Rubber is one of those valuable materials that humans have been using since time immemorial. From a simple hair-band to car-tires, rubber products come in thousands of avatars and benefit humanity in innumerable ways. It is so omnipotent that it is plain unimaginable to think of modern civilization without it. Undoubtedly, the discovery of rubber was one of the greatest of all time. It was the South American Indian natives, who first discovered the many benefits of natural rubber. Besides making clothes and shoes with rubber, they used it for various other purposes. Gradually people in the others parts of the world also came to know about this material. However, natural rubber – the substance derived from latex – has several limitations. It becomes stone-hard at high temperatures, and brittle with a drop in it. In 1839 synthetic rubber was invented that helped overcome these shortcomings. This invention paved the way for modern elastomer products that seem to be everywhere in today’s polymer era.
Process that Creates Elastomers
The process through which elastomers are created is known as ‘vulcanization’. Charles Goodyear, a 19th century chemist and manufacturer, discovered this process when he accidentally added sulfur to natural rubber. This unintentional action helped harden the natural latex and thus the first generation elastomer was born.
Today’s elastomer manufacturers use an upgraded vulcanization process to mass-produce sturdy, long-lasting synthetic rubber products. This process causes a chemical transformation of the polymer chains structure. This changes the physical and mechanical properties of natural rubber permanently.
There are many varieties of elastomers, some important ones being Neoprene, Acrylic, Urethane, Isoprene, Styrene-Butadiene, Butyl, Nitril and Butadiene.
Properties that Define Them
As opposed to natural rubber, these synthetic rubber products have very stable properties, and can be used to suit a specific need. They are highly elastic and resilient. You can apply force to compress, bend or stretch them. Remove the stress and they will come back to their original form. Because of this unique property, elastomers are one of the most dynamic material types available in the market today and serve in a number of important capacities.
The deformation lasts for as long as a you apply force. As you withdraw force, it resumes its original shape, and the time it takes to do that defines how resilient it is.
Besides being elastic and resilient, elastomer products also exhibit some excellent mechanical properties. They also provide fairly good electrical and thermal insulation. In addition, gases, water and steam cannot permeate them easily.
The Industrial and Commercial Use of Elastomers
Thanks to their outstanding properties, elastomer items are used as sturdy engineering materials in wide-ranging commercial applications. Here are some of the industries where elastomers are extensively used:
Automotive: Cars use a range of elastomer parts that range from tires and tubes to rubber seals. Other rubber items used in vehicles include tuned mass dampers, covers for various equipment, pipes, hoses, boots, sleeves and more.
Aerospace: In this industry, elastomer is used to manufacture air management ducts, diaphragms, air spring systems, interior foils, hose and hose lines.
Defense: Militaries around the world leverages elastomers in innumerable ways. Different varieties of the material are used to coat radar and other defense equipment. In addition, some typical army items such as camouflage netting and low RCS antennas are also made of elastomers.
Highway and flight safety: A range of passenger protection devices including seat belt, impact absorbers and seat-padding are made of elastomers.
Health care: Elastomer products are extensively used in the medical sector these days. Some of them include surgical equipment, dental implants, artificial limbs, artificial organs, wheel chairs and beds, heath monitoring devices, and more.
Sports: From protective gear for athletes such as helmet to shoes and other sports equipment, today’s sportsmen depend heavily on the stuff made of this sturdy yet flexible material.
We might not pay attention to it, but elastomer products are an integral part of our daily living. From aerospace to road safety, and from health care to sports, they are everywhere, literally. No wonder, they have been labeled as one of the major inventions of modern times, and justly so.