Uses of Rubber: The genius of the Indios applied to tree bark brought us a revolutionary discovery that was set to sow massive change in many manufacturing sectors.
From the times of the first colonisation, the Indios were already extracting Hevea Brasiliensis - caoutchouc (French name for natural rubber, from obsolete Spanish cauchuc) - from trees, and used the liquid obtained to make balls which they bounced and played with. Christopher Columbus took these balls back to Europe where the only balls people were familiar with were leather. They were received enthusiastically but it took many more years for the key properties of rubber to be truly recognized and understood.
Huge progress was made in how this material was used and transformed until chemical processes improving the properties of rubber were also discovered. Rubber was separated from the latex, an emulsion of caoutchouc and water, resulting in the most elastic material in the world capable of returning to its original form even after being subjected to pressure or elongation. The one process which had the greatest effect on its use was vulcanisation which greatly improves resistance and extends the number of applications it can be used in. The increase in elasticity and traction enabled tyres to be produced with improved performance characteristics, guaranteeing better grip even on wet road surfaces.
Many studies have been carried out over the years to assure motorists tyres of certified quality and high performance, guaranteeing optimal grip, braking and safety.
In this regard, current legislation in Italy dictates that cars must mount winter and summer tyres, given that temperature differences between the seasons and subsequent changes in the road surface, can have drastic effects on tyre performance, shape, pressure and traction. Winter tyres get round the problem of having to fit snow chains, often a difficult task for motorists, making them a great ally to have on-hand throughout the season.
Nowadays, natural rubber is being replaced, in some applications, with synthetic rubber, the chemical composition of which allows it to be subjected to industrial processes which guarantee the same performance as caoutchouc but at a lower cost. Natural rubber does exhibit several properties which give it great potential for mechanical control but it is not resistant enough to atmospheric agents, temperature and chemical compounds. As a result, alternatives have been sought, an example of which is EDPM. Following vulcanisation, this synthetic rubber is used as seals for domestic appliances and, more importantly, in cars, as mouldings around windows, boots and windshields. It is also used in the inlet air pipes in turbocharged engines. Another material which has garnered increasing success and applications over the decades, especially in industrial fields, is PVC, which can be hot-moulded to obtain a specific shape. Compared to rubber, which is a natural material, PVC is wholly synthetic. It is used widely as a flooring material in hospitals, to clad the outsides of industrial plants and to cover vehicles used for transportation and logistics.
Being so versatile, the automotive sector is not the only one to use rubber!
There are numerous ways in which it is used, also as a result of the growing recycling culture which shows how awareness has grown around the idea that respect for the environment is vital to guaranteeing better living conditions and health for everyone on the planet. Rubber is difficult to dispose of, hence we have no other choice but to reuse it in order to show our gratitude to the planet. It is also from the planet itself that the warning comes to take more care of our local landscape, by using only recyclable urban furniture which can be suitably adapted in order to improve and embellish our cities.
This so-called "eco-furniture" uses modular recycled rubber to build flower bins, benches, wastepaper baskets, and bike stands which, thanks to the material they are made from, will not deteriorate or alter as a result of mould. Our planet's desperate plea to be respected and protected has triggered ideas and innovative projects which have seen a revival of materials which would previously have been difficult to dispose of.
With a view to recycling and reusing materials, there is a place that is seemingly unaffected by the passage of time and in which technology has no place in its inventor's creativity. A children's play park near the Italian city of Treviso, built entirely of recycled materials, is the brainchild of a man who has devoted forty years of his life to inventing and building electricity-free games. Using random materials gathered here and there, he has built games for both adults and children. His work represents a return to an almost surreal dimension, at a time in which everything is highly automated and even the most stubborn of minds are coming round to the idea of giving up the devices which dominate our lives. The park has towering chutes built by hand, swing rides with recycled rubber seats, trampolines made from the scrap rubber produced in manufacturing, and tyres providing a path across this eco-sustainable grassy park.
Rubber can be used in a variety of applications, even the construction industry. Numerous manufacturers have started selling rubber and polygraphite panels for thermal and noise insulation.
Still on the subject of recycling and safeguarding the environment, it should be pointed out that rubber from end-of-life tyres is excellent for limiting noise and vibration in buildings, thanks to its elasticity. A special kind of rubber is also used in boating for caulking. This process, done both in and outside of the vessel, makes watertight the joints between wooden elements such as floorboards and protects them from atmospheric agents, also in winter. Since it is not overly expensive, this material is also used in public places such as airports, in which security is a priority concern. The rubber is transformed to produce performance floor coverings which are required, by law, to be non-slip.
Still with safety in mind, a special food-grade rubber is also produced. It is especially recommended for food stuffs containing fat, oil and milk and as caulking in food manufacturing plants.
The suggestion that rubber can be used as a recyclable material has inspired many an imaginative idea. Designer objects and interior furnishings, either made or rubber or built from rubber objects originally used for something entirely different, abound in both window displays and on the web.
Who's never had some old tyres in the garage that are no longer of any use? Not only can they be converted to the kind of swings, made of a rope tied to a strong branch and gigantic tyres to sit on, that we often see in American films, the imagination can also be unleashed in order to invent numerous other useful objects that will last over time and make the world we inhabit a little more comfortable.
Two tyres and two steel plates are the perfect combination to make a sitting room table for an original, contemporary home. Find two tyres of the same diameter (not too big) then give the rubber a scrub to make the colour come up brighter without having to use any special treatments. A couple of technical steps later, to join the plates forming the table top, and you've got a practical, eco-friendly, fun table suitable for multiple uses.
As well attracting attention from DIY enthusiasts, rubber has also been studied by numerous organisations who have used it, to great success, as the basis of objects and furnishings sold in superior design shops. Tyre treads make excellent cache-pots, as the tyre is turned into multi-coloured vases in original, geometrical shapes. When international designers, innovation and creativity combine, the result is a collection of durable objects that make of rubber a raw material of multiple applications.
Manufacturers of kitchen utensils have been using silicon rubber for decades now, creating a series of objects which have added an artistic flourish to many of our kitchens. Silicone cake tins have become fashionable and popular precisely because they are so practical. Being foldable, they take up much less space. They are practical because you don't have to grease or sprinkle them with flour, or line with oven paper, before cooking. Thermoplastic elastomers are also used to make collapsible, extensible colanders, funnels, and insulating cup rims.
For those who enjoy a spot of hunting and fishing, rubber has proved a useful ally for a day outdoors, providing a means of protection from the rain, cold and damp. Durable and flexible, rubber boots are essential footwear, especially for this type of past-time. The variety of models now available is enormous, they come in any colour, and the fashion industry has made them a sophisticated, must-have feature of many an autumn-winter collection. Its versatility and resistance also make rubber a particularly useful material for multi-coloured, super-cheery fashion belts.
Several leading labels have fashioned oversize beach bags from rubber, remaining faithful to their reputation for style, never compromising on it despite the material used. This isn't the only glamorous application. Truck tyres have been turned into durable, waterproof wallets. They come in a variety of sizes and colours. Being able to withstand collision and vibration, rubber has also proved useful in fun, colourful glass cases. The costume jewellery world has acquired a creative, original feel thanks to the use of rubber, which appears in the form of unusual bracelets and necklaces.
Healthy and respectful of the environment, rubber toys are suitable for even the smallest of children. Natural rubber, transformed using laboratory techniques to make it non-toxic, can be put in the mouth with no danger for the child. Pacifiers for babies are, in fact, made with the same caoutchouc as the toys made for when they are teething.
Here are some tips to use or re-use rubber bands:
You can create easy things with your kids, such as keychains, homemade bracelets, small puppets, airplanes and also pencil holders!
Decorate your house and garden creating, for example, hand sanitizer cases, Christmas ornaments or candle holders;
Paint them in whichever color you prefer and custom unique items;
If you heat types of hard rubber bands, you can modify their shape and make special products;
Rubber bands could be the solution to wrapping things in a simple and original way, for example creating book covers;
You can use them as special hacks in your house to keep jam jars closed, mark cups, glasses or bottles at a party to avoid using too much plastic or avoid having to wash up too many things! or use them around coat hangers to keep clothes in the wardrobe.
Here are some tips to use or re-use rubber bands:
- You can create easy things with your kids, such as keychains, homemade bracelets, small puppets, airplanes and also pencil holders!
- Decorate your house and garden creating, for example, hand sanitizer cases, Christmas ornaments or candle holders;
- Paint them in whichever color you prefer and custom unique items;
- If you heat types of hard rubber bands, you can modify their shape and make special products;
- Rubber bands could be the solution to wrapping things in a simple and original way, for example creating book covers;
- You can use them as special hacks in your house to keep jam jars closed, mark cups, glasses or bottles at a party to avoid using too much plastic or avoid having to wash up too many things! or use them around coat hangers to keep clothes in the wardrobe.
From tree bark into our lives, the natural journey of the rubber that trickles out naturally from under the bark of the plant, transformed into hundreds of everyday objects which have changed and improved the rituals of our daily lives.