such as seals and gaskets like so many manufacturing businesses today, a reliable supplier is invaluable. For a manufacturing material that is as common as rubber, it is surprisingly difficult to find reliable suppliers. Faulty rubber products or missed delivery dates can lead to equipment breakdown, defects in manufactured goods, unexpected cost factors and product delays, all of which are bad for your business. By working with a trusted local supplier, you eliminate any supply chain issues, which keeps your manufacturing operation running smoothly.

The Future of Rubber in Manufacturing

Rubber is arguably the foundation of today’s industrial world, and it will continue to be part of every industry for many years to come. Until another material is discovered or developed that can provide the range of uses that rubber boasts (which is highly unlikely), this ubiquitous material is going to be a mainstay of manufacturing processes for a long time to come.