SplashTRON®, Mark Tool & Rubber’s proprietary elastomer, is a one-size-fits-all solution for pipeline coatings popular on offshore platforms. Our SplashTRON® solutions are so popular with customers that we decided to show you how they’re made.
Before we get into the details, let’s take a quick look at the history of synthetic rubbers that led to the creation of materials like SplashTRON®.
History of Synthetic Rubbers
The rubber and synthetic rubber market is expected to surpass $56 billion in annual revenue in 2020. 15 billion kilograms of rubber, two thirds of which are synthetic, are already produced every year. To put that into perspective, that’s more rubber than the combined weight of 15 million elephants.
Synthetic rubber was first synthesized in 1879 by a French chemist named Gustave Bouchardat, who created a polymer of isoprene in his lab. This coincided serendipitously with the increased use of motor vehicles at the turn of the 19th century. An increased demand for rubber tires led to a push for commercially viable synthetic rubbers - and so the race was on.
In 1910, the first rubber synthesized entirely from butadiene was created, and it became the first mass-produced synthetic rubber. Still, it wasn’t as flexible as natural rubber, and quickly fell out of favor. By 1925 the demands of WWI and postwar economies made the price of natural rubber exorbitantly high, and cheaper synthetic alternatives were once again in high demand.
Rubbers became so important during WWII that the U.S. created a secret synthetic rubber designed GRS (Government Rubber Styrene) to counteract the Axis powers’ control of the world’s limited natural rubber supplies. GRS was a tremendous success for both the war effort and a great step forward in synthetic rubber development, and still accounts for half of the world’s total rubber production.
How SplashTRON® Is Made
SplashTRON® is one of the most recent innovators in a long line of durable, commercial rubbers that have descended from GRS. An elastomer (also known as an elastic polymer), SplashTRON® is made in the same way all modern elastomers are made.
Today, the manufacturing of synthetic rubbers is managed entirely by computers. The chemistry behind synthetic rubber was written in stone a long time ago, and in the decades since, complete automation is the natural next step from the adoption of assembly-line-style strategies.
The raw materials for nearly all synthetic rubbers are petroleum-based butadiene (mentioned earlier) and a carbon-based solvent called hexane. All residual water in both raw fluids is boiled off before they enter manufacturing.
Purified butadiene and hexane is mixed together with a catalyst that results in polybutadiene (used in creating tires). Appearing as a white, milky liquid, polybutadiene is then combined with a number of different additives (depending on its intended purpose). The mixture is coagulated in large stirring tanks until it coagulates into tiny "crumbs.”
These crumbs are combined with water to cool off, and then passed along vibrating conveyor belts that drain the water and continue the cooling process. The wet rubber crumbs are then examined before being pressed against metal plates to further squeeze out moisture. These tiny droplets enter a vibrating spiral that introduces hot air to dry off any remaining moisture.
Finally, the synthetic rubber crumbs enter a baling machine that compresses the crumbs into large "bales” that are inspected, packaged, and heat-sealed. All in all, a bale takes about six hours to complete.
The difference between SplashTRON® and any other synthetic rubber, of course, lies in the additives we introduce into the mix. But, of course, that’s a secret.