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What is the Vulcanisation of Rubber?

Rubber comes in all shapes and sizes, either in its natural form or as a synthetic material, also referred to as an elastomer, that is manufactured by expert elastomer engineers; such as us here at DLR Elastomer Engineering. All types of rubber can be put through the vulcanisation process, which seeks to improve the elasticity and strength of rubber.

Whilst natural rubber is produced from latex; the milky liquid drawn from the rubber tree, also known as the Hevea Brasiliensis, this rubber turns into a soft and sticky substance referred to as crude rubber once it has coagulated. This crude rubber can then be vulcanised to create an elastic form of natural rubber for use in a range of applications. Similarly, synthetic rubber has elastic properties similar to those of natural rubber thanks to its chemical composition. This means that synthetic rubber products can also go through the vulcanisation process.

If you are wondering what the vulcanisation of rubber is, read on to find out more about the process and why we undertake it.

What we refer to as the vulcanisation process was invented by Charles Goodyear in 1839. Almost two centuries later, this process is still commonly used today. However, it is often thought that the earliest known civilization in Mexico, the Olmecs, combined the boiled sap of the rubber tree with a type of vine sap to create a primitive form of vulcanised rubber that was then used to waterproof their clothing.

From here, in 1820, chemist Charles Macintosh and inventor Thomas Hancock refined this process by dissolving natural rubber in benzene and heating it to produce the world’s first mass-produced rubber sheeting. This was then used to create the infamous Mackintosh waterproof fabric that is still commonly used today. This material was further defined by Charles Goodyear to vulcanise rubber for the manufacture of car tyres.

What is the vulcanisation process?

As the name implies, vulcanisation comes from the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. In reference to its namesake, vulcanisation transforms a rubber compound into an elastic material that can be deformed without being damaged. This means that the rubber can now be stretched and compressed over a wide range of temperatures to manufacture a range of different rubber products.

Put simply, vulcanisation is the process of curing elastomers, including synthetic and natural rubber materials. This process involves the treatment of natural rubber with sulphur or other curatives such as peroxide and metal oxides. In doing so, this forms cross-links between the polymer chain to produce a rubber that has excellent rigidity and incredible durability.

What are the benefits of vulcanised rubber?

The vulcanisation of rubber causes it to shrink, whilst still retaining its original shape. Additionally, the process hardens the rubber, which makes it less susceptible to deformation than non-vulcanised rubber, which often deforms far more easily when under stress. By hardening the rubber via the vulcanisation method, this also increases its tensile strength, making it perfectly well suited to an array of applications.

In addition to this, vulcanised rubber features a low level of water absorption, whilst having a high level of resistance to oxidation and abrasion. All of these features make it perfectly well suited to the manufacture of car tyres, which are often faced with a deluge of rainwater and the abrasive texture of tarmac.

Vulcanised rubber is also a good electric insulator, which makes it suitable for use in a range of electronic applications, from wiring to components, to floors in factory environments.

Where is vulcanised rubber typically used?

Vulcanised rubber is typically used to manufacture an array of products, however, the most prevalent and well-known use of vulcanised rubber is car types, which are often combined with a reinforcing agent called Carbon Black. This is designed to make the tyres even stronger and more resilient to daily wear and tear.

Other uses of vulcanised rubber include hoses, shoe soles, conveyor belts, shock-absorbing equipment, vibration dampers, insulation and so much more.

Here at DLR Elastomer Engineering, our team of elastomer experts can assist you in selecting the right vulcanised material for your application. Contact us to find out more.

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