As Mr. Elasticity notes in this informative and light hearted video, rubber can be found anywhere in almost every industry! From underwater piping systems to space shuttle window sealants, rubber is one of the most used materials in the entire world. The first recorded use of rubber, however, was just a rubber ball. Christopher Columbus, ever the pioneer, stumbled upon this material when he traveled to Haiti and observed natives playing ball. In contrast with his European Castilian balls, Columbus realized that the rubber balls bounced higher and faster due to rubber’s natural resiliency. After this discovery, rubber did not experience a great surge in popularity. The versatile material was used in odd applications here and there, such as erasers and gaskets in the first cars. Unfortunately, natural rubber does not react well with thermal fluctuations, making rubberized surfacing a problem in applications with extreme temperatures.
With limited usages, rubber was not used for commercial applications until after World War II when synthetic rubber was discovered. The first mass appearance of synthetic rubber came about in the 19th and 20th century when innovative automotive engineers began using this cheap material in military vehicles. Cheaper and more durable than natural rubber, synthetic rubber revolutionized the automotive industry. Tires and gaskets could be made from this thermally stable rubber at a fraction of the price of natural rubber. Exploding onto the world market as a durable and chemically resistant material, rubber began to spread into almost every industry due to its vast array of beneficial properties.
The rubber flooring industry alone provides safety and comfort for a wide range of businesses, such as restaurants, warehouses, and playgrounds. Rubber flooring manufacturers often provide both natural and synthetic rubber with each specializing in different applications. As Mr. Elasticity mentions, however, rubber has assumed the shape of many different types of materials to acquire more beneficial properties. The following is a list of different rubber flooring materials and their properties:
- Recycled Rubber: With the rising concerns of global warming, the rubber flooring industry is actually helping to reduce the amount of waste used to create eco-friendly rubberized surfacing. Tires are often discarded and left in landfills. Rubber flooring manufacturers have started to take these unwanted tires and transform them into rubberized floor tiles amongst other “tire derived products” (TDPs). They chop up the tires into tire crumb and remove bits of metal and fluff. After melding the tire crumbs together with a polyurethane binder, they can create different types of surfaces that inherit the properties from tires, such as durability and weather resistance. Rubberized floor tiles are chemically resistant and UV/ozone resistant so they can be used both indoor and outdoor applications. Recycled rubber is one of the most durable rubbers in the rubber flooring industry due to its origins from used tires.
- Natural Rubber:
- Found on almost 2000 plants around the world, the production of NR dates back to over three million years ago. Most of these plants are found what is known as the Rubber Belt, an area of 700 miles above and below the Equator circling the globe. Rubber manufacturers procure their supply of natural rubber from plantations located in the Rubber Belt. One of the most eco-friendly rubber flooring materials, NR is 100% sustainable. These products are not only biodegradable, but the production of NR is environmentally conscious. The trees replenish minerals in arid soil and use only sun, water, and atmospheric molecules to mature.
- Thermoplastic Rubber: The most recently invented form, thermoplastic elastomers are a blend of rubber and plastic compounds. By combining both compounds, thermoplastics combine properties from the materials to create materials that are highly resistant to extreme temperatures and still recyclable. These products usually need little or no reinforcing agents to stabilize them as well and are very easily manufactured. This rubberized surfacing, however, is usually more expensive due to the cost of the materials in comparison to more conventional elastomers.
- Synthetic Rubber: A byproduct of petroleum, synthetic rubbers can be made in over twenty varieties, each with different physical and chemical properties. This was the form of rubber that arose during World War II due to the automobile industry. Synthetic is the most common type of material used for rubber flooring materials because its wide variety of types ensure that these rubbers can be used for most applications. With so many different types of this material, it’s no mystery why rubber is found everywhere from freezer doors to supercharged racecars. From such humble beginnings as a ball, rubber has exploded into every industry as one of the most integral materials used in the world. The elastomer is even an eco-friendly product that helps to reduce the amount of waste in landfills and replenishes soil that was once sucked dry of valuable nutrients. Over time, rubber, in all its forms, have helped to change the world.