The Vulcanization History, Process, and Benefits of Rubber Matting for Floors
Rubber mat material, as we know it today, took a bit of work to get to where it is. Understanding the strength and durability of a mat requires some knowledge of the processes that fortifies the integral resilience of natural and synthetic rubbers. Rubber matting for floorsis specifically treated through a method called vulcanization that strengthens the material enough to be used in heavy-duty applications (like locations with heavy foot-traffic) and to make it better suited to withstand some pretty harsh natural environments.
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- The History of Vulcanization
- Ancient Times
The vulcanization of rubber is a 19th century invention—however; the value of flexible rubber material was recognized long before rubber mat manufacturers were using it. In fact, rubber has a history of being cured by other means some of which go back thousands of years. In Mesoamerica, spanning from the Olmecs (1500 BCE to 400 BCE) to the Aztecs (1100 ACE to 1522 ACE), latex was extracted from trees and mixed with the juice of a local vine, resulting in the use of processed rubber as far back as 1600BCE.
Rubber Matting for Floors
- A Modern Invention
Figuring out who came up with the vulcanization process can be hard. Although Thomas Hancock (1786 – 1865) was the first to receive a patent for the vulcanization of rubber, it is Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) who is usually credited with coming up with the basic concept. Here in his autobiography Gum-Elastica, Goodyear describes (in a third person narrative) the accidental discovery of vulcanization:
“…The inventor [a reference to Goodyear himself] made some experiments to ascertain the effect of heat on the same compound that had decomposed in the mail-bags and other articles. He was surprised to find that the specimen, being carelessly brought into contact with a hot stove, charred like leather.
He directly inferred that if the process of charring could be stopped at the right point, it might divest the gum of its native adhesiveness throughout, which would make it better than native gum…”
By making rubber a more durable and reliable material, vulcanized rubber completely revolutionized the applications and viable uses of the material—changing the industrial world forever and (securing the future of rubber mat manufacturers in the process)! Because vulcanized rubber could be better molded to form precise shapes and dimensions it was better suited for heavy-duty mechanical uses.
- In the 20th Century
It was in 1905 that George Oenslager discovered that thiocarbanilide accelerated the bonding of sulfur to rubber, allowing for much shorter cure times and significantly reducing the amount of energy necessary for the vulcanization process. This discovery made the curing process faster and made vulcanization a much more reliable procedure—but most importantly, it made it possible to vulcanize synthetic polymers. Accelerators help to speed up the curing process, and since Oenslager’s time, chemists have developed other accelerators and even ultra-accelerators, which are used to make most modern rubber products today, such as rubber matting for floors.
- What is Vulcanization? What’s the Process?
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, vulcanization is the, “chemical process by which the physical properties of natural or synthetic rubber are improved; finished rubber has higher tensile strength and resistance to swelling and abrasion, and is elastic over a greater range of temperatures. In its simplest form, vulcanization is brought about by heating rubber with sulfur.” In essence, vulcanizing natural and synthetic rubber allows for the creation of durable, resilient, and flexible rubber material that can be used in a number of different applications.
Currently, there are five common systems of curing rubber:
- Sulfur Systems
- Urethane Crosslinkers
- Metallic Oxides
The most common method of vulcanization depends on sulfur. However, the sought out effects that come about due to the vulcanization process actually require a large number of diverse additives. This is known as a “cure package” and it is this recipe of additives that will modify crosslinks between molecules and stabilize the final product. This “cure package” is pretty important because it’s what allows for the creation of a rubber mat material with specific qualities. So when it comes to rubber matting for floors, you can be sure that the material that is being used has been designed for specific applications. Reaching this end result is attained through two basic vulcanization processes known as Pressure Vulcanization and Free Vulcanization.
Why is Vulcanization Important?
- Pressure Vulcanization—involves heating rubber with sulfur under pressure with a temperature of 150C.
- Free Vulcanization—involves passing hot steam or air through the rubber.
Although natural rubber is pretty amazing, it’s also hard to work with in its raw form. This material is a polymer of isoprene, which forms with double bonds between each monomer. One of these bonds is flexible—and gives rubber its property of elasticity. But because this is a naturally occurring material, the bonds cannot be controlled and this can result in rubber being too elastic for some applications. This wouldn’t make very good rubber mat material!
At its very core, the process of vulcanizing natural and synthetic materials, allows for rubber mat manufacturers to create a more durable and resilient product that is better suited for our modern applications. Natural and flexible rubber material is pretty fantastic, and it’s obviously been recognized as a useful material for centuries upon centuries! Even so, Mother Nature still needed a bit of help and with a touch of science we were able to make rubber a truly indispensable material.
Vulcanization makes rubber matting for floors and other applications a possibility, and now, you know a little bit more about the history, process, and importance of it!