Bouncing into our lives in the mid 1800s, rubber derivatives have made their way into nearly every industry. They can come in forms as specific as a specially engineered elastomer for cable jacketing, which was just released this month by Teknor APEX, to broadly used synthetic rubbers such as the neoprene of a laptop case or natural rubber of an eraser.
The word elastomer is defined by About.com as "a polymer that can be stretched and returns to its original shape without permanent deformation.” In other words, it is a synthesized rubber that can be used and reused without becoming damaged. The two terms, rubber and elastomer, have become synonymous.
The variety of man-made rubbers, or elastomers, can be categorized into two major types, unsaturated, which can be cured by vulcanization, and saturated, which cannot be cured by vulcanization (Wikipedia).
A lead supplier, Hallstar offers a market definition of unsaturated elastomers:
"Compounds with the ability to unite directly with certain other substances such as iodine, bromine, hydro-bromic acid, and ozone to form saturated addition products. Sulfur cure systems require unsaturated elastomers (double bonds) to achieve crosslinking. The ability to add iodine or bromine and the amount added is nearly always used as the test and measure of unsaturation
Saturated ones are simpler. They are:
"An elastomer with no unsaturation, thus not susceptible to ozone attachment. Some elastomers have saturated backbones with pendant unsaturated cure sites.”
From the tiny insulated nozzles to the massive roller seen above, engineers and chemists design custom rubbers with specific needs in mind, and these man-made elastomers offer several benefits to consumers and product designers alike.
- Custom Molding – The first, and most obvious benefit is that elastomers are highly customizable in size, shape, flexibility, and color. Elastomeric products such as polyurethane and urethane formulations quickly churn out precisely accurate and affordable parts and coatings made to customer specs.
- Short Production Time – The rapidity with which elastomers can be mixed, molded, and vulcanized or cured makes them a cost effective and practical part of any industries product lines.
- Insulation – "Closed cell elastomeric foam has been successfully used as pipe insulation since it was patented in 1954,” Insulation.org notes. Adding that the introduction of foam insulators transformed the industry, the website points a variety of home and industrial applications of rubber to exploit its excellent closed cell properties for both green living and cheaper operating costs.
- High Resistance - Even at extreme temperatures, elastomers keep their shape and colors and remain only temporarily altered at best. Additionally, they do not weather in water, sunlight, or atmospheric gases.
- Electrical Conductivity – Elastomers can be formulated to either conduct electricity or be resistant to it, lending themselves to a wide variety of useful industrial purposes.
- Fire Resistant – Formulated to be fire resistant, some can even stand up to long-term exposure and will eventually burn to non-conducting ash. This safety measure helps reduce the spread of industrial fires.